Ever met anyone IRL (In Real Life) who you only knew in the online world? Or should you keep online friends separate from your real world ones?

Its a common complaint that people new to Twitter don’t know anyone in the Twitterverse as all their friends are hanging out in the Facebook mall, or worse, on email! But it doesn’t take long before you find you have shared experiences and know lots of info about some of the people you interact with, and since its all in real time you may even find you know more about them that your real world friends and family. But how can that be – you haven’t met some of these people!

What to do, what to do.

There are basically 3 options:

1. Keep it all to online only.  As you can see from the http://www.tweetstats.com/graph below, I do most of my tweeting between 8pm and 11pm at night which is when I have the time to read through the articles I may have spied during the day and share them if they are useful to my followers.  An interesting side effect is that I have quite a few people who I engage with who live in different timezones eg Australia, South Africa or even the UK and we will often exchange tweets while they are travelling on the tube into London and I’m rubbing my eyes before bed.

Its very unlikely that I’ll ever meet these people in person and so its absolutely fine to have an online only relationship.

2. Meet them in real life and its a bit weird. I’ve met up with people who I knew reasonably well on Twitter – I followed them, they followed me, we had talked about a few things over a period of time… you get the picture. But in real life they somehow didn’t match the mental picture I had of them in my head. We didn’t really hit it off and so just went back to how we were before. Just online.

3. Meet them in real life and you become instant buddies. Its great when you finally meet someone in real life who you feel like you know pretty well from your online interactions – and you actually like each other, have heaps to talk about and enjoy each others company. Doesn’t mean you are going to be joined at the hip for the rest of your life though! Meeting people online can swap the dynamics around so that the offline relationship is the most important and the online aspect just compliments that.

So how do you go about meeting someone who you only know online?

One of the easiest ways is to go along to a tweet up or another scheduled event and meet there. Twtvite is a website often used for arranging meet ups via Twitter. Or just take a look at the Twitter timeline to see what is happening. There are regular monthly meetups for Social Media Club Auckland #smcakl (here is my review of the February #smcakl), Auckland Tweet Up Facebook Group or maybe something as simple as catching up for a cuppa tea. Aww bless.

A challenge you might encounter is recognising your Twitter friend. Depending on their avatar you might be looking for an ear, the back of their head, someone in a wedding dress 10 years ago or their cat. Some events provide name tags – very useful! Otherwise you may need to get a brief description of what they are wearing. My avatar is quite recent and also closeup and clear, so I’ve been able to rely on other people recognising me – who has the monkey now?!

Here’s an example of a man wearing a flag. Seemed a bit odd, but I’m sure he is actually quite nice. Really.

@communico at #mediamingle

If you watch the tweet stream of a tweet up you will see that nearly as much conversation happens online after the event as at the actual event itself. Its not called social media for nothing! And a few drinks help too.

Of course there is also the reminder that not everyone is liked minded like you and me, and so be careful, use your common sense and don’t go into situations you don’t feel comfortable in!