During the question and answer section of my presentation at the Milan Chamber on Friday, one of the audience members asked me what my opinion of electronic versus handwritten communication mechanisms. I think it’s a great question. Let’s take a look at some of the different channels and see where they can be used to best advantage in our networking practice.

Facebook (et al). The various social media sites are probably the “lightest” touches of them all. For the most part, posting on these is essentially just making an announcement. Much of the “conversation” is quite public, so it is hard to establish any intimacy. Most of the sites do have the capacity to send private messages, but these are essentially just the same as e-mail. The main benefit of using these channels is, with very little effort (typing in a line or two) you can reach out to a lot of your network.

E-mail. Messages through this medium can be anything from banal to sublime. Of course, sending out a form email, an e-newsletter or (much worse) some kind of advertising won’t do much to strengthen your connections. In fact, the best you can hope for is just to remind them that you exist. On the other hand, a well-crafted e-mail message which speaks from the heart can have the possibility of adding depth to an existing relationship. Unfortunately, no matter how much effort you put into the message, e-mail still has a feeling of a “quickie” note that someone jotted down in a few seconds.

Hard Copy. This could include things such as sending someone a quick “nice to meet you” note to sending them a clipping of an article you found. This probably has about the same weight as a well-written e-mail message. While you are making the effort to send some physical object to them, the types of things you are sending show that you didn’t have to put that much effort into it. As with email, it can help maintain an existing relationship, but won’t go much further than that to improve the quality of the connection.

Handwritten Letter. This category covers anything from a short thank you note all the way up to an in-depth expression of gratitude that the recipient will want to hang on her wall. Personally, I think the latter is where the true strength lies. Of course, sending thank you notes should just be part of what you do, but the more effort and thought — the more of you — you put into the handwritten message, the more likely it is that you will succeed in significantly deepening the relationship.

Sometimes your choice of mechanism may also depend on who the recipient is. Younger people tend to view the social media sites as a much more acceptable means of staying in touch while those on the other end of the age spectrum definitely prefer the physical handwritten letter. Whichever you choose, just be sure that the message is sincere and recognizes the value of the other person in your life.

Photo credit: Stephanie Hofschlaeger