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How to turn online social networking into real-life relationships

I have a confession: I used to be painfully shy in unfamiliar situations, especially when it came to networking. A room full of people chatting away for me felt like walking through a minefield…obviously not a good trait for a journalist.

I eventually learned to suck it up and jump in the fray, but in today’s internet age, making meaningful connections is much easier. The following tips for expanding your network and contacts in a digital environment will help you translate those online connections into lasting real-world relationships.

Find a niche social network

The first step to building relationships online is joining social networks that appeal to you. For digital journos, the place to be is Wired Journalists, the social network where writers, producers and editors share job-related tips and events. Similar social networks exist for every conceivable profession, hobby or interest. Finding the right one is as easy as searching sites like Find a Social Network or Go2Web20′s community page. There will you find networks populated by others with similar interests, which is highly favorable over broader social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

Blog

If you have a niche blog, you already have an established place to network. Kibitz with those leaving comments on your blog, find more about them and who they are beyond the online username. Blogging is also a great way to establish oneself as a player in a particular field or profession and attract others to you. More tips on blogging can be found at this previous post.

If you don’t have a blog, start one and begin leaving comments and interacting with other fellow bloggers. You won’t have a following overnight, but over time your network will grow. And because you’re sitting behind a computer, networking becomes less of a daunting task.

Tweet!

It’s no secret that Twitter is the social network du jour for finding like-minded individuals. For 10,000 Words that means interacting with the many journalists on Twitter, but by doing a simple search you can find others who share the same interests or career as you do.

Because the end goal of all this networking is to establish real-life relationships, consider searching for Twitter users near you. Third-party sites like TwitterLocal, localtweeps, and Twellow make searching by zip code easy, thus increasing the chances of an offline relationship. If you haven’t signed up for Twitter already, do it now, write a few relevant tweets and be sure not to fall for the common mistakes made by Twitter newbies.

Have an online portfolio

When meeting others, you have mere seconds to show them your personality and make a good impression, something that is easier said than done. If your end goal for social networking is to get a job or further your career, it is essential to create an online portfolio that is a representation of who you are. It doesn’t have to be fancy — just a representation of or links to your work — but it should showcase your personality and what sets you apart from others. Your online portfolio should also include your updated résumé, contact information, and — if you’re up to it — a photo of yourself.

The disadvantage of professional social networking sites like LinkedIn is it is difficult to stand out from the crowd and make a lasting impression. When you do start establishing relationships, it is better to have something personal to send people to rather than a staid fact sheet. For a list of great online portfolios that are unique and full of personality, click here.

Revamp your business card

Before you start meeting people in real life, you’ve got to have a great business card that, like your online portfolio, sets you apart from others. A company-issued, black-text-on-white-card-stock piece of paper won’t cut it anymore. Like the unique business cards on this list, your business card to should use bold colors and fonts to make it come alive. It should list your email, online portfolio, blog, Twitter name, LinkedIn name, Flickr account…everywhere you can be found online (that you don’t mind other people seeing). For an example, check out my personal business card below.

Introduce yourself

The one crucial step to shifting online contacts to offline associates is introducing yourself personally. For casual relationships, a simple “Hey my name is (blank) and I saw your comment/post/tweet about (blank) I’d like to chat with you some time about it.” A small compliment goes a long way, as does a sunny disposition.

Invite the person for lunch at a inexpensive restaurant or a chat over a cup of coffee. Meeting at a nearby coffee shop is a great way to introduce yourself without being overzealous. Most importantly, don’t be overbearing. You don’t want the other party to think you are a stalker, a spammer or that you are needy or desperate. If they decline, simply move on and resist the urge to send follow-up emails or phone calls.

Go where the community is

So you’ve established online connections…it’s time to put them to use. Find upcoming mixers, conferences or tweetups near you where you will find those with similar interests or career paths. Learn who will attend ahead of time and employ the aforementioned techniques so that when you arrive at the event you’ll already know a few people there. Be sure to hand them your business card, which — if it is as unique as this post advises — should be a great conversation starter and possibly the beginning of a lasting relationship.

Thanks to costa_kout for answering the call and suggesting today’s post. Got something you want to see on 10,000 Words? Send a tweet to @10000Words. Flickr photo by cybertoad.


Also on 10,000 Words:

Essential social networks for journalists
Pump up your portfolio via mobile or video
The 20 Essential RSS Feeds for Multimedia Journalists
Classifieds 2.0: Social networks for brides and the deceased
How to make the most of your journalism internship

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