Social media is a major part of our society at the moment.

As the Internet continues to evolve, the role that it plays in both our personal and professional lives is only expected to grow. Almost any professional will tell you how important it is to have a social media presence, and maintaining an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is all but a standard practice for professionals of every job description.

Sometimes, however, it seems like we get so caught up in maintaining our online social networks that we forget the basics of how to network in person. If this is happening to you, you need to realize that you’re losing a valuable skill. Even worse, you may be missing out on some very important networking opportunities.

It’s Who You Know, Not Who You Like
Social media gives us access to a wide number of people, and connecting with someone is often as simple as clicking a button.

Many a job transition has been made through connections made on social media, and it’s definitely a tool that should be used whenever possible. The people you meet online and those you stay in touch with over the years could very well lead you to some very lucrative and fulfilling work down the road.

There’s still something to be said for in-person meetings, however. You make a much stronger first impression in person than you do online, and that can make a huge difference. Think about how many of your online contacts you’ve later met in person… how many of them needed a reminder of exactly who you were?

You’re much more likely to remember a face, a voice or a conversation than you are to vividly recall a tiny profile picture and some words on a screen from one of your hundreds or thousands of online contacts.

Meeting and Greeting
Conferences and other professional events were once considered vital if you wanted to advance your career since they let you meet people in person and talk to them about yourself and your work.

Business cards would be exchanged, and in some cases there may be further correspondence off and on down the road. It’s no guarantee for success, but it does create a contact you can check with later if a position opens within their company. You may even get occasional calls from contacts you’ve made who think you’d be perfect for a slot they’re trying to fill.

Social media is missing this because it lacks the face time of a personal meeting. There’s no casual conversation or natural growth of the encounter to establish a connection; instead, one party has to actively reach out to the other and address what they want. Trying to build up a casual association over social media often comes across as awkward at best. At worst, it comes across as pestering and may result in your message getting deleted or you getting blocked.

Bringing Networking Back
Social media is great, but don’t let it take the place of more traditional forms of networking in your professional life.

When the opportunities present themselves, attend conferences or other events where people within your field are likely to attend. Strike up conversations and be social with others. Don’t be afraid to offer a business card or suggest meeting up for lunch if your new contact is ever in your area. The more effort you put into in-person networking, the more effective your overall networking efforts will be.