Virtual Relationships Still Need to Get Physical

As much as I advocate the value of social media and online communications, these still don’t replace the value of face-to-face meetings. Body language aside, most of us grew up in a world without the heavy influence of our computers. TV and radio were the primary electronics of our youth…. well, Atari was prevalent in mine, but despite the disproportionate amount of time that I spent chomping on little strings of dots, most of my childhood was spent offline.

As an adult, I now spend a disproportionate of my time on my computer. My relationships are going virtual as well. It is much more efficient to fire off three emails while working on a presentation than to stop pick up the phone or trek over the nearest Starbucks. I do business online  and collaborate with people that I have neither met over the phone or in-person. I have just shy of 3500 Linkedin connections and 550 Facebook friends along with 334 Twitter Followers. I am so “online” that I don’t print out white papers to read anymore. (Yes, I still read them.)

In truth, my technographic profile fits more of the much younger generations that are growing up online. Kids are a little ahead of the adults in that they don’t recognize the difference between interactions online versus offline. I am seeing more of the adults becoming the same way.

We will organize an introduction via email to meet at a local Starbucks. After we meet, we will follow up by email with other virtual introductions, some phone calls, and even a PowerPoint or two. Some may even tweet about it… and then repeat the cycle.

As a social marketing evangelist, I advocate building online relationships as a effective and efficient way to reach broader audiences. I actually believe that this will eclipse many of the traditional methods of relationship building in business  over the next couple of years.

As a marketer, I realize that you need to reach people in the ways that they want to be found; email, phone, meetings, introductions, events, social media, direct mail, advertising, PR, search, etc. Many people aren’t comfortable about building relationships without meeting face-to-face. Look at past Ecommerce trends; people weren’t comfortable giving their credit card to unknown merchants. Until there were protections in place that prevented the loss from unethical merchants, Ecommerce was the wild west. We can’t discount the need to build a way to establish trust online for many people.

As a product of my generation and the generations that sandwich mine, I miss the live interactions. With all due respect to the empowered pajama workers, I need the human interaction. Even if I spend all day on the computer, I need a human connection.

I actually like trade shows and conferences. For exactly the same reason I like bookstores, I like to browse the shelves and pick up books. Cover art, book heft, back cover descriptions, immediate gratification, and in-store promotions are still a part of my book buying DNA. Yes, I have bought books online, even online books, but I still will go to a bookstore. There is something to be said for finding a new vendor or meeting new prospects at a conference or show that you would never have met. Even better, a whole lot of them at once.

As much as I do business online, I feel more connected after we meet face-to-face. Breaking bread with someone is still a way to validate the measure of a person.

I am not a look-back type of person as I really like the direction that technology is going, I enjoy social media, and I think we are seeing a fundamental shift towards online relationships. Just saying that virtual relationships still could use a cup of coffee now and then.

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