It's easy to forget how virtual our worlds have become. And how our work ethic has increased. The days of telegrams and three-martini lunches are but dim cultural memories succeeded by protein shakes and instant messages. Entire relationships, both romantic and professional, are now carried out with a series of keystrokes and emoticons. In fact, with so many new methods of communication-webcams, video conferencing, live chats-gaining acceptance in the business world, one might be tempted to relegate conferences and other flesh-pressed social rituals to the dustbins of history.
One, of course, would be mistaken. With Cybersocket offering an annual series of Webmaster Parties, we thought we'd provide a primer for those of you still unclear as to how to make the most of your networking.
"There's no substitute for meeting your colleagues in person," suggests Tim Valenti, webmaster and president of NakedSword.com. "The Internet is a new way of conducting business, but the fundamentals of success are still the same-you need to meet your clients and customers if you're going to really meet their needs."
Valenti's point is perhaps the most important in an increasingly digitized world. Like politicians beholden to polls, webmasters used to dealing data reports and spreadsheets often undervalue anecdotal feedback.
"We certainly take customer service reports seriously," continues Valenti, "but that's only one input stream. By attending consumer fairs and trade shows, I can talk to the people who know of NakedSword, or have visited the site but have not used it. Talking to non-members and non-clients is one of the best ways to find out what needs improvement."
As a website owner, Valenti has good reason to keep his ears alert-in a field flooded with applications and ideas, the attentive bird gets (and keeps) the worm. Jack Shamama, e-commerce director for Gay.com and Kleptomaniac.com sees opportunity where others merely see glad-handing and lectures.
"Industry mixers can seem interminably boring," says Shamama, "but only if you don't know what you're doing." Part of his success lies with keeping a structured schedule for conventions that can stretch on three days or more. "You need to arrive with a list of goals-who you are going to see, what you need from whom, and things that you'd like to accomplish. If you don't know what you want to get out of [a conference], you shouldn't be there."
For Shamama, a successful trip not only involves visiting and talking with every exhibitor with whom his companies already do business, but also new retailers who he may not have heard of. "The larger the event, the more likely I'll meet someone or see some new product that could benefit [from a partnership]. It's almost a gut reaction that I wouldn't necessarily get from seeing it online."
Of course, many would argue the most important part of the weekend happens at night, when exhibitors, distributors, colleagues and competitors cocktail party hop, pass out business cards and smile excessively.
"Industry social events can be very tedious," admits Erica Pederson, webmaster at online travel site Boulevards.com. "But that's true of any industry, not just the Internet. In the end, you only get back what you put in."
Cocktail parties, in particular, pique Pedersen's journalistic interest. Not only to see who can hold their liquor, but also to keep an ear open to new industry trends. "When you get these people together you can find out more by listening than by talking. If there's something new happening in my industry, it'll leak out in the evening."
Valenti echoes Pedersen's estimation of social time. "The feeling of camaraderie you find after a long day at a conference isn't available anywhere online. Some deals can only be made over a cocktail."
Despite the glamour of bytes and pixels, the Internet is not an end unto itself. It can only improve upon an existing connection. Like Internet love, business relationships will fail without a certain amount of personal interaction.
For comprehensive listings of upcoming adult industry webmaster parties, and to view photos of past events, visit FubarWebmasters.com. As their slogan says, "It's the next best thing to being there!"
Michel Stabile was born to a carnival family before heading West to San Francisco, where he fit right in. Before becoming a cyberfag, he paid the bills with food, beauty and lifestyle writing.