Being so fascinated by and engrossed in social networking, and digital media relations more widely, I'm asked on a regular basis "What's the point of spending so much time online?".
The very basis of the question betrays the fact that the questioner still, like the majority of people to be fair, feels it necessary to divide their life up into "offline" and "online" portions. Yet they don't distinguish "time eating / not eating", "time talking / listening", "time with new people / with old acquaintances", "time on the phone / not on the phone".
Like eating, listening and telephones, digital media simply exists. It is part of life. Sure it may have its unique characteristics, but then what doesn't? I am living, working, having fun, exploring, innovating, learning... some of which just happens to be online and some offline.
Making useful contacts
Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to keep a record over the past few months of how I make useful contacts. I define that term simply on a professional basis: will they help me as a director at Racepoint, and my company in general, in achieving our objectives.
It turns out I have seven main channels for meeting and making useful contacts: Mashup Event, the IET, Intellect, Intellect's Convergence Conversation, my blog at MarCom Professional, Twitter and directly through inbound enquiries to Racepoint and sister companies. Everything else I've lumped in to "Other offline". Of the 38 useful contacts I've made during this time, the split looks like this:
Of these, Mashup, Twitter, Racepoint, MarCom Professional and IET all have online and offline aspects. Each has led to conversations online (on our company blog w.r.t. Racepoint) which have developed into conversations over the phone and over coffee, which have continued online etc. etc.
You will note Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn by their absence. Firstly, I have learned what I needed to learn about Facebook and MySpace and whilst I understand their place in marketing communications campaigns, I got fed up with them personally. And my LinkedIn is a great place to record my relationships once they're established, but ultimately LinkedIn pivots around the connections to others rather than around specific content or conversation. It doesn't really engage me therefore. Saying that, whilst I've not used LinkedIn to establish new contacts through existing contacts, I have been asked to be the man in the middle on a number of occasions.
It's all in the mix
So the question is not whether mine or your time "spent online" is worthwhile. The question is whether you are engaged in the appropriate channels, the right networks, the interesting and influential conversations. These may be online or offline, up a tree or down a cellar for all I or you should care. Ultimately, if you're still distinguishing between online and offline, I'd suggest you're probably not thinking about digital media in quite the right way... which may also be an indication that you're not yet exploiting its full potential in the mix.
If you liked this post, you might like this one by Graham Jones.