No one disagrees that building relationships is indispensable for business success. However, when it comes to the best way to make this happen, opinions are all over the place. On one hand are the traditionalists who stand by the age-old process of going to real life events, seminars, conferences, and panels with a stack of business cards in hand. On the flip side are the digital advocates--those who believe that through social media, blogging, and the like, a businessperson can build a dedicated army of fans, friends, and followers without ever stepping outside the front door.

In truth, businesspeople who neglect either side are seriously selling themselves short.

Dissolving the Boundary

Having a big Twitter following is fantastic, but many people can attest that it doesn't always translate into new business. Quite simply, online relationships are nowhere near as strong as those you initiate and foster in the real world. Despite what the proponents of our cybernetic future might have you believe, human beings are best able to form a strong bond by meeting face to face.

At the same time, building relationships solely over lunches, coffees, and cocktail parties is, by definition, limited by time and space. So while bricks-and-mortar networkers may build much deeper relationships, they will also build far fewer.

The secret to bridging this gap is to realize that the boundary between your online and offline networks is actually artificial. Whether someone is sitting across the table from you or sitting behind a computer sending messages back and forth, he or she is a flesh-and-blood human being. As such, you should treat everyone you come in contact with as part of your extended network, and look for ways to make connections across and between the two worlds.

For example, when you find out that a social media fan lives in your area, set up an appointment to meet him or her in person. Create a podcast or blog where you interview interesting people you've met at offline events. Invite people you meet at conferences to subscribe to your blog, then send them online content that will enrich their lives. Connect a person you've met in the real world with another you met online and let them both know why you think they can help each other.

Allowing your online and offline worlds to interact in this way can create a multiplier effect. Instead of having to choose between size and depth, you'll immediately get more of both.