About a month ago a friend of mine, Jill Hurst-Wahl, was being interviewed by one of the local news stations about an interesting social networking site called Second Life, and wrote about it in her blog. In essence, it's a place where you create a human avatar and actually interact with people all over the world, both socially and professionally. In an odd way, it's like the type of thing that happens on the golf course (for those people who golf; I don't), only the world is your limit.

Social networking, which is another term for online networking, is fast becoming a way for people to reach other markets that they'd have never had the opportunity to reach before. These online communities offer different ways of interacting with each other. For instance, Ryze offers the opportunity for people around the world to actually talk to each other through what they call "networks", which will remind some of you of the old bulletin board systems, and networks can be both social or business. Then there's LinkedIn, which goes a different direction and actually requires you to either already have a person's email address, or to go through an intermediary in other to "meet" someone you want to contact, and any conversations held are either through email or by telephone, if the connections are accepted.

A question that's come up lately is whether this is will replace regular networking opportunities at some point, as more and more people get online. My theory on this is that it won't even come close, for many reasons.

One, I notice that, online, most people work hard in trying to promote themselves more than try to engage another person to talk about themselves. Sure, that happens in person also, but face to face, it still has a more personal touch.

Two, most businesses have to start at home, or at least perceive themselves that way; by that, I mean a business establishes itself with the initial idea of doing some business locally, and there's no guarantee that all the local businesses a person might wish to work with are online in any form, including email.

And three, at least initially, every new business owner looks for ways to press the flesh, if you will, which can't be done as readily online. For instance, the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce has, or helps set up, breakfast, lunch and dinner events around town, and in their home offices, and they're always well attended; you can't get that from online networking. A group such as the Professional Consultant's Association brings together independent business persons once a month to discuss issues that pertain to their business, as well as having an educational session, and has the flexibility of having at least one social gathering a year, or more if it needed to. And I don't know how many communities have a BNI Chapter, but I bet it's at least hundreds, if not thousands, seeing as how the Syracuse area has, in their own words, "dozens".

Still, it would be prudent for any business that's looking to work with organizations outside of their local area to investigate social networking to some degree. I've been a beneficiary of social networking, as it has led to speaking engagements and interviews around the country, and a consulting assignment or two here and there. They say we're in a global marketplace; get ready to expand your world.