This month’s theme “connect and collaborate” is the perfect time to talk about building and reinforcing your network both online and off. I’m a huge fan of online networking, but I cannot stress the importance of making time for face-to-face interactions with people.

There is a lot of talk about how social networks like Twitter and Facebook are hurting our world by making us anti-social. While I agree that it is a valid concern, I think it’s a broad generalization that does not apply to everyone. In fact, I can tell you that for myself, the opposite is true. Here are three ways that I have used social media to build a solid and ever-expanding network:

Find your audience online

Do you know who your target audience is? It’s important to figure out who you want to talk to for your business. Think about where they spend their time. Look at your competitors and what they’re doing – and don’t forget to assess whether it’s working well for them. These are just a couple of methods you can use to find your audience. Once you find them, engage them! What are their problems? How can you help them? Finding ways to help people is one of the most effective ways to network and engage your audience. Be useful!

Connect with your audience offline

In the summer of 2010, I met my current business partner online through Twitter. Within a few weeks after we began talking online, I met her in-person for dinner, along with some other fabulous women that I had just begun to know on Twitter. Over four years later, Lara and I have spent most of the time we have known each other working on one project or another. Because of tweet ups and other offline events that allow me to connect with people, I’ve strengthened relationships that began online and eventually secured client relationships as well.

Take risks to keep growing

If you’re anything like me (ahem, total introvert) it’s hard to put yourself out there. Not just hard…it can be completely exhausting. However, it’s worth every step you take to build up your own community and get involved. I have never felt more fulfilled than when I’ve gotten out and gotten involved. Ottawa is an absolutely fabulous city to live and work in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt dread at the amount of energy it was going to take me to get through an event only to leave the event feeling excited and energized because the people I met were so wonderful.

You have a lot to offer others as a professional in your industry. The only way people will know what you have to offer is to get out there and get to know people and what they need that you can provide. It can be a lot of work, but it’s rewarding to feel like an integral part of the community.

What are some of the ways you’ve strengthened relationships both online and off?

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Karen Wilson is a social media strategist and coach with Wellman Wilson Consulting. She co-founded Social Capital Conference, Ottawa’s first social media learnathon. She is a member of the West Ottawa Board of Trade, as well as the 2014-2015 Vice President of the Women’s Business Network of Ottawa. Karen also spends time volunteering for QuickStart Autism to help in some small way with the work they’re doing to help families in the Ottawa area. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.