About a year ago, my virtual friend (not virtual pretend, but virtual, we connected on LinkedIn and until recently, had never met) Chris Jarvis told me to read The Tipping Point. I had heard of the book but didn’t know much about it.  Chris told me I was a connector as described in the book.  Little did I know how right he was.

I don’t know if it is genetic or if connectors are created.  But I do know that I just LOVE connecting.  I have always been a connector for as long as I can remember.  With the advent of new/social media like Twitter, the networking game has been taken to an entirely new playing field.  For me, it is about connecting with people who teach me new things, inspire me to do more and who open my mind to a world I might otherwise not know about.

All of this virtual connecting is allowing me to create some very interesting relationships with people with whom I might never have crossed paths if not for social media.  I have developed incredibly close ties with people who I have never met in real life.  Many of these relationships are as important to me as those with my very best friends.  I know that this may sound quite odd, especially for those who are not familiar with social media.  It sounds a bit crazy to me too!

Recently, I had the opportunity to turn several of those virtual relationships into real life encounters.  The Cause Marketing Forum was in Chicago.  I am not a cause marketing person (don’t even play one on tv) and like many conferences, this one was a little pricey for a non-marketing just hung out the shingle nonprofit consultant.  Several of my virtual friends were in town for the conference. Fortunately, one of these friends suggested I come downtown at the end of the conference to meet with her.  Without that invitation, I probably would not have had the nerve to “crash the party.”

I really enjoyed reconnecting with some Chicagoans and meeting great Twitter friends in person that day.  I have found that meeting people in real life has a profound impact on the depth of the relationship.  But honestly, meeting Chris Jarvis, who has felt like a dear friend for the past year since we first connected virtually, made the entire afternoon surreal.  It seems as though Chris and I have been friends forever.  To speak with him in person for the first time just didn’t make sense.  I literally could not wrap my brain around the experience.

Just recently, “Social Media Today” posted a piece on their blog titled, “Social networks are redefining what a friend or a relationship really is.”  In this post, it was suggested that words like friend may become less meaningful as it becomes easier and easier to vastly expand our networks.  However, I would hate to casually dismiss my virtual relationships with people as not “real” just because we met online.  These networking methods really are just tools that facilitate creating wonderful relationships with people.  Ultimately some become equally meaningful to those relationships I establish through more traditional methods.  I met Chris on LinkedIn. We only met in real life after an entire year of engaging online. But my friendship with him is one I treasure and is certainly of equal value to those in my non-virtual world.

So, if you are one of those people who is resisting trying out some of these new tools, I dare say you are missing out.  I can’t imagine my life right now without the incredible relationships I have gained through social media.  It’s difficult for me to envision trudging through this past year of unemployment without that important community!  So thank you to my new friends of this new world.  You know who you are, but perhaps not how much I value your friendship!

(Be sure to check out this new blog on CNN.com called Netiquette that will help us figure out networking etiquette. )

*Thanks to Bonnie Koenig (another GREAT relationship in my network) for inspiring the title.