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This Is Real Life: How to Connect Offline with Your Online Contacts

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 11:25am | by Helen Hoart

Technology has played an interesting role in our lives: It's provided tools to help us get connected and closer to each other, but often we just end up hiding behind them.

Time Magazine recently reported stated that nearly 40 percent of us socialize online more than we do face-to-face, and about a fifth of us prefer texting or Web messaging over talking on the phone or engaging in face-to-face communication. There may be a larger societal issue at work here, but in the meantime, let's focus on how we can expand our online networks into offline meetings.

Whether it's for business or pleasure, meeting others face to face has benefits that can't be found online. Seeing each other in a live setting makes the relationship more personal. People can pick up on others' body language nuances, and there are subtleties in personal communication that either can't be communicated or are often misinterpreted on text and chat. Making an effort to meet with social contacts offline helps reinforce your day-to-day online relationships. In the end, this will help you personally and professionally.

If you find yourself spending more nights on your Samsung Galaxy 3 rather than meeting up with real, live people, read on for inspiration on broadening your online network into offline communities:

Make Meetings Celebrations

Social networks themselves serve as icebreakers; you can find opportunities to meet through them. Many networks have their own in-person celebrations, such as the national Foursquare Day and Tweetups (Twitter meetups).

Meetup.com features networking events in your area based on your interests. If you want to meet others interested in sports, spirituality or nightlife, Meetup will help you connect with like-minded people from your neck of the woods. Meetup also enables you to log in with Facebook and see which of your Facebook friends are attending certain events.

If you're outgoing by nature and have no problem talking with strangers, consider asking a social media contact you'd like to meet up with in person to coffee or lunch. Or, at the next party or happy hour you're hosting, invite some of your online contacts. Pay attention to the exchanges happening online, and invite those with common interests to join you the next time you participate in your hobby.

Also, examine which networks people are using to posts check-ins. Then you can let them know you're present at the event as well, and then meet from there.

Tips for Shy Networkers

The passive, anonymous nature of the Internet presents comfort for people who have a harder time networking in person. Be confident, and read up on how to communicate effectively with your network . The worst that can happen is they're not interested, but if it goes well, you'll gain a great new friend or business connection who can introduce you to more meaningful people in the future. If meeting someone you've only known online makes you a little nerve-wracked, invite a common friend to the meeting. Or, establish a clear-cut purpose for the meeting; you might start out discussing your latest business deal, but then naturally establish more personal connections from there.

Attend a networking event takes a certain amount of verve, and some of us have difficulty being upfront at networking events. Here are some simple ways to succeed, from a CIO article quoting the CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates:

  • Smile. Ask questions. Listen.
  • Remember to bring business cards.
  • Say the other person's name in conversation.
  • Ask for more introductions from the person you're meeting.

Doing these things helps put others who may be even more shy than you at ease.

You could also force yourself into a leadership position that forces you to be social, such as co-sponsoring a happy hour on behalf of your company. Do so, and then invite your social network connections to it. You'll be obligated to work the room, and your role will give you an excuse to check in on everyone.

Volunteer to speak for business groups you're connected to or be interviewed for media your online connections follow. This not only shows off your expertise in person, but it'll give you an excuse for a deeper connection, media expert David Siteman Garland blogged.

Distant Connections

If you have social media connections who live far away, replace live networking with Web video communications tools like Skype, Google+ Hangouts and FaceTime.

If you're traveling to a new place and don't know many people in the area, consider using your social networks to reach out to people. They may even turn into your own personal tour guide while also strengthening your bond.

Keep This in Mind

Just like you nurture relationships with your friends and family in person, connecting offline with online contacts is a great way to become closer. Face-to-face contact is a great way to ensure they think of you the next time they have a great job opportunity or someone talented to refer to you.

Look at your online and offline networks as symbiotic: It's important to nurture both aspects to create a more engaged online community, and then reinforce those relationships in person. Look for  opportunities to integrate the two, such as Tweet-friendly networking events or happy hours that encourage Foursquare check-ins, and watch as both networks grow.

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