There is one thing you must know when organizing a virtual meetup with an online compadre: don’t be creepy. The prime consideration you must have is that your friend — regardless of how close you may seem in the virtual world — is going to be on guard when they meet with you.
Don’t be surprised if they have a gun, pepper-spray, or pocket sand with them. The slightest hint of awkwardness could also cause them to leave or send a text asking a friend to call the cops. Dramatic? Yes. Practical? I’d say so. Put yourself in their shoes.
Just because you are close friends online does not mean you are while in the outside world. Once you can build trust with the person, you should be good to go. Of course, you have to build trust to even meet up with a person; that’s why we have some great tips below.
Video Chat First
I’m a big proponent of video chatting with people before you meet with them in public so you know that they are real. A video chat allows the person to respond and carry on in real-time, while a picture of a person can be pulled from anywhere off the Internet. This may seem a little weird to you at first, but if you are planning to meet with the person in real life, why wouldn’t you have a video chat?
This can be done quite easily with Skype, Oovoo, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts. Furthermore, nearly everyone has a webcam of some type these days, so there really shouldn’t be too much of an excuse not to.
Go Somewhere Public
It’s a lot harder to kill or kidnap someone in the middle of Starbucks, so meeting in such a public place is your best option when it comes to this kind of thing. Don’t even consider inviting your virtual friend to your house, going to their house, or meeting in some dilapidated alley on the east side of your city. That’s not smart. Your virtua-friend may be cray!
Make sure that you meet somewhere public, and if you’re extra paranoid, make sure the person doesn’t follow you home in their car. If they insist on meeting somewhere private, I would recommend cutting off all contact with them.
Meet With Friends
Reddit offers the perfect precedent for public meetups when it comes to online friendships. Many communities (called subreddits) on the site — typically those that are geocentric — organize meetups at local hangouts and eateries. This takes off the pressure of one-on-one encounters while providing the safety of including several different people.
If you are part of an online group (whether it be via Facebook, some other social network, or a forum), then this could be a great solution to entering a real world friendship. Consider this to be analogous to “group dates” from middle school, but in this case, romance doesn’t necessarily have to be involved.
One great tech solution for organizing these types of events is MeetUp.com, a site that is essentially built for this exact type of thing.
Bring Another Buddy
So maybe your only option is a one-on-one type of meetup. No problem. If you still do not feel at ease, bring a friend from the real world and encourage your virtual one to do the same. This can keep the conversation fluid since four brains can bring more topics for discussion than just two. It also can be a bit safer to have someone you already trust at your side.
Don’t be surprised if they aren’t up for this, and once again, I’m considering the safety factor. Fighting against two kidnappers rather than just one is a bit difficult, and if they can’t find a friend to come with them, they may opt out of meeting with you. Don’t take it as an insult, for I’m sure you would do the same.
Go Digitally Organic
Sometimes, planned meetups simply do not work out. That’s why you must let the universe organize them and let things happen “naturally”. Of course, sometimes it’s difficult to know you are in the same place as someone you only know from the virtual world. Sure, you may have seen their picture or had a video chat, but recognizing them in real life is typically a whole other story.
Apps like Banjo recognize when your friends are within your vicinity or at the same venue as you using social networking and check-ins. By pulling data from all of your social networks, you can find out if any of your virtual friends are in your current area. Of course, this only works if they have opted in, but it’s still a cool way to meet in public at the spur of the moment.
Know Your Emergency Exit
Last but not least, if things go sour, know your emergency exit. Have a friend ready to call you at a moment’s notice, plan to leave at a certain time, or, more drastically, keep some pocket sand nearby. There’s always the chance of things going poorly, so you should be ready. Sometimes things just don’t work out.
What other tips do you have for turning virtual friendships into real life ones? Have you ever had a good meetup? What about bad ones?