Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Are Business Cards Obsolete?

The idea for this article came after participating in a LinkedIn discussion group where someone posed this topic. "While going through a stack of business cards the thought occurred to me that many were outdated since many of the companies no longer exist or the person on the card moved on. I find more people on LinkedIn and other sites and get introduced to people both over the phone and electronically. Now, once a card is uploaded or information is saved in a mobile device the card gets discarded. (Unless you are a pack rat.) Do we need business cards in this brave new world?"

This responses were so interesting and varied that I thought I would incorporate them into this article and hopefully provide some enhancements that you might make to your cards the next time that you have them printed.

In this social media era one would think perhaps that the usefulness of a business card is going by the wayside. Everyone is so plugged in with their smart phone and apps that perhaps they are obsolete. Do you remember not so long ago, pre-Smart Phones, when we all had Palm Pilots and you would exchange info by pointing it at each other! That thing went the way of the Beeper!

Certainly at face to face meetings with people a business card is still necessary especially if you have a name that someone could never spell without the aid of the card! In an internet search on this topic I found a recent on line poll that stated 70% of professional people still use business cards on a regular basis, 13% no longer use them and 14% occasionally use them when they remember to carry them. No mention of the other 3% was made.

One place where business cards are an absolute must is at Trade Shows and networking events. However, most people at networking events seem to make it a big game of running around collecting them and never connecting with anyone.

Cultural differences with business cards

An interesting aspect of the discussion was that someone pointed out that the Japanese present their cards with a great deal of respect. They hold the other person's card cupped in both hands as though it is an object of value instead of immediately stuffing it in their pockets. Since the card represents the person, it's valuing the individual.

One person shared on this point - "I have had some experience with this during my tenure in Silicon Valley and San Francisco working with many Asian companies. In the Japanese culture, it's considered a great accomplishment to rise to a level that warrants having your own business card - lot's of hard work and lot's of sacrifice - so having a business card is worthy of respect and there is a high assignment of value towards people who possess a business card as a result. They present with both hands, and it is proper etiquette as an American to spend a few moments reviewing the card vs just stuffing it in your pocket, which is considered an insult in their culture and you have little chance of doing a deal no matter how courteous the ensuing discussion."

This was new information to me and it made me think of how many business cards end up in the trash the next day. They are either trashed because the person provided "no value" or they are trashed after their contact information is input into some contact management system. Either way, not good for reducing our carbon footprint! I know I can be somewhat lazy about this and developed my infamous envelope solution. Rather than manually inputting their information I sort the cards into different categories of people, business or networking events and write that category on the envelop. Not truly effective or high tech, but I do back through them periodically to see if there is someone that I should contact to build a connection.

Business cards get social

What did come out in this discussion loud and clear is that people often go to the next step after meeting a key contact. They "Google" their name to learn more about them. If they do not find anything there, they will go to LinkedIn and read that profile. So what that tells me is that our business cards are lacking some key information to connect with people.

More and more business people are creating profiles for social networks and are branding their own name with personal blogs that show they are the expert in their field. It would make sense that your business card at least provide your personal URL site to direct your connections to learn more about you.

Additionally, it is helpful to provide your social media contact information to assist people to connect with you. If you have a blog, you should just direct someone to your site where they can connect with you in Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook. By the time all of this information gets listed on your card, there is probably little space.

A growing trend is for people to put a QR code on their business card. QR code is a 2 dimension bar code that can store all your business card information with it. If you print it at the back of your business card people can scan your QR code and all your business card information would be directly transferred to their address book. This would include all of your social media information as well.

There are a couple of options for using the QR code with on your business card. You can search online for websites that will do a free QR code for you and this can be printed and put on your business card. Anyone with a smart phone and app can quickly scan your contact information into their phone and contact management system. A friend of mine ordered some interesting new cards that are more like Trading Cards from a site called Meet-MeMe. It has has her picture, Twitter followers, personal website, email and phone number all listed in addition to her QR code. On the reverse side she has a short bio, favorite quote and special qualities listed. The cards also match the color of her personal brand from her website and profiles. There are similar providers offering these services on the internet.

The bottom line is that business cards are still relevant, but there is a growing need for people to furnish people with ways to connect via social media. The most professional way is to purchase your own domain name and personally brand yourself with your online business card/ blog. We have gone past adding people as "contacts" these days, we now want them as a "connection". What are your thoughts about social media business cards?

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