Five ways to turn online relationships into offline connections

Meet for coffee

Meeting for coffee is an easy, tried-and-true way to build offline relationships. (Photo by trublueboy @ stock.xchng - http://www.sxc.hu/photo/644967)

So let’s say, hypothetically, that you’ve been really successful in your social media efforts and you are building relationships online. That’s great. But sometimes, to take a business relationship to the next level, you need to take it offline. How do you do that? Here are some simple suggestions:

Professional Meetings and Conferences

Nearly every profession has professional conferences, trade shows and other events where people converge to learn and network together. Reach out to your online contacts in your industry and ask whether any of them of will be at the events that you’re attending. If so, ask to have lunch with them, meet them at breakfast or find some other way to connect.

Local Professional Society Events

Professional societies are also a great way to turn local online relationships into local offline relationships. If you’re a member of a professional group (such as the Public Relations Society of America for PR pros), there is very likely a local chapter that has regular meetings. Offer to meet at one of those events and make a point of connecting in person there.

Tip: If you’re a member of a professional group that doesn’t have a local chapter, consider forming one yourself. Do that and your local (and national) professional opportunities are likely to grow considerably. (This was something I had planned to do in 2009, but then the year got overwhelmingly busy for me. We’ll see if I’m able to carve out some time this year.)

Tweetups and Meetups

There may be informal groups meeting in your area that include people you know online. Check out Tweetups.org and Meetup.com to find local informal gatherings you might join. If there aren’t any already taking place, consider organizing one yourself. Organizing an event yourself is a true power-networker move. Here are some tips from Mashable on organizing successful Tweetups.

Coffee and Food

Beyond group events, the old standby of “let’s have coffee/lunch/drinks sometime” is an easy, low pressure way to turn an online connection into an offline relationship. This usually makes sense once you’ve had some mutually enriching back-and-forth communications with someone and you’ve reached the limits of what you can practically do online. Sometimes, a 30-minute mid-morning coffee can allow for a level and depth of communication that’s difficult online. You can discover professional opportunities (for collaboration, partnerships or even employment), build your Rolodex and simply enjoy meeting someone new.

The same thing works when you’re traveling, too. If you have a trip coming up to another city, consider who you know online there that you might reach out to and meet in person. The worse someone can say is “I don’t have time.” A copywriter I only know online once offered to meet as he was passing through town. I accepted. We ended up canceling it due to an unavoidable conflict that came up on my end, but if he comes through town again I’d be happy to sit down and get to know him in person.

Note: Never put yourself in a situation that could be risky or dangerous with someone you don’t know well. Meet in a public place, pay your own way and arrange your own transportation. Exchange business cards, but not home addresses. ‘Nuff said.

Phone Calls

Finally, if you can’t arrange any of these in-person meetings, a phone call can sometimes work wonders for a relationship. If you’re an introvert (like me), this may strike you as unnatural and unnecessary. However, more often than not, this really works. After some online interaction where you find yourself thinking “what an interesting person” try sending this message: “Hey, I’d like to learn a bit more about you. Any chance you might have a few minutes for a phone call in the next week or two?”

What are your tips for taking networking and interaction from the Web to the offline world? Please share them in the comments below.

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