Making friends and building meaningful relationships as an adult can be a tricky process. Gone are the days when you could become best friends with the next kid in line for the monkey bars—the good ol’ days where social conventions were ignored and friendships were built without the vast complications of adulthood. While as a child the only thing you knew about your new friend was the colour of their light-up sneakers, the ability to “creep” on new potential connections today can complicate even the simplest of interactions.
What some have dubbed ‘social media stalking’—the act of spending an overly lengthy amount of time looking at and following a social media users’ updates, photos, and account activity—has enabled us to gather more information and personal details about people (that includes prospects and clients) than ever. Though this fact can seem alarming and unsettling to some, there are numerous ways to turn your creeping ways into (healthy) personal and professional relationships out in the real world.
Making friends isn’t the same as being popular
Although we are collectively making more connections than ever before thanks to social media, the relationships being made online have a tendency to remain superficial. In order to translate these social media numbers into IRL (in real life) relationships, there are some key things to remember.
Simply having a high number of Facebook friends or Instagram followers is not enough to build truly meaningful relationships. Having thousands of Twitter followers can amount to nothing if there is no effort to build and maintain real-life connections. It’s like moving to a new city and being surrounded by millions of people, yet feeling completely alone.
What you want to concentrate on here is enriching the moments you spend on social media. Take the time to concentrate on your followers, or the people you are following, and choose a few who you would want to connect with IRL. Find like-minded individuals through a simple hashtag search on Twitter or Instagram, and you already have the groundwork for a mutually beneficial relationship.
The key here is to truly listen. Instead of constantly trying to get your own message out, take the time to scroll through the feeds of those you are interested in connecting with IRL for a set amount of time everyday. Pay attention to what they are interested in, what they’re posting, and what kind of content they are responding to. Remember, the ability to ignite and maintain close relationships is different from simply being liked or followed.
Keep it real
When you’re finally out there listening and engaging with your social media acquaintances, don’t be a weirdo. Many of us can share experiences where a stranger seemed to scroll blindly through our Instagram feeds, randomly commenting “Cool!” or “Super!” on a variety of posts. While it definitely gets your attention, it’s usually not for positive reasons, as you never want to be that person known as having “no chill.”
People can tell when interactions are not genuine, so be cautious of spamming Twitter or Instagram with comments and likes that seem to lack any sort of sincere thought.
To avoid this, there are some simple tips for engaging but low-key interactions:
Share. If content resonates with you, take a moment to think about why, and share that sentiment in a tactful way.
Pause. This moment to pause and reflect can often mean the difference between a comment coming off as creepy or disingenuous, and one that is adding value and resonating with the poster.
Compliment. People love worthwhile feedback, and in really tuning into the content they are posting and interacting in a thoughtful way that’s true to who you are, you enable a relationship to organically flourish.
A final note in keeping your online presence real, one that seems simple but that a surprising number of people miss the mark on: ensure your avatar image is of you, and that it actually looks like you. If you happen to see someone out in public or through a networking event, it helps when you can approach them with confidence because their in-person appearance matches what you’ve seen online. Local Vancouver small business owner Christina Luo, of calligraphy company Fox and Flourish (@foxandflourish), discovered this when she was starting out her business.
“I was in a university class one day and a classmate came up to me and said ‘Are you Fox and Flourish? I follow you on Instagram and love your stuff!’ If my avatar had not been of my actual face and if I hadn’t posted the occasional selfie alongside my work, I would never have met that classmate, who turned out to be a potential client. Because of Instagram, I’ve had numerous occasions where people recognize me as someone they follow, and we’re able to strike up conversations through our shared interests.”
The real-life meet
Once you’ve set the groundwork through a few positive interactions with a social media connection, consider a real-life meeting. If you know you are going to be at a local event, share this on social media using the event’s hashtag and see if any of your social media connections will be there. Take the initiative to reach out and actually schedule a meeting. As you and this person probably know the basics about each other, you have a great opportunity to discuss these shared interests and previous interactions.
Alternatively, if you happen to just be out and about one day and recognize someone from Instagram, this shared common ground allows for a less awkward interaction. Simply saying “I follow you on Instagram and love your work!” can work wonders, as Christina’s experience above illustrates.
Some other conversation starters could include, but are definitely not limited to:
How’s the new job going? If your online connection has used their social media channels to publicly mentioned a new job, a recent move, or any other positive life change, it’s fair game to bring this up in person. This is another example of how listening to those you follow is important and helps make the real-world run-ins as painless as possible.
I loved that photo/article/comment you posted. Again, flattery goes a long way. If there is a specific photo, Tweet, status update, or article that your new pal recently posted, bring it up and discuss. Leveraging information shared through social media and bringing it into offline relationships is a road paved with compliments.
- How is *insert name of pet here*? Is this too much? You’d be surprised. Everyone loves to talk about their pets, and if they feature photos of them prominently throughout their Instagram feed it’s a surefire way to casually initiate conversation while also showing that you’re paying attention to their content.
While social media has drastically changed the way we interact with others, the key principles in building relationships have not changed. Bringing your social network to life can be as simple as being kind, being genuine, and not being a creep.