Developing relationships online and offline. #NASPAtech thought piece.

This is the second of a possible series of posts that I feel I need to write to debrief my experiences at NASPAtech this past month.

Social interactions in real life with folks that you have come “to know” via Twitter can be many things in reality. They can be awkward, disappointing, and surprising. You might find out that someone you thought would be a great friend, if you were to hang out offline, turns out to be a pretentious jerk. You might find out that someone who you imagine would be supercilious* has two Strengths Quests themes similar to yours, is really down to earth and fun to be around. Some might make the bridge to “Facebook Friend Land” or some might just disappear from your feeds altogether.

*Notice me Using My Words.

Maintaining human connections face-to-face was a unofficial topic at NASPAtech. It came up in just about every session to some extent. You can have podcasts, but you’ll want to add guest speakers. You’ll have Twitter chats, but to make the conversations go deeper, you want to spend some time offline to keep it going. You may spend a lot of time and money marketing your office and getting students to visit your websites – but the ultimate goal should always be to bring those students into your office – to meet in real life and form a relationship based on mutual interest and trust formed OFFline.

Several folks were presenting with people they had never met. I did that. That’s actually the second time I’ve done that. It’s a strange when you feel like you know someone after spending so much time developing a session via Skype, chat, Twitter etc. to actually be in the same room with them and then suddenly realize, “We really haven’t ever met in real life.”

What this also brings to mind though is something that I’m always trying to drill into my Graduate Assistants as they go out into the world of professional conferences and professional relationships via Twitter etc. People are multi-faceted. (Says the person with Individualization as my #1 Strength.) For example, I know someone is who extremely witty and funny on Twitter, but have heard that in real life this person doesn’t seem to have much personality. Seems at odds with the awesome Tweets that I see.

People can be different at conferences. I know someone who is very comfortable with his sexuality and lives his life “out” in the open. However, the way that manifests itself is different when he is at a conference vs. when he’s at work. After witnessing him at a conference, a misguided grad student went back to his institution and told others in his cohort all about about how fun and entertaining my friend was. One of these grad students then came to apply for a job and mistakenly used that information assuming that my friend liked to talk about this aspect of his life at work. Wrong. People can be different…and it’s important to remember that.

This same is true online. People look different in real life. They use pictures that are old, that highlight their ‘good side’, they don’t show height, weight, personality, passions, sense of humor…come on folks. Nothing with this is different from online dating. You have to take things with a grain of salt and maintain that human connection – the personal one-on-one, face-to-face time with those that you chat with.

I’ll be the first person to want to start conversations online – use email instead of calling if it’s someone I’m not too familiar with. If a business doesn’t have a website I joke that they don’t exist. However, when you truly have a “meeting of the minds” with someone you’ve only known through a series of tweets online, in those moments when you’re sitting there talking with them in the hotel bar and realize that you don’t want the conversation to end…that’s it man. That’s the true bliss.

As Student Affairs professionals – I think you know what I’m talking about. The rare friendships and relationships we build with students and those days you know you’ve chosen the right profession. But there are professional relationships as well. Sure you follow people and have Facebook friends. But have you taken the time to have real conversations with these folks at conferences or some other outlet? I encourage you to do so. Take the time – don’t be shy!!! – and have those blissful moments when you’ve found a new friend in the profession.

Some where out there is a new mentor. Somewhere out there is a new person to listen to your work challenges. Somewhere out there is the person who will know you before you were XYZ. Someone out there who will support you no matter what. Someone who will challenge you to become involved. Someone who will take you seriously. Someone who will always invite you to go out with them when you don’t have a dinner date. Someone who is in the same position as you and understands what you’re going through. Someone who will always make you laugh when you need a pick me up. Someone you love to hang out with, but should never work with. Someone who may bug you to work for/with them and will make you feel valued. Get out there and meet them…and I mean OFFLINE.

Its almost Thanksgiving. This ended up being my love letter to a few fabulous folks (old & new friends). I can’t wait to meet so many more of you out there in the future!!

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