With the boom in social media, so much time and conversation is spent on how to build your virtual network. But is that enough? Has our love of the internet caused us to lose sight of the importance of our “in real life” connections?

How many views? How many likes? How many subscribers? How many opens, clicks or shares? As a business person looking to connect with our existing and potential customers these numbers can be very important. Different experts will argue which is more valuable than the next with the real answer never being quite so simplistic. But what about the business connections that we make in person, face-to-face? How do they compare to our virtual business associates?

Why Real-Life Relationships Are Different

There are lots of obvious reasons real-life relationships are different than virtual relationships. But we don’t always think about how those differences manifest themselves in our business relationships. Ultimately the stronger the relationship, the more likely the parties will work together. In most situations, a real-life relationship creates a stronger relationship in a much shorter period of time.

3-D Memories Last Longer

When you meet someone in person, there is a three-dimensional memory associated with that individual. The memory is not only composed of what we saw, but also the sounds, smells and other physical sensations that occurred at the time. The touch of a handshake (was it warm or firm?), the sound of their voice (was it gentle or cheerful?) along with the environment all become part of the memory. In some cases, those other elements are what cause the memory to stick.

These extra dimensions result in us being able to recall the encounter quicker and often over a much longer period of time. Even students I have only had in class once, I will often recognize as someone I have met prior when they are in a class many years later. This in turn creates a much stronger bond as we begin our time together the second time.

Intuition Is a Real Thing

In almost every real-life first-time encounter, you quickly get a “feel” for the other person. Most of the time it is good, but occasionally it is not. Our intuition is surprisingly accurate. Unfortunately, intuition is  much less reliable when we move away from in-person situations. Folks that seem wonderful online can be a disappointment when you finally meet face-to-face.

With a bit of focused effort, it is possible to create a persona with almost any level of credential and personality. Although these can be checked, in reality very few of us ever actually take the time. We make choices and relationships based on recommendations from others which are sometimes many levels removed. This of course also happens in the real world. But as soon as we make our own connection, intuition kicks in and either confirms or warns us as we decide to move forward.

 People Do Business with People (Not Businesses)

Part of the appeal of social media is the opportunity to “get to know” people you might not otherwise have an opportunity to meet in real life. When it is done well, it really does make purchasing a product from someone you have never actually met significantly easier. And of course, that is in part what I am trying to do with this blog and website.

However, when all things are relatively equivalent, I will always choose to do business with the person I have actually met. There is something about having been in contact with their physical being that gives me a sense of permanence and quality. Because they have passed the “intuition test” I have greater confidence in doing business with them and recommending them to others.

Ways to Facilitate More Real-Life Networking

So even if you are convinced of the importance of real-life relationships, creating more opportunities to meet people is not as easy as it sounds. If you work from home, it is easy to become satisfied that the interaction via the various media streams is an adequate substitute. If you have a place of business, it is easy to believe that you have “plenty” of relationships and that there is no real value in building your network. Neither is true.

Make “Mixing” a Habit

Mixers can take all sort of forms. They can be something arranged by the local Chamber of Commerce or an event hosted by a local business or non-profit that you support. The key is to actually go and plan on staying for more than a few minutes (30 minutes needs to be the minimum). Make sure you take business cards and be prepared to not only share what you might have to offer, but learn about other people’s businesses as well.

Not every event is going to fall into the “win” column, but you never know who you will meet until you attend. By making a commitment to attend an event at least once a quarter, you minimize the burden on your schedule, but still ensure that you are getting out and meeting new people regularly.

Attend a Conference or Retreat

A few days away with a relatively small group of people with a similar focus is a great way to meet folks you might not meet otherwise. Shared meals and breaks provide ample opportunity to get into deeper conversations with the folks who resonate with your personality and/or networking needs.

Hosting your own retreat is also great way to identify who you might want to be focusing on more within your own business. Customers willing to invest time and money to spend time with you are often the type of customer you want to really understand and cater to as well as try and replicate.

 Make a List of People to Meet

Being intentional is surprisingly effective in making something happen. Just by creating a list of people you want to try and connect with  in real-life you are much closer to making that a reality. Once you have your list, play “Six Degrees of Separation” and try to figure out who you already know that might be able to lead to an in-person connection. Regularly (once a week or once a month), add a task to try and make that connection happen.

As you work through the process, you will undoubtedly meet other interesting people. Even though they were not officially on your list, most will probably be a welcomed addition to your real-life network.

What is your preferred way to build your in-person network?