As we all end our holiday run of nights filled with parties and long, lazy days to recover, I must admit there’s a part of me that doesn’t want it to end. Although it can be expensive and exhausting, there’s something about connecting with others, sharing stories, laughs and great conversation that feeds the soul.

That got me thinking about why I love social media so much, and I realized that in essence, social is the world’s best cocktail party. It never ends. You can invite people into your immediate world that you wish to engage with right now, whether they’re people we care about or would just like to get to know better. There are surprise guests. Spontaneous comments. You can watch and listen, or be active in the conversation. But no matter what, it’s the best time had by all – in the moment – thanks to the devices and technology that enable its immediacy at our fingertips.

umbrellaIt’s really a gift to be able to communicate without distance as a barrier and discuss anything with anyone at anytime. I think, unlike the proximity required for an in-person cocktail party, it’s in some ways more fulfilling. In a social conversation online, the experience can often be so much richer because you aren’t bound to engaging with people who live within a 20-mile radius and open opportunities to connect with other like-minded peers around the globe. Then closer to home, it helps further relationships established in person by reminding us of our shared experiences in the physical world. I am a big believer that the “Eyes are the windows to the soul”, and seeing into someone’s eyes is still the ultimate engagement factor that will never go away.  But that’s what makes social so, well, fun. It’s without limits. It transcends the physical, emotional and psychological. It is, as I said before, the World’s. Best. Cocktail. Party. Ever.

Now, I’m no party planner. But here are five reasons why I think my social (cocktail) journey has been a profound one:

1) Don’t Just Introduce Yourself and Walk Away. Just like any networking event you’ve been to in person, there are pretty much two types of people. The ones who are there to shake as many hands as possible (the “card hunters”), and those that are there to have a meaningful dialogue with a handful of new people (the “conversation gatherers”). Socially speaking, the meaningful conversations are what build rapport and foster relationships.

2) Let the Ice Melt. Downing your drink just leaves you with an empty glass, a cold hand and brain freeze. In other words, a quick social conversation won’t get you very far, so enjoy the process of getting to know someone. Sit back and sip that drink. Let the ice melt until it breaks. Perhaps you’ll find something in common with a new connection that you might have missed moving on. In social, the bar is always open… what’s your hurry?

3) Know Who Will Be at the Party. It’s always nice to know who you might meet ahead of time so you can better prepare. One of the very best inventions in social (and, according to The American Dialect Society via Mashable, the “2012 word of the year”) is the hashtag. Following hashtags lets you sort your conversations by relevance, so you know who is driving the topic, who will be there and what the buzz is well before the party. When you get involved ahead of time, you can jumpstart relationships online that, if you’re lucky enough to connect in person, are that much more fulfilling. (This is critical for me before conferences and events, and has personally created some of the most flourishing relationships of my life).

4) Create Party Lists.  I never walk away from a great conversation without listing them somewhere so I don’t forget our exchange. This is vital (especially if you’re not using a social CRM) as there is no way you can track every one of those conversations without putting them in place where you can remember to visit with them again. It’s contact management for social.

5) Be First to Call. Just like in dating, there can be that “Call Me!” dance after you meet someone new via social. My advice? Don’t wait for them to call. Visit them and let them know you’re there – I promise it won’t make them think you’re desperate. Social is about sharing great information, and letting others know when you like something they’ve shared with you. Maybe something great was said that you want to follow up on and ask a question about. For me, my favorite thing in the morning right after I wake up is to see that someone took the time to ask a question, send me a thought, or simply retweet something I shared. It feels good, and I try to do the same for others. Remember, don’t stop at just meeting at the cocktail party; it’s the conversation that comes afterwards that’s where the magic happens!

Key Takeaway: To all my party guests – the 80k+ connections across my social channels – I want to celebrate the cocktail parties we’ve had together. You have truly made this journey so fulfilling. And to those I met online, and was fortunate enough to meet in person, I am so endeared to you and know that you serve as a constant reminder of the so many wonderful people out there who just want the same thing as I do: Friendship, collaboration and inspiration. Cheers, to you.

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