In case you haven't noticed, the latest business buzzwords are social networking. Small and medium-sized businesses are writing 140-word Tweets and logging on to discussions on forums like LinkedIn every day. A recent survey suggests one in four small firms in the UK is using social media to connect with clients.

Some companies are even employing staff just to monitor and respond to this expanding media. A cottage industry of networking gurus and marketing/PR services has emerged, offering anything from advice to initiating postings and even responding to others on your behalf.

But in the rush to get on the social media bandwagon, are we neglecting the importance of face-to-face contact?
You can start a relationship online very successfully but if you want your business to succeed, sooner or later you'll need to meet the people you would like to turn into clients (or staff), and they will want to get together with you. So much of communication depends on facial reactions that meeting people is essential to gauging character.

The savvy entrepreneur will end up using social marketing tools as part of a balanced portfolio of communication

Face-to-face contact helps to build trust. If you meet someone as a direct result of viral marketing in Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn be sure your personal brand online matches the reality. It's why social marketing experts suggest you use a real picture in your profile and not one of the dog or your favourite footballer.

Human beings are essentially social creatures and you should always play to your strengths. It's by getting to know people through thriving, ongoing relationships that businesses grow and survive. A tweet or email on its own just won't suffice, and sometimes the ease with which you can dash one off can have dire consequences. We have all heard horror stories of spur-of-the-moment emails containing sentiments that would never have been said in person.

Like all new phenomena, the frenzy to self-publicise will eventually calm down. The savvy entrepreneur will end up using social marketing tools as part of a balanced portfolio of communication, used in different ways depending on their benefits and the audience. Actually meeting people will remain a vital part of doing business.

It is still very much part of mine. Regus has had a presence at the international property fair MIPIM since it started and I try to be there in person every year - even though it requires some effort to fit it around a busy schedule. I do it because I know it succeeds. It enables me to look the landlords and property owners we work with in the eye and help them meet the increasing demand for effective places to work.

Use your business's trade exhibition, show or fair to get a real feel for your clients' needs and explain your services in ways that would be difficult solely in online media. Think about the amount of information you try to get across to potential clients when you meet them. It would be far too bulky to be read on screen.

A stand where people can meet your staff also showcases their talents, again building trust. Companies are always saying people are at the core of their business: so show it.

An organised event is just one example where the benefits of meeting people outweigh the advantages of social media. Brainstorming around a table engages people and spurs them on to greater creativity. A lunch meeting shows a client you're a human being and may unearth commonly held interests and beliefs that cement the relationship. Social networking is great, but it can't replace human interaction.

For more information please visit