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Keeping it real in the virtual world

How many people do you only really ‘know’ through email, tweets and blogs? With so many of us spending an inordinate amount of time in digital dialogue, perhaps it’s time to put our networking skills to the test and ask; is it possible to make online relationships meaningful?

Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures has some great tips for turning text on a page into something more tangible, and for cultivating those online relationships you’d like to take to the next level – without coming on too strong.

“Figuring out how to engage is tricky” Mark tells us. “You want to be respectful.  You want to say something informed. You want to toe the line between friendly public comment and being smothering.” 

So here’s how to do it:

1. Blog is best

The best way to start building the online relationship is via their blog if they have one. If they don’t read their blog comments then they probably aren’t interested in building an online relationship. Keep comments brief unless it’s the perfect topic for you and you want to add to the story.

2. Don’t go immediately for the kill

There are times where you don’t know somebody but you engage just to get a conversation started or to be polite. You need to earn some name recognition and engagement before moving your relationship to the next level.

3. On Twitter add value, be funny, link or be brief

Twitter gives you the chance to get to know new people and you aren’t locked into a 20-minute conversation to do so. You can watch who comments with whom frequently and get a sense of who knows whom – It can be fun.

As with blogging, there are those who engage from time-to-time that you may feel you know and then there are those who come on too strong or pretend they’re your best buddy – not recommended.

It’s OK to be funny but be brief unless they talk back at you a lot or if you’re engaged in a good conversation. Respond from time-to-time but not to every one of their Tweets – don’t be a creep.

4. Don’t hop into conversations of people you don’t know.

You may see an interesting conversation happening that you want to get involved in but if you don’t know one of them it can be a bit inauthentic to hop in, reply and copy all of them. People do – but it’s bad form.

5. Be subtle, be occasional

Play the long game - don’t try to be noticed in your first engagement. Say something or two and then move on. Re-engage, but it doesn’t have to be every time or all the time.  Blogs you can comment on frequently but Twitter you need to be careful until you know them better.

6. Don’t assume engagement = knows you

If you meet at an event don’t assume that they must know your name because you’ve commented on their blog or you’ve shared the odd tweet – you’re not likely to be the only person they have an online relationship with.

7. Find a subtle way to close the loop

Once the relationship and trust has started to build and you’ve now met in person your online conversations can become richer and from a position of knowing that person better.

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