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Tracy Crevar Warren
Tracy Crevar Warren
 

Can Facebook Kill Face-to-Face Networking?

May 10, 2010
by Tracy Crevar Warren

For many CPA firms, client development and retention are top priorities. It’s no longer big news that networking enables professionals to grow their businesses. What is stirring controversy is the use of social networking in a predominantly and traditionally face-to-face arena.

Talk to today’s successful practitioners and most will reveal that building an effective network has been a cornerstone in growing their practices. In fact many consider their networks to be one of their greatest assets. However, when it comes right down to it, most seasoned professionals have built their networks using good “old fashioned” face-to-face activities that include client lunches, seminars and socials with professionals such as bankers and attorneys.

When social media first emerged on the scene, many firm leaders were skeptical in allowing it to be used in their firms. As social networking gained traction in helping professionals build and strengthen their networks, these same firm leaders are pondering a new question:

“Will Facebook (and other social networking outlets) diminish, even eliminate face-to-face networking or will it strengthen it?”

A More Comfortable Approach for Introverted Professionals

“Social media seems to have the most opportunity to change “rainmaking” behavior results for a firm’s professionals in two ways,” explained management consultant and social media advisor, Michelle Golden, president of St. Louis, Miss-based Golden Practices, Inc. “It provides a less intimidating way for introverted professionals to interact with others and showcase their expertise; and  it resonates greatly with professionals with significant time commitments outside of work [and provided] the flexibility to “socialize” on their own schedule, while on the road or in the comfort of their home.”

Golden said that she has been seeing a higher level of relationship development and presence, more so than ever before. She attributes higher sales results from successful “traditional-style rainmakers” as a result of their social media activities and their firm’s Web presence.

Working Together to Yield Results

Many firms are experiencing powerful results that come from successfully combining traditional networking with social networking.

Using LinkedIn has led to more meetings with contacts who our professionals havenít been in contact with for more than 20 years, said Tracey Segarra, director of marketing at Garden City, NY-based Margolin, Winer & Evens, LLP. “Many professionals might be uncomfortable calling up someone out of the blue that they haven’t seen in 20 years, but that same social barrier doesn’t apply to looking someone up on LinkedIn. And once they do make contact online, it often leads to e-mails traded back and forth and then face-to-face meetings over lunch. So in a very real sense virtual networking is leading to more face-to-face networking.”

Advantages of Social- and Face-to-Face Networking in Client and Referral Growth

“Both are important,” said Segarra. “Social networking is just another communication tool. They are more approachable for some people because it’s not face to face. The trick is in figuring out which method of communication works best for each of your contacts,” she added.

Golden outlines a number of additional advantages including:

  • Networking is still extremely important and is much easier to undertake on a consistent and frequent basis when it occurs online;
  • Touching base, getting to know one another better, promoting others’ work and activities among your valuable connections and connecting others together, can happen in minutes a day from anywhere;
  • Facebook and LinkedIn interactions can dramatically accelerate relationship development in between face-to-face meetings (reinforcing that both are valuable);
  • Professionals can simultaneously interact with far more people than likely to see at a single networking event where you can’t speak with everyone due to time and scope;
  • Clients can respond and interact with you on THEIR time; and
  • Able to weave some content-sharing into your "networking" makes this far more effective — especially good for credibility building.

The Downside

While Segarra hadn’t seen any disadvantages, Golden pointed some out:

  1. People have trouble moving "back" into a face-to-face world.
  2. Older CPAs and many psychologists believe the "younger" generation lack poor social skills and the ability to conduct successful face-to-face meetings because of their virtual interactions.

“We, as firms, aren't (or shouldn't be) hiring people who cannot handle face-to-face … think about how many professionals you know who HIDE behind e-mails,” said Golden. “I don't think it's a new problem, but a continuing problem in a profession where introversion is more typical than extroversion.”

A New Networking Solution

After countless hours of debate, social networking is finding its place in our profession along with traditional face-to-face networking. For now, it appears that a successful combination of the two is the key to success in helping today’s professionals build even stronger networks and books of business.

Additional Resources: AICPA PCPS Center.

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Tracy Crevar Warren is the founder of The Crevar Group. She is a sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker. Her practical, results-oriented approach helps professional services firms win and keep more business and build more profitable practices. She advises clients on practice growth, culture development, sales and marketing. She inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international audiences to grow their practices by doing more of the work they love. Warren can be reached at 336-889-GROW (4769).