Make Friends Online
Make Friends Online
By Janis Kupferer
Today, the opportunities to make new friends online are abundant. You follow a trend on a social media site and connect with someone who holds views similar to your own; you post to a community forum, and share tidbits and advice with new acquaintances; and you join sites like SocialJane.com with the primary purpose of cultivating some new friendships.
While the path from stranger to best friend doesn’t really change depending on your vehicle of introduction (the real world vs. the virtual one), there are some “best practices” which are unique to virtual introductions, and should be adhered to when hoping to meeting new friends online.
Tips and Techniques for Making a Connection Online
1. Act like an Extrovert
This is a tip that I truly take to heart, because even though I run a social network, when it comes to checking the box, I’ve always marked the one next to “introvert.” Although some introverts are such due to their preference for more downtime, mine is based on general shyness (however, nobody believes me when I say this). Either way, everyone needs a social outlet and thus must put on their “extroverted” pants from time-to-time and spend time fostering new friendships.
What makes for a good extrovert? A person who is engaging, interested, sincere, and one who enjoys others’ company. A smile is a great place to start, and yes, you can project a smile even in an email message or blog comment. Listening and responding, offering genuine interest, and being upbeat and pleasant are all traits that a true extrovert offers. These also happen to be traits that encourage others to engage with you in return. I’m not suggesting that in order to make a friend you need to take on all characteristic of an extrovert (truly, we all don’t seek the spotlight), but developing some of the “friendliest” qualities will boost your friendship appeal.
2. Reach Out to Others
The way to make new friends is to engage, and one engages by sending out an email of introduction or joining or starting a conversation online. Social networks only work when there is joint participation. The lesson here is that we all need to contribute and share to first, develop the network and second, make that network social. So, reach out to others and engage them with smart and thoughtful conversation.
3. Send a Good First Email
A good first email is brief, friendly and encourages the recipient to respond with a thoughtful note that adds to the conversation. Remember your purpose when reaching out to another network member, whether that purpose is to add your two cents to an opinion, or to simply introduce yourself. Your goal shouldn’t be to sway everyone’s opinion to your own or to create an instant friendship. Light, breezy, with a bit of information about yourself is all you need in a first email.
As stated above, a conversation can only occur when there are at least two participants. So, when you are the recipient of a wonderfully crafted note, by all means, respond. Even if you don’t see a mutual fit from the start, by the time a few emails are exchanged you may be thinking you’ve struck “new friend” goal.
4. Keep the Conversation Polite
Too much information (TMI) is a no-no when speaking with folks online. Believe me when I say that nobody wants to know that your eczema outbreak is at an all time high, nor do they want to be asked very personal questions from the get-go.
When attempting to meet new folks online, you are reaching out to those you don’t yet know in the hopes that you may, and they may, want to get acquainted. So proceed slowly, offering basic information about yourself to start; like the field you work in, what you like to do on weekends, and how long you’ve been a Florida Gator fan. A good rule to follow is that if you wouldn’t talk about it on a job interview, don’t talk about it in a first email.
5. Mind Your Grammar
I do realize that in this highly digital world we now live, abbreviating words and using acronyms is fairly standard texting practice, as is throwing in a bit of slang just to confirm your “hipster” ranking. But, when you are attempting to meet new friends online, you aren’t sending a text or conversing with a longtime friend who won’t mind receiving a hastily written, casually-toned message penned at a red light. See, while messages filled with acronyms, abbreviations, and language of the four-letter type may bear your personal stamp, what they may also be telling the recipient is that your message was sent quickly, without much thought. The advice here is, take time to make your message your own, just do it in a thoughtful, grammatically correct manner. It will make you look smart, and will make the recipient feel good that they received such a nice note.
6. Proceed with Care
The process of moving the relationship from stranger to friend, and from online to offline is best done slowly and with care. When you feel as though you have enough information about the person that you consider them a good candidate for a friendship, then perhaps suggest a meeting in an extremely public location. I always suggest getting together for a drink, be it coffee at a local café or a cosmo at a local watering hole (if you are of legal drinking age). The first meeting should be planned to be short: one cup of java. This way, if there isn’t a friendship spark, you can end your meeting without having invested too much time. Likewise, if you’ve cliqued right away, you can extend your visit with lunch or make future plans.
The process of making a new friend is the same, whether that friend was found online or out and about in your daily activities. It starts with a smile and friendly greeting, progresses through a series of conversation that slowly build in sharing, and culminates with invitations to enjoy various activities and events with each other.
However, the key difference (and it is a big one) with online and offline acquaintances is that when you meet someone online, you don’t have a live context to serve as a foundation of trust or knowledge. For example, when you meet “Jane” at a friend’s party, you know your friend, and therefore can use your experience of her as a reference to Jane’s credibility. Likewise, if you meet Jane in a cooking class, you can use your mutual interest in cooking, the fact that you can see Jane in person, and the knowledge that Jane paid to attend the class as references to her credibility.
You, as a reasonable and adult person, must take steps to build that foundation of trust and credibility with anyone you meet online. You do this by proceeding slowly, planning interactions in public venues, taking your own transportation, cautiously sharing greater and more personal details about yourself, and continuing or ending a meeting based on your own comfort level.
The internet is a magnificent tool, in that it allows us to overcome chance and proximity in the case of meeting new friends. You don’t have to attend the same book club or yoga class, you don’t have to know the same people, nor do you have to live in the same town to get to know someone anymore. But you do have to use the tool properly, and safely.