Why Online Entrepreneurs Need Offline Relationships (And Ideas for Where to Look)
I'm forgoing a nice little intro today to hit you with some cold hard (and rather disturbing) facts:
- The average person spends more time on their smartphones & media devices than they do sleeping - an average of 8 hours and 41 minutes per day. (source)
- Time spent online has doubled in the past decade to over 20 hours per week. (source)
- Of the time we spend online each day, 28% of that is spent on social networking sites like Facebook & Twitter. (source)
I think the scariest part of those statistics is the fact that it's an average of all people, not all bloggers or online entrepreneurs, so the numbers for us are probably much higher.
We're bloggers, or online business people. Our jobs, and dare I say, our lives are spent in front of the computer. Our "friends" are images of people on Facebook who we communicate with through short 140-character conversations on Twitter, or if we're lucky, a video chat or long email.
When was the last time you had a face-to-face conversation in real life with a blogger buddy? As important as it is to make online connections with other like-minded individuals, it's equally important, if not more so, to take those relationships offline, too. Today we're going to talk about Why Online Entrepreneurs Need Offline Relationships and explore ways to make this happen more often.
Online relationships aren't new, and I'm certainly not going to sit here and tell you not to depend on friends you've met online. Some of my own closest relationships started online. (True story: My husband and I met on MySpace and have been happily married for 8 years!)
The advent of the internet has made it easier for us to find long lost friends we've lost touch with, and connect with new friends who have similar interests. And blogging is a virtual cornucopia of different and interesting people who come together to support & encourage one another.
But let's not let our love affair with online relationships overshadow the importance of real life connections.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REAL LIFE RELATIONSHIPS
When was the last time you read a text or an email and immediately thought the sender was upset because he/she didn't use a thousand exclamation points or a smiley face emoji?
Our brains have become hard-wired to recognize tone of voice through extra punctuation and emojis. IF I TYPE THIS SENTENCE IN ALL CAPS AND END WITH A BUNCH OF EXCLAMATION POINTS YOU'LL THINK I'M YELLING AT YOU, RIGHT?!?!?!?!
When we sit down and talk to people in real life, our body language and facial expressions dictate tone, and it's just a much simpler conversation in which to participate. You recognize instantly that your friend is upset by their furrowed brow, or they're excited by the bouncing shoulders and perma-grin.
Body language can tell people instantly if you are confident or scared, happy or sad, somber or angry. And that body language is contagious! If you're feeling down but have lunch with your upbeat and chipper friend, you'll most likely leave the restaurant in a better mood.
REAL KNOW, LIKE, & TRUST
Maybe it's because I was a server at various restaurants, or maybe it's because I'm a decent human being, but I truly believe you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat (and tip!) wait staff.
It's so easy for people to hide behind their computer screen and portray the image of a super nice, super honest, and super awesome person, and we'd like to think they are being genuine. But you really get to know someone when you have a real life interaction with them!
Have you ever met a celebrity and you were disappointed because they weren't how you imagined them to be? It happens. Heck, I've met big-name bloggers and become disappointed because they weren't the type of person they portrayed themselves to be on their blogs and through social media.
One of the best compliments I've ever received was from a fellow blogger at the first blog conference I attended a few years ago. After spending only about 10 minutes with me, she said, "You know, you are exactly like I imagined you would be."
I don't care how close you are to your Facebook friends, they can't jump through the screen and hug you when you need it.
"Touch is the first of the senses to develop in the human infant, and it remains perhaps the most emotionally central throughout our lives," says Maria Konnikova in an article published on The New Yorker's website about the power of touch.
In the same article, Maria cites a study that found that physical touch, even in small increments of time, can lead to emotional, physical, and cognitive improvements in adults. Endorphins in our brain are fired when we are touched by another human being. Endorphins dictate our moods, helping us to feel better about ourselves. Don't you feel good when someone gives you a hug or holds your hand?
In the world of blogging and online entrepreneurship, these physical connections are vital to our success and our mental health.
HOW TO CONNECT OFFLINE
I'm going to go ahead and start with the obvious offline blogger connection:
Blog conferences are typically large-scale events that attract hundreds of bloggers from all over the country. Conferences typically include educational sessions and an opportunity for bloggers to connect with brands.
But in my experience, the best blogger-to-blogger connections happen after the sessions when a small group of bloggers hang out together in a hotel room and just talk "blog". It's a great opportunity to get into the head of other people who do what you do and speak the language, as well as create future collaborations and projects.
The first blog conference I attended was Bloggy Con in Ohio. It was great for beginner bloggers (which I wasn't at the time, so I didn't get much out of the sessions), but I got to meet online friends in real life, and from that aspect it was awesome.
In July 2015, I attended and spoke at Haven Conference in Atlanta. I'll be honest - I didn't attend any of the sessions outside of my own because the topics didn't really interest me that year, but I did make some killer connections with brands and, again, met people I only knew online.
This year in September, I'm attending and speaking at Blended Conference in Arizona, and I'm so stoked! I love the format of Blended, in that there are several general sessions that everyone will attend together, and a few break-out sessions that attendees can choose between. Some conferences try to pack so much into the time allotted that you end up being so overwhelmed you can't focus on the education, so this format is appealing to me.
SMALL GROUP RETREAT
After attending two blog conferences and leaving with a longer to-do list than I started with, I decided it was time for something different. I love the face-to-face connection I was getting with bloggers but the hundreds of people in attendance at conferences made it difficult to establish a deeper relationship and really get to know people.
That's where the idea for Sweet Tea Retreats began.
Retreats like these are perfect for small groups of bloggers to come together for some quality blog time, get hands-on education, and apply what you learn right then and there, rather than taking notes and trying to figure it out on your own when you go home.
Sweet Tea Retreats also happen more frequently than a once-a-year blog conference, and in cities all over the US. You can round up a group of your blog buddies and contact me to set up a Sweet Tea Retreat in your city of choice!
FIND MEETUPS ON MEETUP
If you want to find people in your area to hang out with who have similar interests, check out Meetup. You search by city, then interest. I'm in the Atlanta, GA, area and searched for any meetups related to the term "blog" - here's a screenshot of what I found:
Pretty cool, right? Try a few groups and various events until you connect with some good people. This is a great way to learn from other entrepreneurs and make local relationships.
CONTINUING EDUCATION COURSES
If you have a local college nearby, check to see if they offer continuing education courses. You'll learn valuable skills that you can apply to your blog and business while meeting people in real life.
LOCAL BLOGGER FACEBOOK GROUPS
Search Facebook or ask bloggers you already know about Facebook groups for bloggers in your area and start making connections. A lot of these groups will host regular hangouts that you can participate in, or you can put one together yourself and invite people from the group!
The Atlanta bloggers group hosts get-togethers every couple of months, including a fun Country Living Fair hangout sponsored by Hometalk.
Once you make some solid connections, invite these new friends out for coffee, lunch, or dinner, whether it's just one-on-one or a small group! If you're really fortunate, as I have been, these relationships become lifelong best friends.
Now go make some offline connections!
In what ways have you made offline relationships as an online entrepreneur?