Twitter. Facebook. LiveJournal. FriendFeed. Chat rooms and forums. The list of places where you can go to interact with someone online goes on and on and on. Eventually, you get to know personalities on these different platforms and (in some cases) can meet up with people offline. The experience of meeting someone offline can be either daunting or disappointing, but almost always it is “different” than interacting with someone online.
When you’re chatting with someone online, you are “just” relying on words and rapid responses to develop a connection which (more often than not) is hidden behind an avatar or truncated persona. When you meet someone offline, you make conscious and unconscious judgments based on body language and other social/professional cues. Unfortunately, because people are more accessible online than they are offline, we all know that the internet can foster an illusion of popularity or self-importance. Being chatty with someone online usually means precisely that. It doesn’t mean that people will necessarily remember who you are or expect that you’re their “best friend forever,” but those expectations do exist.
Over the past year I’ve been to several conventions, and at almost every, single one there is a story about how an author or an agent felt threatened by one of their online fans. Fans, readers and aspiring authors who have never met these people expected — nay, demanded — personal time with them because of a relationship they believed existed that wasn’t there in the first place. Even if the invitation was innocuous, it leaves a bad impression that can hurt an aspiring author’s (or fan’s) chances of continuing any communication. To put it into perspective: Imagine you were attending your company’s trade show. Say someone walks up to you that you don’t recognize. They introduce themselves as someone you’ve had an exchange with maybe once or twice. You don’t remember them, but you’re trying to be polite. Professionalism is important to you because you’re representing your company. Now they ask you out for an evening’s worth of entertainment. Would you say ‘Yes’?
Even if your intentions for an invite are honorable, I would recommend against having any expectations unless you set something up beforehand for professional reasons. Keep in mind that it’s becoming harder and harder to bridge that online-to-offline connection because of the bad experiences people have had and, subsequently, share with one another.
Most authors/agents/celebrities/etc. are online because it is part of their job to foster an internet presence and provide a glimpse into their life “behind-the-curtain.” Many of these people have hundreds, if not thousands, of readers who demand their time: they have to leverage that offline with writing, working their day job, maintaining a family and their own social life, etc.
As writers, it is exceptionally easy to lose social skills because of the nature of writing. When you’re writing, you aren’t talking “to” anyone and you’re typically engaging with an inanimate object. Writing can be a very lonely and solitary activity, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or challenges if you haven’t been social for a while. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of getting out there and finding ways to “be social” with other people. In my experiences, when you have a strong foundation of social skills offline, you will find that it’s easier to bridge that online-to-offline connection and remain professional when you do meet new people.
Here are ten, low-cost ways you can be social in your own community:
1. Start (or Join) a Book Club
2. Get a Part-Time Holiday Job
3. Volunteer (e.g. Shelters, Humane Society, etc.)
4. Join a Non-Profit Group (e.g. Church, Politics, etc.)
5. Be Part of a Community Theatre/Choir
6. Start (or Join) a Writer’s Group
7. Take a Class
8. Sign Up for Co-Ed Sports
9. Attend (or Organize) a Social Media Meet-Up
10. Visit your Library, Game or Book Store for Local Events