Five ways to turn online relationships into offline connections

Meet for coffee

Meeting for coffee is an easy, tried-and-true way to build offline relationships. (Photo by trublueboy @ stock.xchng - http://www.sxc.hu/photo/644967)

So let’s say, hypothetically, that you’ve been really successful in your social media efforts and you are building relationships online. That’s great. But sometimes, to take a business relationship to the next level, you need to take it offline. How do you do that? Here are some simple suggestions:

Professional Meetings and Conferences

Nearly every profession has professional conferences, trade shows and other events where people converge to learn and network together. Reach out to your online contacts in your industry and ask whether any of them of will be at the events that you’re attending. If so, ask to have lunch with them, meet them at breakfast or find some other way to connect.

Local Professional Society Events

Professional societies are also a great way to turn local online relationships into local offline relationships. If you’re a member of a professional group (such as the Public Relations Society of America for PR pros), there is very likely a local chapter that has regular meetings. Offer to meet at one of those events and make a point of connecting in person there.

Tip: If you’re a member of a professional group that doesn’t have a local chapter, consider forming one yourself. Do that and your local (and national) professional opportunities are likely to grow considerably. (This was something I had planned to do in 2009, but then the year got overwhelmingly busy for me. We’ll see if I’m able to carve out some time this year.)

Tweetups and Meetups

There may be informal groups meeting in your area that include people you know online. Check out Tweetups.org and Meetup.com to find local informal gatherings you might join. If there aren’t any already taking place, consider organizing one yourself. Organizing an event yourself is a true power-networker move. Here are some tips from Mashable on organizing successful Tweetups.

Coffee and Food

Beyond group events, the old standby of “let’s have coffee/lunch/drinks sometime” is an easy, low pressure way to turn an online connection into an offline relationship. This usually makes sense once you’ve had some mutually enriching back-and-forth communications with someone and you’ve reached the limits of what you can practically do online. Sometimes, a 30-minute mid-morning coffee can allow for a level and depth of communication that’s difficult online. You can discover professional opportunities (for collaboration, partnerships or even employment), build your Rolodex and simply enjoy meeting someone new.

The same thing works when you’re traveling, too. If you have a trip coming up to another city, consider who you know online there that you might reach out to and meet in person. The worse someone can say is “I don’t have time.” A copywriter I only know online once offered to meet as he was passing through town. I accepted. We ended up canceling it due to an unavoidable conflict that came up on my end, but if he comes through town again I’d be happy to sit down and get to know him in person.

Note: Never put yourself in a situation that could be risky or dangerous with someone you don’t know well. Meet in a public place, pay your own way and arrange your own transportation. Exchange business cards, but not home addresses. ‘Nuff said.

Phone Calls

Finally, if you can’t arrange any of these in-person meetings, a phone call can sometimes work wonders for a relationship. If you’re an introvert (like me), this may strike you as unnatural and unnecessary. However, more often than not, this really works. After some online interaction where you find yourself thinking “what an interesting person” try sending this message: “Hey, I’d like to learn a bit more about you. Any chance you might have a few minutes for a phone call in the next week or two?”

What are your tips for taking networking and interaction from the Web to the offline world? Please share them in the comments below.

Why I’m becoming more promiscuous online

Are you conservative, friendly, open or promiscuous?

People use social media sites to network online in different ways, and you can classify them in roughly four categories.

Conservative: If you’re a conservative networker online, you’ll connect only to people you know in real life. It might even be just the people you know well and like.

Friendly: You’ll connect to people you know or have at least met in real life, even if it was only on a conference call, regardless of how well you know them.

Open: You’ll connect to anybody you’ve had some sort of contact with, online or off, even if the contact was as limited as following their tweets (or them following yours).

Promiscuous: You’ll connect to anybody, even complete strangers. You’re always looking for an excuse to send that invitation to link, always willing to accept one.

Ex-conservative becoming more promiscuous

Over time, I’ve progressed from the conservative end of this spectrum to promiscuous.  Why? Because it’s on that wide-open end of the spectrum that online social networking is so powerful.

Here’s what I mean. On the conservative end of the scale, where you’re connected to a relatively small number of people who you already know pretty well, social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook aren’t that much more useful than Microsoft Outlook. They give you a way to keep in touch electronically with people you already know, but that’s about it.

But as you make your online network wider and deeper, it becomes more and more difficult, and eventually impossible, to have the kind of personal relationship with each individual that you had when you were conservative. The connections in these broader networks are looser, the personal communication increasingly infrequent, the relationships weaker. But they are still connections, still relationships.

You can send out your status updates, pass along a useful link, maybe ask a question. Most of the people in your loose network may not pay a lot of attention, most of the time, but your status update — your ping to your network — is a way of maintaining at least a weak connection, but without being intrusive. Everyone is opted in. Anybody can opt out.

Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter, our blogs and the rest of the social media universe allow you to maintain more relationships at a greater distance, something that wouldn’t be practical for most of us offline.

Why would you want to maintain these weak relationships? Because when you need something (like a job), or want to know something (like an obscure piece of technical information) or have an idea you want to spread (maybe about the value of social networks and ‘weak’ relationships), you can tug the strings in your network and get more feedback than you ever could in your conservative real world network. Even though those connections are weak, if you ask the network for help, at least some people will respond.

So I’m becoming more promiscuous online. Want to follow me on Twitter? Go here. Want to connect to me on LinkedIn? I welcome it, find me here. Feel like friending me on Facebook? I’m friendly – go for it.

What about you? Are you a conservative networker online, or a prolific and promiscuous connector? Tell us about your online networking style, and why you’ve chosen that style, in the comments below.

Update: I’ve tweaked my approach just a bit. Please check out this post about my approach to Facebook. (Feb. 14, 2010)

Eight links on marketing, social media, blogging and more

I’ve got a whole bunch of good links for your mid-week browsing. Here we go:

1. Blogging: Add TwitterCounter to your blog to display how many people are following you on Twitter. I’ve added it over on the left, under the “Connect to Me” section.

2. Marketing: Price vs. customer service, which is more important? MarketingSherpa has a great chart that shows that companies often care more about customer service than price from their vendors. Losing customers? Maybe your pricing isn’t the problem. Maybe you need to take a good long look at your customer service. By the way, think about the implications for blogs, which are free to readers: The quality of what you provide to your readers, how you treat them, and how responsive you are to any comments or emails they send you may well determine how loyal they are.

3. Social media: Angela Connor is the community manager at WRAL.com here in North Carolina. She’s got a really cool blog foused on managing online communities, an increasingly important topic. Check it out.

4. Online marketing: Chris Brogan takes a look at how we can define the spectrum of social media marketing efforts, from banner ads at one end to dialogue between businesses and their customers. This helps to frame the slippery question of what should we do if we want to use social media marketing.

5. Writing: Copyblogger has links to two free teleclasses on copywriting and marketing. Free — so go forth and learn.

6. Social media: The Caffeinated Blog has eight tips for using StumbledUpon effectively. By the way, I love this blog’s name and wish I had thought of it first. But the blogger, Kari Rippetoe, has great content and is worth subscribing to. (And you can Stumble this post if you like — there’s a link at the bottom to make it easy.)

7. Management and career: Jeremiah points out that when you hire someone, you also get their network, including their online network. That can pose challenges for businesses, but it also brings opportunities. This is not a new idea, and applies to offline networks as well as online networks. In The Tom Peters Seminar, Peters describes the modern corporation as a Rolodex (the book was published in ’94, in the early days of the consumer Internet). The more experienced I get as a professional, the more I think that a greater and greater portion of my value as an employee comes from my existing network and my ability to nurture and grow that network. How are you working on your network?

8. Values: Christopher Penn reminds us that, to quote Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” What are you using your powers of marketing and communications for?