When I worked in the corporate world, I avoided office small talk like the plague and sped out of the office as fast as I could at 5 p.m. In the first few months of working from home, it sometimes felt isolating -- no office parties, no one to bounce ideas off of. Thanks to my "obsession" with social media, I changed that -- without having to pay to go to a coworking space.
I hear people often saying that social media has made us all so un-social and whatnot. I disagree. Social media has grown my business, helped me make friends, and I've even won things (like free books, and gift cards to local restaurants) just for seeing a tweet at the right time.
Many of the people I call my closest friends are people I met online. As you'll see through the stories below, I didn't go looking for people to be my friend. I connected with others in similar industries, and then it eventually led to friendships.
One of my first "online" friends, I found through an Instagram hashtag. The church that I attend started using a hashtag to build community between members. Everyone is encouraged to use their hashtag at church, events, when wearing their church shirts, etc. We had a snowcone truck after service one day, so there was TONS of posts afterwards.
I was scrolling through the hashtag feed looking at photos, and one stood out to me. It was one of the few photos that wasn't just of a kid, or blurry, etc. (Ha!) It was bright, and kind of artsy -- similar to my own posts. I clicked on it, went to the profile, and followed the girl right away. (I know, kind of a creeper move.)
She followed me back, and then within a week later, we realized that we went to similar places for date nights with our husbands. She (Mandy) commented and said, we should double date soon! I agreed, but didn't actually think it was going to happen. Long story short -- two years later, we're still good friends. :)
Tip: While this blog post is about virtual friendships. Mandy and I actually live about 10 minutes from each other, so it is a bit different. But, I know plenty of virtual communities that have formed, so don't be afraid to form friendships by creeping on a hashtag. (You can creep, just don't be a real creeper, ya know?)
I've actually made three good friends through Twitter, in different ways.
First, there's Van. I have no idea how Van and I got connected, honestly. There was a period of time when I first moved to Atlanta that I would follow a bunch of random Atlanta people that were in similar industries as me, so it may have been in that time frame. Regardless, I got a free book from him because I sent out a tweet about his business. We met up for donuts (and the book), and the rest is history!
Tip: Connect with people in similar industries, and support them however you can. I didn't do it for the book (and I didn't even know donuts were going to happen!), but because Van seemed like a nice guy (because he is).
Next, I met Renee. Again... not really sure how I met Renee. I have a feeling it was also a random following spree of Atlanta people. I do know that our initial communication was about identifying some fonts she needed. Later, she asked me to go to Panera and talk about freelancing. Now, Panera is "our" place. Even though she is local, Renee is about an hour away from me, so we don't see each other too often.
Tip: Don't be afraid to talk to people who are a few steps ahead of you! Renee just wanted to know how I got started, and what insight I could share as she began freelancing herself.
Last, but not least, is Jordan! I do actually remember how Jordan and I met -- a Twitter chat. I actually ended up hiring her for a little bit of blog help. Later, we were both in a similar course/workshop group, which is where we really connected. Over time, we've become better and better friends. Jordan lives on the other side of the country, so we really are "virtual" friends -- but, I did go stay with her for a few days recently. Who says you can't turn virtual friends into real-life friends?
Tip: Don't be afraid to reach out to others in Twitter chats or course groups (because every course has Slack or Facebook, am I right?).
I would consider myself fairly active in Facebook groups. I'm not one of those people who posts long paragraphs of "tips" (that are more about trying to get clients/subscribers), but I do answer questions when I can. Several months ago, a girl that I had never even spoken to, private messaged me after seeing me in a Facebook group.
She acknowledged that we had never spoken (ha!), but she saw that I lived in Atlanta. She said that a friend of hers lived in Atlanta, was new to freelancing, and that I should contact her. At first, I thought, "You want me to do what?!" But, I did it anyway. And now? Steph (the "friend in Atlanta") and I are good friends and double-date with our husbands.
In a different Facebook group, I connected with Ashley after we realized we both loved soda from a fountain. Yes, literally, that is how our friendship began. We eventually just set-up a Skype date to get to know each other, and now we text throughout the week. While our love of fountain soda brought us together, we realized we have so much more in common!
Tip: Don't be afraid to tell a stranger that they need to meet a friend of yours. (Okay, that does sound awkward. But, just tell them you're not a weirdo, and that the other person is super cool. It worked on me!)
BUILDING THOSE RELATIONSHIPS
Since Jordan is really my only "virtual" friend, I'll use our friendship as an example for how we built our relationship. Our friendship began as just little snippets of conversations in a Slack group. But eventually, we started having longer conversations in private messaging. (This sounds like online dating, but I promise, we're not.)
Our conversations soon went from just work talk, to all-of-life talk. Like any type of friendship, opening up and being vulnerable will help you build a deeper relationship. We talk everyday in Slack, and have recently started co-working via Skype. Sometimes we end up talking more than working, but we're also comfortable enough to let there be silence while we work.
As entrepreneurs, we also have that (business) aspect of our friendship. Not to say that non-entrepreneur friends don't/can't support you, but as you know... it's just different. Jordan and I are both very supportive of each other's businesses -- we'll brainstorm with each other, help each other edit or proof, as well as just share each other's content online. Speaking of brainstorming...
What is a mastermind? A mastermind group is a group of 5-8 entrepreneurs who come together for brainstorming, accountability, community and collaboration. Mastermind groups "meet" on Skype or Google Hangouts weekly or monthly, whatever the group prefers. You can also have a private Facebook group or Slack group to keep the conversation and accountability going between calls.
I used to be a part of one mastermind group, but after it ended, I decided to start my own. I found four other ladies who were roughly in the same place in their business as me, but in different industries. We have a weekly call, on a set day and time. Our calls don't change times, so if someone can't make it, then they don't make it. Trying to reschedule that every time someone had to miss would be chaotic!
During each of our calls, everyone has about ten minutes to share. We each share a win, and something we are working on and/or struggling with. This makes it easy for everyone to share, to ask for help, and so we can (somewhat) keep up with what everyone is doing.
THE KEY TO BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
As you probably noticed in the stories above, I didn't message people and say, "Be my friend!" I found other entrepreneurs, and just tried to support them as best I could. It wasn't with the intention of them reciprocating or becoming my new BFF. I enjoy connecting with people. For me, connecting means we may not be friends, we may only tweet each other once a month, but we "know" each other and down the road, I can feel comfortable to message them with a question, send referrals their way, or even collaborate with them.
Don't be afraid to take a risk and put yourself out there to new people. But more importantly, after you've reached out, and you're developing friendships with other entrepreneurs, put the focus on them.