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Networking in the Age of the Emoji

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By Sanjay Khatnani, Managing Partner, J2 Solutions

Over the course of my career, I’ve forged countless important business relationships that are meaningful to me—both on a personal and a professional level. But lately I’ve noticed a trend in the way “networking” as a business tool is utilized. It seems many of its most valuable elements are falling away in response to a society motivated by instant gratification.

Let me explain: the idea of networking centers around building long-term relationships. At least, that’s how I’ve always seen it. To me, it’s about making connections, forming relationships and creating lasting bonds. But with digital communications like email, text messages and social posts taking over, the landscape of what networking looks like has changed—and not necessarily for the better.

What used to be a face-to-face conversation, complete with verbal queues, body language and facial expressions, has become a monotone text message that includes a few short sentences, if that. And it’s extremely hard to get to know someone when you’re communicating via emojis and abbreviations. As technologically advanced as we’ve become, we’ve somehow managed to return to an age of hieroglyphics.

How did we get here and what’s happened to the quality interactions we used to rely on as a society?

Granted, my example above includes the two opposite ends of the communication spectrum, but let’s face it—that is, in large part, what it has come down to. Email, text messaging and social media have made it all too easy to skip that getting-to-know-you step, moving you directly into a more surface-level relationship. The end result is a relationship that doesn’t stand the test of time.

I get it—we’re all on the move. I understand full well the value of managing my time as efficiently as possible. But making time to nurture and feed my relationships remains a priority to me. Yes, I may be able to gain a business deal or referral, but there’s so much more to it than that. I also may be able to help someone, share in a collaborative exchange of ideas or even just make a good friend.

I’m not saying email, text messaging and the like don’t have a place in the communication lifecycle. They do. In fact, I’m an avid consumer of social media and see great value in the role it plays in business and commerce. But there’s a time and a place for those methods of communication; they should complement your relationship-building efforts, not replace them altogether.

Here’s how I see it: Facebook, LinkedIn and even Instagram serve as useful tools to initiate a connection and learn more about someone at a higher level. Here I might get a sense of someone’s personal interests, professional affiliations, family life, etc., but it’s not where I’ll get to know somebody at a more substantive level. For me, that requires a phone conversation or, even better, an in-person dialogue. That’s where the relationship is truly established. From there, I might use text, email or Facebook to maintain the relationship—but I view those modes of communications more as a means to support the relationships I’ve already established.

Though the millennials are leading the charge when it comes to social media as the primary form of communication, the Gen-Xers and boomers are following suit. It would seem that, to many, the convenience of today’s digital communication outweighs the personal connection that’s been lost as a result.

I may be in the minority, but I disagree. Written communication, regardless of its form, will never take the place of conversation—and it will never prove as effective in building a long-term, authentic connection with someone. To reap the rewards of a foundational relationship, you have to put in the effort. Networking isn’t supposed to be as easy as the click of a button.

So the next time you want to show someone a smile, skip the emoji and do it in person.

You’ve heard my thoughts, now I’d love to hear yours. Do you believe that social media has had an impact on how we network as a society today? If so, how?