In a digital age, do we still need business cards? With LinkedIn and smartphones, not to mention email, is it still necessary to hand someone a 3.5-by-2 inch piece of paper? Is it environmentally responsible? Many of our traditionally printed materials are going digital: newspapers, books, records, and files. Is it time now to give up business cards?
The First Cards
The first version of the business card dates all the way back to the 15th century. “Visiting cards” were used in China to request a visit with someone or prove credentials at an important establishment. When the cards reached Europe in the 1600s, they were used for everything from business interactions to dating. These evolved into “trade cards”, which became common in the 1600s. Trade cards had promotional messages printed on one side and a map to the business on the other. These were initially used by the upper class—truly calling cards. Remember how every Jane Austen character presented a card upon arrival?
Trade cards melded with visiting cards to create the modern business card. Combining personal and business info happened with the advent of the industrial revolution in the 1700s and 1800s. The cards became more common and were no longer reserved for the elite.
In Defense of Business Cards
There’s an argument that says you look unprepared and unprofessional without a business card. The counter-argument is that having a card can make you look young and inexperienced. Who’s right?
There are advantages to having a business card. You can use one to show off your personal style. A business card can make you memorable by serving as a physical reminder of an interaction—a prompt that brings you to mind. They also cater to an older clientele that expects to be given a business card. Finally, business cards can make an employee feel like a valued part of the company.
In Defense of a Digital Connection
Those who argue that business cards should become obsolete say all the info on a card can be found online. And if you have an initial meeting with a client, when you’d usually hand out a card, you obviously already have all that info. Accessing those details digitally means you have a record that never gets lost in your wallet or accidentally run through the washing machine.
When you connect digitally, you’ve made a networking connection. With an app like LinkedIn, your info is immediately visible to a wider audience. Your profile is linked to the original contract but can also be seen by other potential contacts. Unlike a paper business card, you can keep an electronic profile updated. Speaking of which, make sure you have a digital presence so you can be found in an online search.
Business in the Digital Age
If you decide to stick with a traditional business card, why not make it a little less traditional? An interactive video card has an audio and video component in a sort of business card booklet. This book contains a tiny 2.4 inch LCD screen that plays your video message. Another option is the interactive business card with augmented reality, which is kind of like a QR code gone wild.
Remember Bump? This was a digital solution for exchanging business cards created in 2008. People would literally bump phones to exchange information. If both parties had the app and the phones ware close enough, electronic information would be swapped. Bump generated huge initial backing and was eventually bought by Google. In the end, the app was used more for photo sharing and connecting with friends than as a business tool. Bump was shut down in early 2014.
While the business card has declined in importance in the US, this isn’t the case everywhere. It’s never a bad idea to take business cards to an international event. In Japan, business cards (known as “meishi”) are held in high regard. If you’re doing business in the Land of the Rising Sun, cards should be printed in both English and Japanese. When presenting your card, etiquette dictates that it’s passed out with both hands, with the Japanese side facing up. When receiving a business card, it should be accepted with both hands and the purveyor should be thanked. Writing on a business card or carelessly shoving it in your pocket is seen as disrespectful behavior.
Paper or Digital?
If you decide the traditional business card is played out, there are many alternatives to consider. Whether you opt to use a business card or connect digitally, follow-up seems to be the most important part of networking. Making an initial impression is important, but so is making a lasting impression.