Here’s a question to ponder: did you hand out or receive any business cards at the last networking event you attended?

Just 10 years ago it would have been unusual, even downright unprofessional, to turn up to a breakfast seminar or formal black-tie dinner without some to hand.

Returning to the office with a stash of fresh business cards to add to the collection was seen as the hallmark of a successful and productive event.

Nowadays, however, there is a growing sense in some quarters that the business card has had its day.

In a digital age, many business people find it quicker and easier (not to mention more effective) to connect with a new contact or potential client on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter.

A recent article by the Los Angeles Times found that sales of business cards in the US have been falling at an accelerating rate since the 1990s.

In 2011, US-based printing companies made 13 per cent less revenue from printing business cards than in 2006.

So, is it time to consign the business card to the history books (and the dustbin) in favour of the online networking tools that have become such a vital part of day-to-day communications for many businesses?

Not just yet. In the same way that many people still enjoy the experience of sitting down with a printed newspaper or magazine, business cards still have an important role to play.

A stylish, professional and original business card speaks volumes about you and your organisation, and will help to create a lasting impression.

In a digital age, there is still a certain pleasure to be had in receiving a high-quality tangible product such as a business card. The same goes for brochures and newsletters.

Of course, the importance or otherwise of business cards depends largely on the sector you’re working in and the demographic make-up of your target customers / clients.

While Twitter and LinkedIn will be the favoured method of keeping in touch for a room-full of graduates at a digital marketing conference in London, delegates at a B2B manufacturing trade show in a small town would still be advised to go equipped with business cards in pocket.

As with all aspects of marketing and PR in 2012, it’s important to consider both the online and offline elements of networking.

The crucial thing is to have effective tactics in mind for how to follow-up on any key contacts made at a networking event – whether that be via the power of the rolodex or the hashtag.