How many colleagues do you have who you interact with primarily through email, conference calls, and video chats? I’m guessing most of you have at least a few “internet colleagues,” especially given the nature of our work in Extension across the state and country.
But how many of those colleagues did you meet online?
As I’ve been branching into a more public life on the internet, starting, building, and maintaining relationships with colleagues in online spaces has become an essential part of my work. And I’ve learned just because those relationships exist primarily online rather than IRL (in real life) doesn’t make them any less meaningful.
As a part of starting my own YouTube channel, I began to reach out to other video creators from all over the world. A small group of content creators built WeCreateEdu, a small community for other video creators who make educational content on YouTube.
Almost all of our interaction and relationship-building has happened online. In fact, only a small handful of us have ever actually met face to face, and then only briefly. But these folks have quickly become some of my most trusted colleagues, people I turn to constantly for advice and support. And guess what — I can count on one hand the number of emails I’ve gotten from these colleagues. The networking and relationship-building we do takes place outside of traditional email space. So how do you build and maintain relationships with your colleagues online (and without clogging your email inbox)?
Google Hangouts are popular, easy ways to connect with one person, or in the case of a livestream, with hundreds or thousands. Our WeCreateEdu group hosts livestreamed hangouts twice a month where we invite guests, discuss audience recommended topics, and share our own tips and tricks as a way to help other creators (and ourselves) become better at our craft.
I find Twitter a great place to meet and engage with people across diverse backgrounds. Easy engagement includes favoriting or retweeting someone’s tweet, but relationship-building also happens on Twitter, whether it’s through back and forth water cooler-like banter (my personal favorite) or sharing each other’s content regularly. For example, after some Twitter banter, Jennifer Polk of FromPhDtoLife reached out to me asking if I’d be willing to do a Q&A about having an alternate career path with a PhD. I happily accepted, and since then, she and I have continued to share and support each other’s work in the Twitterverse.
Medium is a simple yet sophisticated blogging platform that seamlessly ties in elements of social sharing and networking. Content is easier to find than on traditional blogs because Medium does the work of bringing many writers to the same blogging platform and keeping track of your interests, rather than you doing the work of finding each writer’s individual blog based on your interest. Content is easier to interact with — in addition to liking posts and comments, you can highlight your favorite quotes to engage with writers and readers. In fact, a few weeks ago, I was approached by editor of The Cauldron, a blog hosted by Sports Illustrated, if they could cross-post a blog I wrote about March Madness. Instant networking boost!
And these are just three options out of a ton of tools people use to connect with one another online in meaningful ways. Exploring these tools has expanded my understanding of what a colleague is. Before engaging more concertedly online, my definition of colleague was limited to “people I meet in person and work with, sometimes remotely, usually over email.” Now it has expanded to “people I meet, online or IRL, and work with in whatever way make sense for us.”
In fact, I’ve stopped making a distinction between “internet colleagues” and “IRL colleagues.” To me, the internet is real life. The methods of building and maintaining relationships is different online than in person, but the value and role of those relationships is just as powerful.
So, how do you build and maintain relationships with your colleagues online?