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Christopher Lee Nutter Headshot

In the Era of Online Networking, Offline Connections Are More Powerful Than Ever

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I run a media consulting business in New York. I have a full roster of (phenomenal) clients, regularly get them high profile media coverage, and am successful at getting their creative projects produced.

And yet I am not on Facebook. I do not Tweet. I am not LinkedIn.

People are often shocked to find this out. And I'm regularly asked, "How can you possibly run a successful business -- especially a business in the business of promoting people and projects -- without social media and online professional networking?"

I have several responses to this question that I think are relevant for anyone running a small business like mine.

The first has to do with how you define connection.

In the era of social media, to be connected is to have hundreds of "followers," thousands of "friends," and to be a part of a large, online professional network. In short, social and professional media has commandeered the very concept of connection.

But the things that really connect us are often invisible. And it doesn't take thousands of connections. It can just take one. Exhibit A: my business.

From 1994 to 2006 I was a full time freelance magazine and newspaper journalist. I also published two books during that time. And I never had plans to be anything other than a writer.

However, around the time of the publication of my first book in 2006, I got an offer through a friend to begin writing promotional material for an agency that represented many world famous photographers. I needed the money to fund my book tour -- which publishers don't always pay for -- so I took the gig.

A photographer signed with the agency then offered to hire me to handle the PR for his book. Then his wife hired me to rebrand her business. Then the men's stylist I had used as a go-to resource when I wrote about men's grooming opened a salon and hired me to represent it.

It went on like this for two years, getting referral after referral after referral, before I realized I had a business on my hands. All I had to do at that point was give it a name -- Nutter Media Insider Solutions -- and a niche -- PR, branding and creative project development done from a media insider's perspective -- and just keep doing exactly what I was doing. Every client I've gotten since has come to me in a similar way.

While practically everyone was signing on to the promise of social media and professional online networking as the ultimate connector, it was clear as day to me that what brought my business to life -- with no strategy aforethought -- were the invisible, offline connections between people. And because I wasn't "networking" online, I could see these connections because they were right in front of my face. What's equally extraordinary is that, as my industry -- print publishing -- was tanking, my business rescued me professionally and financially from the fate so many colleagues faced as the jobs and contracts we had all relied on vanished.

So my business itself was created entirely offline.

The second response has to do with how social media and professional online networking "spamifies" all communication. When a person receives 300 Facebook updates in a day and that many Tweets and has hundreds of people they are linked in with, the connections become overwhelming in number, meaningless in substance, and unbelievably easy to ignore. In a word, connections become cheap.

Whereas it's easy to have a computer program send out LinkedIn inquiries to every acquaintance and have them connect back, it's very difficult to make a personal and lasting connection with a real person, especially in a business or professional context, and especially with someone in a powerful position. It takes work. So I invest my time doing that work -- engendering trust, earning respect and gaining the confidence from people I work with or want to work with, and let that produce for me professionally and financially ... which it does without fail. In other words, a finite number of powerful, personal, one-on-one, offline connections brings work to me.

This relates to the third primary answer to the question, which is that in an era where everyone is deluged with a never-ending tsunami of electronic public announcements, personal, one-to-one communication is in fact more powerful than ever.

I witness this daily in my job as a publicist. In that role, I have to get through to some of the hardest people in the world to reach. From working inside the media for most of my career I truly know what I'm up against when it comes to getting the executive editor of a major business magazine or the beauty director of a glossy women's magazine or a producer at a show with 4 million viewers to discuss my client with me and, then, hopefully, cover them in some way.

And I can tell you right now that the way I get through to that executive editor, that beauty director and that producer is the old fashioned way: I call. I messenger physical letters, press kits and packages. I hand address all labels and, once I get to know an editor, will hand write the letters as well. All email correspondence is individualized: I have never sent an email "blast." Never.

Before you jump to the conclusion that these methods are dated, just consider this: whereas that media target may receive 100 emails in a day, and countless social and professional media updates -- all of which disappear off their screen within minutes -- a physical package will stay on their desk for days, weeks or even months; a human voice over the phone will be remembered; a hand written label on a package will be noticed; a face-to-face meeting astutely performed will leave an indelible impression.

And the proof is in the press: I can honestly make the claim that I get my clients the biggest media there is in their field -- they have no complaints -- and I achieve it almost entirely through personal, old school communication. I have even received hand written thank you notes in the mail from media professionals so powerful you would know them by name. No amount of linking in will achieve that level of professional connection.

My next response is in regards to my specific industry, which is the media. I know who I am -- a former editor and writer who knows how the media works from the inside. I know what I'm an expert in, which is how stories and segments come to be. And I stick to that. When potential clients ask me about social media I sum it up this way: I'm the one to get you in BlackBook, not Facebook; I'm the one who gets your product on Dr. Oz, not in a Google ad.

Whereas there are literally countless people claiming expertise in social and professional media (most of which I find dubious) you will be hard pressed to find a former editor who has switched sides and knows how to do PR, branding and creative project development from a media insider's perspective. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have any competition -- and that is truly excellent for business. That independence comes from my offline awareness of my professional identity and staying true to that.

Although this aspect of my answer is specific to my industry, the larger point is cogent for all professionals, and especially small business owners, which is that social and professional media dazzles people with what they think they are supposed to be because everyone is doing it. Online networking puts people under propaganda overload and they forget how to be who they are and do what they do in lieu of being and doing what Facebook reports. Social and professional networking ultimately convinces people they need to be like everyone else. And all I can say is that if professional networking delivered on its promise then I wouldn't know so many chronically underemployed people and people who, no matter how hard they try, cannot seem to move on to a better job.

In my role as a media consultant advising my clients how to achieve their media goals, I certainly do not ignore that social media exists. Rather, by giving my clients exposure to millions of people via the traditional media I also give them something to Tweet about, and large numbers of people to Tweet to. The right TV appearance will increase a client's Facebook fan base exponentially.

In my role as a business owner in charge of bringing in new work, that my clients usually come to me through trusted personal references ensures the lifeblood and wellbeing of my business. This is true not only because my client's endorsement of my services is based on experience and is therefore earnest and reliable -- something you really can't say about online user reviews -- but also because those personal referrals help ensure that the client and the consultant are a good match.

Finally, I observe that professionals have become dependent on online professional networking and social media, and this form of connection has shut down their ability to connect with people and opportunities around them. In trying to be everywhere all the time, they are nowhere; in trying to connect with everyone everywhere, they know no one.

And now that so many professionals stay glued to their device (or what I call their "devicifier," which is hybrid of a device and a pacifier) and invest their time updating their LinkedIn status, they totally overlook the real link they're looking for that is right in front of them, and ignore the idea that occurs to them when they're not staring at a screen. The ability to see -- and seize -- an opportunity that is right in front of you atrophies without use. Many of my greatest professional accomplishments were achieved when I saw an opportunity with a real person right in front of me, and leaped. All of my great ideas come to me offline -- usually when I'm working out or walking my dog. And whereas I don't have great success trying to convince someone of something via email, I can get them to see things my way in a conversation -- something M.I.T. professor Sherry Turckle beautifully articulated in a recent New York Times opinion piece, and something we'd all be so much better off if we simply remembered how we worked before devices.

That is, in a nutshell, how -- and why - I run a successful media consulting business sans social and professional media. It may seem to you like I'm walking a tightrope without a net. Maybe, maybe not. But as far as I am concerned, relying on online professional and social networking to stay "connected" is living in the net. I'll take the tight rope.

I'm not suggesting that you should drop social and professional networking altogether in your search to reach your professional goals. Rather, I'm making the case that social and professional media has trained the modern mind to eschew these lines of connection that, prior to the digital age, were understood to be, by nature, the invisible -- but powerful -- web that made the impossible possible.

And that is a truth about life -- and work -- that will never be updated.