It has probably happened to most, if not all, of us: you jump onto a Twitter chat or other online networking event and five seconds later you have a direct message from someone you just met asking you to meet for coffee tomorrow. Or maybe you’ve made a new connection who has suddenly friend requested you on Facebook, recommended all of your conversations on Brazen, and commented on every blog post you’ve written since 2007. (Cue the creepy Twilight Zone music here.)
While on the one hand it’s admirable that your connections are reaching out and making the effort to get to know you, moving your online networking to offline collaborations can take some finesse. It’s sort of like dating: you have to take it slow, and have a good sense of how much is too much and how soon is too soon.
Here are four tips for successfully transitioning your online networking into the real world:
1. Stick to One Medium at First
When you’re first getting to know someone you’d like to connect with, it’s often best to converse primarily on the original platform where you were introduced. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to using social media, so until you learn more about your contact’s social and professional preferences, sticking to the original platform allows you to play it safe. In other words, if you connected with someone at a Network Roulette event, focus on continuing the conversation on Brazen. If you met on a Twitter chat, stick to Twitter.
Of course, if a new contact has other social media accounts clearly listed in his or her bio, connecting with him or her in those places is fine. The contact obviously wants to connect in additional ways. Just take it slow, as this will give you a chance to get to know each other better (and make sure the connection is one you that’s also right for you to make on all of your accounts).
2. Move from Platforms to Email
Once you’ve become more familiar with a new contact, take the relationship to the next level: email. Ask your contact if they’d mind if you talked over email and check which email address they’d prefer to use.
The key here is ask—while people’s emails, especially work emails, are often accessible on the web, asking your contacts if it’s all right to email them shows your respect for their privacy. And with so much personal information available these days, that respect can be really important to your relationships in the future.
3. Treat Facebook with Care
Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer to keep Facebook pretty much exclusive to friends and family. (After all, you never know when an elementary school friend is going to post an embarrassing second grade Little League photo.) Just like with email, if you want to link up with your contacts on Facebook, it’s nice to shoot them an email asking their permission first. This gives you the opportunity to find out how they prefer to communicate and manage their social accounts, and it also gives them a chance to set and explain their boundaries (without feeling like they are going to offend you if they chose to ignore your request). And please note: if they say no, you shouldn’t be offended. Some people really just prefer to keep their business and social accounts separate.
4. Organize a TweetUp (or Other F2F Connection)
It’s true: you can make really great connections for your blog, your job search, or your start-up on social media. You can move forward, get ahead, and do business without even meeting many of your contacts. But as great as these mediums are, getting to meet a contact or partner face-to-face, shake their hand, and have a bite (or a cocktail) together is the best way to cement a professional relationship.
If you’re traveling, run through your list of regular contacts and see who lives in the area and wants to get together. (This can be a great way to get a local view of wherever you’re visiting!) If you live in the same area as many of your contacts, organize a tweet up. And if there are some connections who you just can’t find a way to meet in person, organize a Skype call. Nothing beats a face to face connection, even if it can only be on a computer screen.
Noël Rozny is the web editor and content manager for myFootpath, a career and education resource for students of all ages. She writes and edits the site’s career and education blog, myPathfinder by day, and works on her personal blog by night. You can find her on Twitter @myfootpath or @noelrozny.