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Social media have their place, but don’t overlook the ‘meat world’

The “one-to-one” model of social media is very powerful, but don’t ignore real relationships in the real world.

My Uncle Bob has known me since I was born, so I guess he has a pretty good idea of who I am and what I’m about. Still, it was surprising to discover recently that Uncle Bob had endorsed me on LinkedIn for media relations, blogging and a few other skills.

But no less surprising than to be endorsed for corporate communications, social media, public speaking, content strategy, crisis communications and a half-dozen other skills by people I’ve never even met in person.

The fact is, I am good at those things. But I’m not sure that the people who have endorsed me for them really have a sound basis on which to make the endorsement.

There’s someone out there in the digital world who’s become something of a running punch line at my office for constantly posting LinkedIn endorsements for people at my agency, even though none of us has ever met the person.

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This isn’t a screed against social media. Social media are becoming the primary means by which we communicate. Dismissing them — particularly for someone in the communications business — would be as stupid as someone 50 years ago dismissing the telephone.

But they’ve got weaknesses, as the LinkedIn endorsements show. I love meeting people in person, and I always come back energized from networking events. Once, as I was recounting a networking conversation, one of my younger colleagues said, “Oh, I get it — you like to live the meat world.” He’s right, I do. And it’s a great place to live.

There’s no question that social media are a constant topic of discussion in the marketing business. It’s called the “one-to-one” model of communications, as opposed to the “one-to-many” model of traditional advertising. And we’re only beginning to discover how powerful it can be.

But I’d caution businesses against ignoring real relationships in the real world. You still need people who can go out and make a case face-to-face: to make a sale, to present a proposal, to build a client relationship. I’ve had success making contacts online. But I think I’ve had even more success when I’ve engaged in one-to-one communication the way humans have done it for thousands of years.

Social media are here to stay. But long live the meat.

Handshake photo by Flickr user Álvaro Canivell (oooh.oooh) and used under Creative Commons License.