Monday, March 29, 2010

The Business Card Is Dead

Long live contact information.

Over the past few weeks, at more than one business presentation and network mixer—including #SMCNH (Social Media Club New Hampshire), #SMBNH (Social Media Breakfast New Hampshire), #mtosummit (MTO Summit) and others—more than one professional greeted my request for his or her business card with the response that he or she didn't have one, but "it doesn't really matter. We'll just follow each other on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn. What's your name? Mine's..." These professionals' heads then turned downward as they buried themselves in their BlackBerry or iPhone or Android or whatever and looked for me online—right there, on the spot.

What? At some of these gatherings, as I proceeded to look at my nametag and my newfound contact's, I recalled that event staff had encouraged us to include our Twitter user names on them. But even at the events where our Twitter handles were not displaying on our nametags, early adopters everywhere were eschewing the business card, instead going straight for the social media site or installed mobile application of their choice, either to connect or to record my contact information. As I handed these folks my business card, a feeling of slight embarrassment replaced the feeling of pride that has usually accompanied the notion that, "Hey, I have an official business card to share with you."

Of all the holdovers from the days of hard copy marketing collateral, the business card has seemed ironclad, its domain sacred and impenetrable by the otherwise unstoppable march of technology. "People will always trade business cards" we've all heard, and even now, rarely will someone say the business card is no longer a necessity. But the business card as we know it is dying. No longer a multipurpose tool, more and more its role is becoming relegated. More and more, the business card is becoming a statement of brand just as easily expressed elsewhere, and the contact information traditionally found on it is now available just as readily (and more easily stored and remembered) elsewhere, as well.

Sure, only those on the cutting edge of social media attended some of these events, but even so, the trend away from hard copy business cards is undeniable. Mobile technology is driving this change, and while many may rue the business card's demise and the loss of the tangible—count me among the Luddites in this matter—the alternative is in fact preferable; the easy exchange and storage of contact information has always been the primary purpose of the business card, and technology has rendered the traditional business card no longer the easiest way to exchange and store contact information. It's as simple as that.

For instance, savvy readers may already know of the iPhone Business Card for ActiveRain:

Another is Catcher in the Sky's Name Catcher:

Applications such as these facilitate the exchange of information during the initial business encounter. With them, the process is often to take a new contact's photo and then record the associated phone number, e-mail address, Twitter user name, LinkedIn profile URL, blog address, pertinent notes about the first meeting, and more into a dynamic, searchable and Web-enabled interface, usable whenever you find a need to get in touch with that person. With a hard copy business card, you must remember and find the time to record and store all the typically handwritten information later. Unless you're extremely organized, that can be the end of it, and unless the data is tailored for mobile technology, that information can be challenging (or just a plain old nuisance) to retrieve later.

Technology's battalions have exploited the old world's latest weak spot. The next time you go to an event where technology types congregate, see for yourself. As you proceed to obtain new contacts' information, take note of their attitudes toward business cards. Whether they're using a BlackBerrry or iPhone or Android or whatever, their responses may lead you to conclude as I have.