From Online to IRL

“I wish the presentation covered how to be successful in meeting people online and meeting them in person safely in more detail. Many people are afraid to meet people online because it is ‘dangerous.'”

An audience member that attended one of my workshops left that as part of their feedback and I’m glad they did. This is important and not something I covered because it could easily be an entire workshop by itself. So how do you go from meeting people with whom you have interacted with online to meeting them in “real life”? I’m going to address this from the professional connection point of view (networking) and not a personal point of view (dating).

Meeting People Online
What do you want to engage and meet people online? That’s the first question you need to ask yourself. The connected world is a buffet of people and ideas and if you don’t know what you want you may end up, like I do, with a heaping plate of…stuff. Cookies dangling into marinara sauce. (Ew!) Coleslaw oozing into apple cobbler. (Oh, gross.) Vanilla ice cream slowly taking over your french fries. (Hey, that’s actually delicious!)

The goal here, whether you are starting out or just having the epiphany now of “I should make a plan!”, is to make sure you know what you are expecting to get out of your online presence so you know where to look. No one goes walking into a Hallmark store looking to buy Oreo cookies.

I have three easy steps to help you with this; find your tribe, listen, and share.

Find your Tribe
I love the concept of tribes. Small, or large, groups of individuals rallying around an idea, topic, brand, movement. Harley-Davidson owners are a tribe. Cross-Fitters are a tribe. Jeep owners are a tribe. Runners are a tribe. I like to think of tribes as people who are sharing in a deep interest, respect, and pride for a product, place, idea, or movement. Ever been at an athletic event where your team is the visitor? Everyone else is wearing the other team’s colors but not you, you rocked your team. What happens next? You immediately seek out other people who are in that tribe. “Ah, I’m not the only Sox fan in this section. Phew.” Maybe nothing is said between the two of you more than some eye contact and a head nod but that doesn’t matter, another tribe member is there and you are at ease. You are no longer alone. This happens with runners all the time, “I don’t know you but you are running, just like me, here is your friendly head nod/wave.”

Finding your tribe online without knowing what tribe you are looking for can be like walking into a Costco and just wandering the aisles with no rhyme or reason. You must have an idea of what you want to get and where to get it. Search for who the contributors are in the tribe you want to join. Are they on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube? Find them, follow them, and listen.

Don’t jump in with both feet. Don’t even dip your toes in. Just watch and listen. Watch how the tribe interacts. How often they share, what they share, how the conversations get started and what keeps them going. We don’t do this enough. People are sometimes surprised to hear that with #SAchat, I watched and lurked to get a sense of what was going on for a few weeks (shoot it may have been more than a month). I suspect many, many, many people do this. It is a great way to learn. There is no need to participate in every chat by tweeting. You can participate by lurking and learning. Whether it is Twitter, a Facebook group, or a Linkedin group – join and then sit back and see how things work.

Now that you’ve seen how the tribe is functioning you can jump in and start sharing. Don’t do this all at once. You can start out by commenting on what other people are doing. Offering encouragement and support where appropriate. Ask questions. Engage, frequently. Connections grow through regularly occurring interactions and contact. The more they see your name, the more you will come to their mind when it comes to a certain topic or area. You don’t have proclaim yourself as a resource, other people will put you on that pedestal. In the meantime, you should just be doing what you do whether that means sharing insight, opinions, articles, or provocative questions. Do what you do, let the tribe determine how (and if) you are useful.

“Meeting” People Online
If you have joined a tribe, listened for a while, and have started sharing you can start “meeting” people. This takes some time. You don’t plant a garden one day and expect fresh ripe tomatoes the next. It could be a week, it could be a month, it could be a few months. Put the effort in and then make the move. It could be as simple as this:

“Hey Jane, I wanted to reach out and let you know that your blog post the other day really hit home for me. It was exactly what I needed and I just wanted to let you know. Thanks for writing it and keep on writing!”

“Hi Mark, Thanks for all the articles you’ve been sharing recently. It seems like we have a few perspectives in common when it comes to vanilla ice cream and french fries. I’d love to pick your brain about this more. If you are interest and available, would you have some time to chat either on the phone or via Google Hangout? Cheers, J”

Just be aware, someone may connect with you that you may not immediately see “value” in. Connections online are not always mutual. I connect with people online who I know will teach me and push me. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will want to follow back. What I value in them, they may not value in me. This is okay. As much as I would like to say that networking is a game based in mutuality, it is often not.

From Online to IRL
Yes, the news likes to make it seem that meeting people from online is this big scary thing. Yes, there are horror stories of Craiglist murderers, kidnappings, and worse things I care not to mention. However, I have had nothing but good luck with the people and relationships I have built online transferring over into the face-t0-face world. Now, I didn’t follow someone and say, “Hey, let’s meet in person!” No. That takes months, sometimes years! If you are having fun conversations and intellectual sparring matches on Twitter, take it to e-mail. If e-mail is going really well and the conversation is flowing on and off, take it to Facebook. Once you both feel like you have a good idea of who the person really is, set up a few Google Hangouts or phone calls. Then, after all that, meet in a public area (just to be safe). “Hey, let’s meet at the park at 11 p.m. by the shadowy gate with no lights!” Should be a red flag. Meet for coffee in the afternoon at a popular place with lots of people to make sure everything and everyone is comfortable. Do this a few times, heck, do it as many times as you need to. No one is saying this person has to come to your home!

The point is, take it slow. Get to know the person and find out who they really are. This again, takes effort but it is worth it. I speak with a great sense of biased because I’ve been very good (or extremely lucky) at picking great people to take from just connections to friendships. My favorite proof to show off (oh yea, I’m showing off) is the two photos below from our wedding. The best is hearing this interaction, “Oh, so who is that person over there? Where did you meet them, at school or something? From where? Twit what? From Twitter?!”  I’ll let the captions and smiles speak for themselves.

What I’m saying is, you wouldn’t invite someone you met at a coffee shop into your home after knowing them for fifteen minutes, would you? The same goes for taking online interactions and turning them into in real life interactions. Take your time. Figure out what you want and where to find it. Once you’ve done those two things then it is up to you to listen, share, and engage. Good luck!


Lisa (@lmendersby) came from Canada. CANADA to come to our wedding. We had only met less than 3 years prior and met IRL at conferences I think three times before that.


I met Chris (@chrisconzen) via Twitter about 3 or 4 years before our wedding. We tweeted. We e-mailed. We Facebooked. We then met at conferences. Then we met for coffee and brainstorms. Then we ran together. Then I asked him to be one of my Groomsmen. From Twitter to Groomsmen in about 3 years. Don’t try to tell me social media isn’t real interactions or communication.

What If…

Suedle by Sue Caulfield (click picture to read/see her works of art & thought!)

Suedle by Sue Caulfield (click picture to leave this blog and go read/see her works of art & thought!)


What if…

I don’t know how this idea got into my head but the action of asking yourself, your office, your family, a question that starts with “What if…” seems to be something that is quite obscure these days.

What if…

A deceiving phrase to say the least. Trying to finish that sentence usually starts with very topical and typical responses, such as:

What if I got up earlier this morning and ran?
What if I ate Cheerios and a banana instead of Frosted Flakes and a muffin?
What if I left the office on time and had more time at home to read, relax, refresh?
What if I forgot my lunch?

Those are all fun and great, but not the journey I trying to bring you along with me on. My favorite words from Matt Cheuvront, “Think big. Start small. Grow fast.” apply to this train of thought.  What happens when you apply that to say, a conference? (You knew I was going there, right?)

What if… conferences weren’t only three days?
What if… conferences became two or three month experiences?
What if… you could only attend one session that lasted from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ?
What if… we tried this next year at the XYZ conference?

You see, it starts to get fun! There is no risk involved. It is daydreaming and throwing ideas in the air to see what takes off and could fly. It allows for the cross-pollination of ideas.

Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Organize a brown bag luncheon meeting with a group of colleagues (no more than 7) and start off with something that gets them in the mindset to think big, take risks, and daydream. Then ask them for some “What if…” statements. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to do this in the past and it led to some amazing new campus programs and traditions. Give it a shot. You might be surprised.

2. Can’t organize that meeting? Want to start smaller? Get a whiteboard, bulletin board, or open wall space with some Post-Its and a pen nearby. Put up the prompt. “What if…” Share with the office the point of the board and encourage them to post anonymously their ideas.

3. Don’t have the power or ability or office space to create a wall? Open up PowerPoint, Google Presentation, or Keynote. Create a new presentation. Save it as “What if” on your desktop. Anytime a new “What if…” idea or thought comes to mind, open up the file and put it on a slide. When the time comes, write, share, speak about a “What if” that seems more feasible than it did when you first wrote it out.

Remember. Some ideas need luck, some ideas need timing, and some ideas need both. (tweet this)

Give it a chance and you may find that you are asking yourself in a week, month, or year, “What if I never called these people together/posted that whiteboard/created that file?”

It’s been a while…

Original Suedle by Sue Caulfield (

Original Suedle by Sue Caulfield (

This is my 150th post on this blog and it comes after an almost 6 month hiatus. A lot has happened since then including a wedding day, a honeymoon and 90 orientation sessions over the summer. Craziness!

Over the past 6 months I’ve uninstalled Facebook and Tweetdeck from my phone, ran obstacle course races, volunteered at obstacle course races, presented almost 70 orientation sessions, traveled to Europe, cruised the Mediterranean, went back to school, discovered Reddit, and haven’t played a video game.

Here is what I’ve come to realize, there is a lot of noise out there on the internet.

I scan Tweetdeck and Facebook at work and at home and see lots of noise.

I listen to the streets on my walks to the subway and home and hear lots of noise.

Noise. Noise. Noise. (queue the scene from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas)

Within the noise though, I’ve been able to find music and conversations and brainstorming and storyboarding and all these great things. What no longer amazes me is people who run from sites such as Twitter. The places have become full of noise. Even LinkedIn and G+, which were once sort of barren wastelands, are now thriving with activity albeit not always of the highest quality.

The way I’ve been able to cut through the noise is to find value. Imagine being at a party and you meet someone or a group of people in a really intense conversation about something you are enthused about. What do you do? Do you yell over the music? Or do you say, “Hey, want to move over here where the music isn’t so loud?” That’s all I’ve done or have had people do to me. What I mean by that is, take the conversations out of the main space. I’ve had more conversations on GChat, Gmail, Facebook groups, and Linkedin than I have on Twitter. I went from tweeting almost 20 times a day to maybe 2 or 3.

Now I’m not saying banish incessant tweeting and sharing nor am I saying to stop what you are doing and making noise. Noise is great, lots of great things can happen when a bunch of noise harmonizes and finds a rhythm. What I am saying is take your conversations to the next level. Engage in other ways through other venues. Connect on Google Hangouts. Write e-mails instead of 140 character messages. Pick up the phone. Write a letter.

I’ve done those things and it has made me realize that from my 3 or 4 years on Twitter, I’ve been able to meet some really incredible people and make some really great friends. Of course I realize that doesn’t mean I should stop Twitter or tweeting as much. One of my greatest sources of energy is connecting with other people and having intellectual sparring matches; two things that Twitter is fantastic for.

I guess the point is, take a sabbatical whether it is for a week or a month or six months and see if you recognize any differences. For me, it was realizing who I missed connecting with and how much of those connections relied on Twitter. That realization has given me all sorts of material to reflect and act on, just imagine what it could do for you.