Posted by Dr. Pete
Social media is a bit of a paradox – we have more “friends” than ever, but our relationships feel more and more superficial. When we retreat to the comfort of the internet, we introverts have even less incentive to get to know people IRL (In Real Life, for those who don’t spend all day on the internet). If you know me online, it may surprise you to hear that I consider myself a recovering introvert. I’m also a work-at-home father of a 1-year-old, so I’m lucky to hit one SEO conference a year.
In honor of being in Seattle for Mozcon this week, I’d like to share 5 tips for how I’ve managed to make social media count and turn online relationships into real, offline friendships and business partnerships. Just to illustrate the point, that’s a picture of me with SEOmoz enthusiast and fellow proud dad Gianluca Fiorelli, who I finally got to meet in person today (thanks to Rudy Lopez for snapping the picture).
1. Get to Know People
If you only see your online friends as a way to get more Likes and +1s or water your Farmville crops when you’re out of town, you’ll never develop a real-life connection. Building any lasting relationship starts with sincerity. I think that 80% of my own success comes from the fact that I genuinely like people. Social media blurs the lines between work and personal life, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to get to know more about people’s lives outside of work.
2. Be a White-hat Stalker
Social media is also an amazing way to keep track of people, especially with real-time information like Twitter and FourSquare. Sometimes, all it takes is paying attention and knowing when you and your online friends will be in the same place at the same time. A couple of years ago, I was on Twitter and noticed that an industry friend was visiting the Google office in Chicago, just a few blocks from my condo. I pinged him, and two hours later we were having a beer together.
I’m not suggesting that you actually stalk people and show up uninvited to wherever they check in. White-hat stalking is about finding opportunity in the fact that many people in our industry spend a lot of time on the road. Sometimes, an online friend from across the country or even the other side of the globe just happens to be in town. Sometimes, you’re going to the same event, and may not even realize it. It’s all about paying attention.
3. Pre-arrange a Meetup
If you are going to an event, especially a large conference, it’s easy to assume that meeting people will just naturally happen. Conferences are big events and 2-4 days can go by in a flash. If you’re going to be at an event, let people know. It may feel self-indulgent, but announce online that you’re going. If you leave meeting up to chance, you’re going to miss a lot of people. Arrange a meetup – it could be dinner the night before the event, or it could just be making sure you find each other at the after-party. Don’t overthink it – a simple “Hey, I’m in Session A3 – where are you?” on Twitter works wonders.
4. Don’t Miss a Chance
When an opportunity does come along to meet someone IRL, don’t pass it up. Not to keep picking on Gianluca, but when he arrived at the hotel yesterday he tweeted that he was down in the lobby. At a relatively small, 3-day conference, it’s easy to assume that we’d have plenty of chances to meet up, but instead I told him to wait a minute, grabbed my room key, and jumped in the elevator. I can’t count the number of times I saw someone I wanted to meet, thought “They look busy, I’m sure I’ll see them later” and then didn’t. Don’t miss your chance.
5. Act Like an Extrovert
I hate the phrase “Fake it ‘til you make it” because of that one word – fake. It’s taken me a long time to accept that there’s a huge difference between deliberately being fake and acting the way you’d like to act, even if it’s a bit out of character. If you’re outgoing online, you’d probably like to be a little more outgoing IRL. So, why not try it on for size? No one online knows that you’re secretly terrified of your own shadow. These days, when I recognize an online friend, I approach them like we’ve known each other forever. It’s amazing what a difference that makes.
To the introverts out there, I’d just like to end by saying that many of the people in this industry that you think are social animals are closet introverts themselves. One of my favorite industry posts of all time is Lisa Barone’s introvert confession back in 2008. Even social media professionals struggle with actually being social IRL. If you’re at Mozcon, don’t be afraid to say “hi” – I only bite when I haven’t been fed.