There are now many forms of technology that attempt to produce the kind of social networking results that we, as business people, want to see. But is one form of technology preferable to others? With all the different hardware and software being created for the sole purpose of allowing social networking to take place, how does one know which applications or products are worthwhile or trustworthy?

 For example, many people use Skype or video chat to conduct meetings. There is convenience in being able to connect, visually, with a person or party with whom you conduct business. Maybe you are located in a different city from the person or party with whom you need to speak, and maybe you would like to conduct a face-to-face meeting. A flight to another city for that meeting would be an expense that is hard to justify, yet a telephone call would not seem adequate; it would not be enough. Perhaps bar graphs and other visual aids are part of the meeting, so that you and the other person need to see each other. Or perhaps it is not a business meeting, but rather an opportunity to meet a colleague for the first time. Instead of meeting for coffee or dinner, to discuss possibilities for working together in the future (the way colleagues used to), someone suggests a video chat.

These video conferences might be a good idea, but in some ways they cannot replace in-person, or face-to-face, meetings. The reason for this is that there is much that goes on between two people when they meet in person that cannot be replicated through even the most sophisticated social networking technology. Body language and gestures and facial expressions are all important components of daily life; they are also essential to meetings that occur between people who are trying to connect with colleagues. Social networking has always been important, as long as there have been people engaged in the act of business, or simply getting things done. The problem with conducting our meetings online is that we are not able to sense all the things we would sense in person.

The point is that not only do you have to find the technologies and applications that work for you, but you also have to learn when it is best to use those technologies, and when it is best to forgo those technologies, and instead implement an old-fashioned, face-to-face meeting. A person who has a laptop, and is stuck at an airport, for instance, might want to conduct that video meeting that he might otherwise have conducted in-person. But a person who is in an office downtown, and who has time to venture out and meet a colleague for a drink or for coffee, might choose to do just that, even if he or she has at his disposal the kind of technology that would allow that meeting to take place online.

This question – about when to use technology and when not to – is about discretion, really, rather than about what is most convenient. You have to have a sense for what kind of social networking is most appropriate for which kinds of situations. People learn this kind of thing with practice, but as social networking technologies continue to proliferate, it can become confusing.

Choose the kinds of technologies you are most comfortable with using. If you don’t feel comfortable with a certain hardware or software, don’t use it for those occasions when you need to interact with people in a networking situation. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable they will be.

What is your buzz about?