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Social networking is nothing new. It’s been around but known by a different name such as “making friends” or just networking. However, the tools used drastically changed over time. Instead of calling cards we have facebook, instead of letters, emails, etc. How can you apply these virtual tools to the real world? How do you actually use twitter, foursquare, linkedIn and facebook to make meaningful relationships or make your relationships more meaningful?

It all begins with familiarity. Becoming familiar with someone online is a great way to introduce yourself. Just like Ariana Green/“How to Make Your Network Work for You” said, “The true benefit is that it often leads to in-person contact because people feel more comfortable initiating a meeting with someone they “know” electronically.” Some people naturally are open and inviting, putting others at ease upon the first meeting. Opening up and sharing opinions regardless. Others ease into it and then still timidly speak up only after some time.  Becoming familiar with someone takes time. A two minute conversation at a networking event doesn’t do it. A thirty second elevator pitch doesn’t do it. A conversation over twitter, a comment on a blog or sharing someone’s content on facebook doesn’t do it, but it sure helps.

What if, rather than that thirty seconds in the elevator being the first time you meet someone it is the first time you meet someone in real life. You already know what matters to them, what projects are most important and how you can help. You’ve already become familiar with someone online.

Julia, my fiance, has had this happen to her on multiple occasions. She reluctantly took up twitter when she began her Masters of Arts Management program at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon. Eventually she found her stride, tweeting about the arts, adding commentary and sharing important articles and events in the art world (which is bigger in Pittsburgh than most people think).  Fast forward a couple of months and she’s sitting in the office of a local arts council part of a small group introducing themselves and when it comes to her, the director says, “Oh yes, Julia. It’s like I already know you since I’ve been following you on twitter for months.” Instant credibility.

These tools get you in the door, build your credibility and your brand. That’s not it thought.

My job means I am not in Pittsburgh on a daily basis. Despite my best intentions this hampers my ability to meet new people or deepen my relationships with people in Pittsburgh. Ed Barr, a good friend and professor of mine uses facebook and blogs. He keeps the world abreast with what’s important to him. Because of this, I am able to avoid the awkward monthly or quarterly “what are you doing?” emails. Instead, I pass valuable information on to him when he needs it, be it something I know would help him or a different perspective to a problem he has. Now I don’t have to write the emails that feel forced. Instead, I can write the emails I like – “here’s how I can help you.”

These personal examples are just two of many. But they’re stories I don’t think people tell enough. Social networking is personal. It isn’t someone standing in the corner tweeting, it’s tweeting and reading, taking in, and using that knowledge to contribute more in person.

You never know, perhaps a random meeting won’t be so random and it’ll change your life, just ask Colin Wright/”Meeting Miss Amber Rae“. “A girl I barely knew – scratch that, had never met in person and exchanged a few emails and one Skype call with almost half a year previous… led to meeting Seth Godin.”

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