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.
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.
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