Today I was going down a list of NASA Social participants for tomorrow’s SpaceX launch event. I was looking for people I’ve met before in person or have interacted with/followed on Twitter. Some people are more active or provide higher quality content that stand out and become a staple in the community.
But as I was scanning down the list, which contains the participants Twitter handle and their real name, I found myself looking at the Twitter handle column so much that I became self-aware of what I was doing. I started thinking about why I was looking at the @handles instead of their names. When I tried looking at just the name column, I pretty much failed on name recognition.
The main mechanism to communicating with other Twitter users is by using the @ symbol followed by their Twitter handle. You type @NASASocial to communicate with the NASA Social team. Since day one of using Twitter, I’ve been trained mentally to know everyone by their handle. And Twitter handles can be any combination of letters and numbers, so it can be a totally obscure handle.
But when you actually meet someone in person, at an event like a NASA Social or an unofficial dinner like I was at earlier this month, this method of communication can present a problem.
In person, you usually introduce yourself by your first name, maybe even a last name. If you introduce a friend or someone you know to someone else, you might mention each others names. This is one of the fundamental ways we interact as humans and how we acknowledge who we are communicating with.
With only a name, it can be difficult to link to their online presence. I have started mentioning my Twitter handle after my name during these social events so that the other person can hopefully make a connection with my online profile immediately, or at a later time.
On several occasions when attending a NASA Social, I’ve overheard people become excited about connecting a handle and the real person. They say something like “I’ve been following you, it’s so awesome to meet you.” It sounds a bit corny, but making such a connection can be an awesome experience and make a new friend for life.
Sometimes this encounter can be like meeting a movie star or celebrity. During a bus ride, I asked someone sitting next to me what their Twitter handle was. I felt stupid when I instantly connected their online presence. And sometimes you become speechless that you’re sitting next to someone you admire.
Does it really matter in the end whether your online and offline profiles are connected? In some cases, yes. At a NASA Social, you meet other people who have a common interest you share. You can take that shared interest to another level where you continue to communicate online, and even so much as back offline. It could lead to opportunities of a lifetime.
I have met several people online, bumped into them offline at a NASA Social or dinner, continue to communicate online, and then bumped into them offline at another NASA Social or dinner. Or, you meet offline, communicate online, and again meet offline. If you consider these people a valuable part of your network, both online and offline, they can be a asset to your social network.
So next time you meet someone at a NASA Social, get to know their real name and their Twitter handle. If you meet someone online try to associate their name with their handle as well. You never know in what scenario you both may meet and what that interaction can lead to.