Phil Calvert is a marketing expert who encourages everyone to market themselves “live” at seminars and other events. But he also says that blogging is the equivalent of live marketing because it places you in front of a large audience.

Indeed at an Ecademy event he explained to the 250-strong audience that social media of all kinds were now essential to anyone doing business. He went on to say that he is involved in over 30 different social networking groups and leads 50 different clubs on Ecademy. So it poses the question, when does Phil find time to do any work?

One person said to me at this event that she was far too busy working to do so much online social networking, blogging and group activities. So can you do too much online? How much time should you spend online compared with actually running your business?

Well, here’s the rub. People like Phil have realised that the online world is the real world. People who claim that they are too busy running their business to do social networking are still thinking there is some kind of separation between the Internet and the “real world”. But there isn’t.

Online and offline have now merged; few people aged under 25 understand why older people think there is some kind of barrier between the two. To them, the Internet is “where it is at” because – well, just because.

In the good old days of business – the 1990s – there used to be armies of sales staff who travelled up and down the motorways simply knocking on doors and seeing people. Then, back in the office, there were account managers, who spent all day on the phone, simply chatting to customers making sure all was OK. There were also client liaison officers whose task was to keep people happy, that’s all. Indeed, back in those good old days, bank managers spent most of their days just meeting customers, chatting with them and taking them out to lunch.

Then along came the Internet and businesses saw a way of saving cash. Sell everything online, they thought, and we can dispense with half our sale staff, we can manage all the accounts using some kind of online database and a couple of clerical people and we can have an Internet controlled call centre somewhere cheap, so we can get rid of all those client liaison people. Whoopee, we’ll be rich, they thought.

But along with the savings businesses have made as a result of Internet technology, there has also come a cost. All those sales staff, account managers and client liaison staff did a hugely important job – relationship building. As relationships dwindle, so does loyalty and businesses now have to constantly get new customers.

Online, now, thanks to social networking, blogging and so on, you can build and maintain relationships. The tools of Web 2.0 have replaced those endless streams of sales calls and account management meetings with clients. So, those companies who see social media as something that is a time waster for their business are rather missing the point. What Phil Calvert does is not a waste of time, rather it is essential for the success of any modern business. All those social networking engagements build relationships – just like the sales calls of the past.

If you see the divide between the online world and the “real world” you are unlikely to think that social networking or online clubs are the way to go; indeed you will see them as an unnecessary intrusion into your time. Younger people, in particular, expect online social networking and if your business does not do it – and you’ve dispensed with those older ways of relationship building – well, you can probably say goodbye to your business fairly soon.

Extensive online social networking is no longer a “nice to have”, as Phil Calvert has shown, it is an essential activity. Either that, or re-employ all those sales teams and account managers. Which is more expensive? Extra staff, or a few hours online each week? You decide.

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