Do you think that the creation of social networks online might actually be having a negative impact on the how “networked” people are in their personal and professional lives? I’m beginning to think that while social networks are fantastic for information sharing and gathering, that they don’t do much to form real relationships between two people. This struck me the other day as I realized that any time I make a meaningful potential connection on Twitter, the conversation quickly moves to a phone call or a face to face meeting of some sort.
Perhaps the more important question is what role face to face communication plays in the formation of relationships. I remember that in my early days as an executive recruiter, I always worked hard to get an in-person meeting with my clients because the relationship with the clients I had met were always more solid than those who I’d only talked to over the phone. I’m not sure why this happens, but there definitely seems to be a bond that forms from having met a person and spent a little time with them.
When you and I were first trained in what it means to network, the concept of networking online didn’t exist. It was about shaking hands and having lunch, it wasn’t about how many followers you had. This reminds me of the impact that online job boards like Monster.com have had on job seekers. Prior to those boards existing, people had to network to find jobs. Sure, they could send off cover letters and resumes to employers, but it seemed that most people understood that to find that good job you had to reach out to people and do some networking. Today, many job seekers spend a majority of their time online, searching job postings and emailing resumes because it feels like they are searching for a job. Yet, the truth is that picking up the phone and networking is the most effective way to find a job. The job boards aren’t bad, but they certainly help employers out far more than job seekers and worse, the existence of the job boards has actually caused job seekers to do less of the activity that would actually have the biggest impact on finding a job–networking.
So, I worry that while social networks might be giving people the feeling that they are doing more networking than ever before, it’s actually have the opposite effect. Rather than setting up a breakfast meeting or even scheduling a phone call to start creating a real relationship, we spend our time following another 200 people on twitter who may never know or care about who we really are.