How to Bridge Online and Offline Relationships
In modern business, fostering online relationships is often just as important as maintaining relationships in real life. While real life business relationships tend to be your colleagues, suppliers, customers and industry peers, online relationships can help you find new suppliers, build brand champions, create beneficial partnerships within your industry and of course win new clients.
Here’s how to make sure that your online relationships are getting the attention they deserve in the real world, and conversely, that you’re connected with your real world colleagues online.
Taking Online Contacts Into Real Life
When it comes to bridging online relationships to offline contact, it’s a case of getting over your fear — don’t forget, there is a face behind the keyboard! Muster that courage, and spend some time thinking about what you want to say before you talk to them. If possible, reference a common contact, event or cause to create common ground.
Of course, whether you can bring an online relationship into the real world depends on where the person is located. If they’re local, you know each other well enough online and feel the business relationship has specific direction (a potential partnership, for instance), send them a message and suggest you go for coffee. To make this more natural, watch for events where you might both be attending and suggest you grab that coffee afterward.
Any time you will be attending an event, check the attendees beforehand and take note of whether there are any contacts you’d really like to meet. This is especially true of conferences or events where people will be traveling from far away, as it’s a rare opportunity to connect face-to-face. Depending on the nature of your online relationship, you may send them a message expressing that you’re looking forward to meeting them and maybe set up a time and place to meet, or you might simply check their profile picture so you know who to watch for.
If it’s someone you admire and don’t have a personal relationship with, but would love to forge one, spend some time engaging with them online before the event. For example, I really admire Arlene Dickinson, and she rarely comes to Calgary, but when she does I always make sure to get a ticket to her events! In the weeks leading up to the event, retweet, share, like and otherwise engage with the person on social media. Then you can always send a message and say something like, “I really appreciate your posts, I would love to meet you one day. I’ll be at your event and am really looking forward to seeing you speak. Maybe I could shake your hand after the show!”
Bridging In-Person Contacts With Online
Start simple by seeking out any valued contacts online and making sure you follow them. This does not include sending a personal friend request on Facebook, though!
When you meet someone new at an event, you can connect with them right away on social media but consider the platform – following them on Twitter or connecting on LinkedIn is much different than sending a Facebook friend request. I know one person who doesn’t even carry business cards anymore — he simply connects with his new contacts on LinkedIn from his phone, immediately. He also captures a screenshot of their LinkedIn profile picture and creates a new contact in his phone. LinkedIn is a key point of connection for him, and he has 2000 connections!
The key here is to connect in a timely fashion — within a few days. If you don’t connect right there, send an email after the event or connect on social media. You can always ask at the event how they’re most comfortable connecting online if this action makes you shy. Once you follow them on social media, say something like, “It was great to meet you! I’m looking forward to your tweets/articles/posts!”
When you bridge offline and online relationships, your network grows faster and wider so take advantage of both and dedicate the time to nurturing it in friendly, authentic ways. Happy connecting!