By Sheryl Bilbrey

It used to be, not all that long ago, that business deals were done in person. Relationships were fostered through telephone calls and lunch meetings, and new contacts were cultivated at seminars and conferences out of the office.

Sheryl Bilbrey, president and CEO of the San Diego Better Business Bureau.
Sheryl Bilbrey, president and CEO of the San Diego Better Business Bureau.

It seems that somewhere between our last tweet and email, the world changed. Many of us can now admit to having lengthy, in-depth conversations with someone without ever hearing their voice. We shake hands virtually. This can be extremely advantageous to a business’ bottom line. It increases convenience and ultimately productivity while cutting costs, but I have to ask myself: What are we losing by skipping this simple exchange? If you ask me, there is a quite a bit at risk.

Don’t misunderstand: The social media world is becoming increasingly vital to a business’ success. The internet is full of opportunities to enrich and expand upon your fan-base. Often, I am first to sing the praises of websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as pages that can enhance your company’s overall appeal to consumers and other businesses. However, social media is not, and could never become, the be-all, end-all of business relationships.

If your hands are magnetized to your keyboard and you’re feeling a little skeptical, allow me to explain why face-to-face, in many situations, can be preferable to an electronic interaction:

  • Many thrive on nervousness. Much like a first interview, business meetings and seminars can make us feel anxious. Is this a bad feeling? Absolutely not. To overcome this stressed feeling, we prepare ourselves and formulate possible conversations in our heads. We wipe our hands on our pants, pop an Altoid, and enter these interactions more educated and ready to conquer our nerves. With email being such an impersonal medium, there isn’t as much pressure to bring your A-game to a conversation.
  • Building relationships. Sure, we can articulate instructions and procedures over email, and create puns and quips on Twitter, but are we forging the same networks with these connections that could be possible through a face-to-face meeting? No. A good Facebook status can build a larger audience, but a handshake can build a rapport. I say continue tweeting, but consider a lunch meeting or attending a BBB B2B Networking Mixer so that you can put a face to that handle.
  • Making positive memories. When was the last time you finished a webinar and walked away with positive memories about the other attendees or the presenter? According to a study at Cornell University, face-to-face events are more likely to capture a participant’s attention and build networks. Seminars and conferences, though usually come at a higher cost to a company, have the power to create leads and enhance relationships between businesses.

I have a great appreciation for social media and what it contributes to the business world, but if I had a chance, I would seek out all 5,300 BBB Twitter followers, look them right in the eye, and shake their hand.

Sheryl Bilbrey is president and CEO of the San Diego Better Business Bureau.