Social media is the primary way most of us connect with other people, and despite the proliferation of meme's and pictures of people's pets (which I'll admit, I love), social media can lead to some of the most meaningful connections in your life.
However, the most powerful social media relationships occur when you add the other senses to your interactions (e.g. you need to see them in person, shake their hand or hug them, hear their voice, and...smell them? Ok that'd be weird, but you know what I mean).
There is something chemical that happens when we meet with people in person that will never be replicated online. And the bonds you create with people in person are the ones that will affect your life - both personally and professionally.
So how do you turn a social media connection into a more meaningful connection? There are two strategies depending on your purpose, for friends or for business:
Too often we let social media take the place of in-person hang outs with friends. I call it the social shortcut - and I am so guilty of it.
Instead of making the effort to invite a friend to coffee or chat on the phone (do people even do that anymore?), the social shortcut allows you to just write something on their wall or send them a message. This works great for most things, but it keeps us from getting really close with people. And as humans, we need to feel that closeness with others in a live community.
So here's what you can do (don't worry, I'm not going to make you call anyone): instead of just messaging a friend or writing on their wall an open-ended "I miss you" or "we should hang out," look at your calendar, figure out when you're free, and then text or message them an invite to do XYZ on one of your free days. Give them all the times you're available that week and ask them to pick the time that they're free too.
Make the effort. Keep inviting people until someone says yes. Don't get discouraged. Because once you come home after hanging out in person, you will notice you get a feeling that social media just can't touch.
There is a lot of hype around how social media can help people in business. Some are skeptical, however, because it's difficult to quantify how social media effects sales or careers.
I've always been a huge believer that social media can help you find mentors and develop professional connections, and I've recently experienced how valuable those professional connections can be - especially when you translate them to in person meetings.
The third section of my book is all about how to do this, but in short, simply interact with them as you normally would wherever you "met" them (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) and get to know them by what they do on social media. Build a casual "internet" relationship first.
Then, send a direct message or e-mail saying why you admire them and ask to chat on the phone for ten minutes to ask their advice. If they live nearby, ask to meet them in person. Something magical happens when you connect with someone in person. I'm sure this is documented in a sociology book somewhere (and I'm almost sure 'magic' is the scientific term).
When you make that in-person connection, you become familiar with someone in a deeper way - a way that lends itself much more closely to developing a mutually beneficial relationship where you help each other in your careers, and many times, your lives.
I owe so much to social media, and some of my most treasured in-person friendships and business opportunities have come from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
And just so we're clear: Don't meet online strangers in dark alleyways. Do make the effort to make your social media connections count.