LEADING THOUGHTS Once upon a time (a year or so ago), I tweeted something, to which someone responded: “Hey, you should meet @alizasherman“. I no longer remember the particulars of the context, nor does it matter really. What matters is that through this Twitter introduction, Aliza and I virtually “shook hands”, mutually followed and started to build a “professional acquaintance” relationship, tracking each others’ personal and professional developments, commenting, tweeting and retweeting.
One day, I came across a tweet from Aliza, stating that she is heading to San Francisco for Web 2.0, one of the leading conferences in the tech world. Aliza was presenting a session on social media marketing and was regretting that there weren’t many other women presenters. I drew her attention to the several awesome female presenters at Web2Open, organized by the fabulous Janetti Chon, which Aliza immediately appreciated. Once we got to the conference, we sent direct messages (private messages on Twitter), exchanging phone numbers, connected and made plans to meet. “Look for the pink boa and tiara”, she said. “Wow, that’s so cool! A woman in tech who knows how to stand out! I think we’ll get along well!” – I thought to myself. We met, got to chatting and discovered that we had some shared business needs, and she was working some projects where she had a need for a product I was evangelizing. Additionally, it turned out that, as expected, we had many friends in common; so we extended our conversation to night networking events in order to meet up with those friends. I knew Aliza and I had sparked a great relationship. It actually ended up evolving to the point of her doing a great educational webinar for my company. We have seen each other at many events since then, and we talk on Twitter quite a bit.
The example of how Aliza and I met is just that: an example. This has happened many times, where a relationship was sparked in digital channels and allowed to flourish due to meeting face to face. The connection is almost always stronger when it’s reinforced in person. And this is just the beauty of social networks: it allows us to meet people we wouldn’t ordinarily meet, either due to geographical constraints or even personality traits (some people, like me, for example, are more shy in person than online).
Especially with Twitter, which is an open network, you can meet whoever you want, whenever you want. All you have to do is know what to listen for, how to separate noise from signal, and how to engage effectively. Sounds easy, right? By the same token, sometimes you meet someone in person first, and keep the relationship warm via social networks. Prior to social networking, you would have to either call or email to stay in touch. Now, you can harness and nourish these loose connections much easier.
There’s no shortage of tools that make “planned serendipity” possible when you do find yourself in the same geographical locale as your digital friends. Before departing, share your plans via a tool like Dopplr. Make sure you publish these plans to the networks where you feel comfortable to publish this level of information. Make sure to update your status(es) publicly and reach out privately to the people you especially look forward to meeting. Once you are there, you can even use location-based tools like Foursquare, Whrrl and Gowalla. Even though I’m certainly not a fan of publishing your location at all times, there can be tremendous value in announcing when you arrive at large public events. To proactively meet people at events that interest you, Plancast is laser-focused on following your friends’ events, as well as discovering new ones. Meetup is also great to find groups bound by similar passions and interests.
Even though it may seem counter-intuitive that you are driving in-person interaction via online networks, it really does strengthen relationships. People are social creatures, after all! I encourage you to build those relationships online, get to know each other, and then go meet in person when possible. When you do meet, you will be able to have a much more productive and substantive conversation, because instead of spending time on smalltalk and shallow questions like “what do you do?”, you can spend the time getting to know each other. And of course, once you have met in person, make sure to update their Nimble record, which you will use to further grow and nurture the relationship.
Happy networking, and stay Nimble! Now tell me, how do you network? How do you bridge the gap between the offline and online? Do you find that they reinforce each other?
Photo credit: enriqueburgosgarcia