Each year, an estimated 10 billion business cards are printed.
But in the digital age, when e-mail and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn promise seamless opportunities for connection, does the business card still have a role to play? Or are the 2-inch by 3.5-inch documents a relic of a bygone era?
The truth seems to lie somewhere between those two extremes.
In some quarters of the business world, there seems to be evidence that cards are on the outs. Revenues for business cards in the U.S. declined 13 percent from 2006 to 2012 for a total of $211.1 million, according to IBISWorld, an Australian company that tracks the data.
As a partner at Lantern, I still use business cards myself occasionally, but much less so than early in my career. That’s emblematic of the overall digital shift in the way professionals connect. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve run across three or four situations when a new professional acquaintance has told me they’ve permanently ditched their business card.
In light of the business card’s decline, here are a few tips for connecting with other professionals, whether online or in person.
1. Consider the context.
Just because the business card is in decline doesn’t mean you can disregard its importance in certain quarters of the business world.
Before leaving your cards at home ahead of a networking event or business trip, consider the kind of professionals you’ll encounter. Are they in a conservative industry, or a more forward-thinking, casual one? If it’s the former, they may be more likely to still think of a business card as a primary way to connect. In those cases, it could be an odd revelation for someone to hear you don’t use or have business cards.
2. Connect online first.
It’s no secret that online social networking sites such as LinkedIn are becoming the de facto place for professional connect. That’s why it’s more important than ever before to make sure your online outposts and brand communicate the same information a business card once would—at a minimum.
Before you connect with professionals, be sure your online profiles include your latest position title and contact information.
3. Make your business card work.
If you do still use a business card, consider ways you might bring it into the Internet age. Our business cards at Lantern, for example, have QR codes on the back that drive new connections back to our website.
We are well along on the path to when people abandon the business card. But we’re not there yet. Until we arrive, be prepared to deal with both business card camps: the haves and the have-nots.