Why you should be talking to strangers on the internet*

*Disclaimer: Adults only! And also: Let’s Not Be Creepy!

circular logic!

Maybe it’s because I’m one of these millenials, but I’ve always been comfortable talking to people across the internet as if they were down the street. It started when I was 14 and I made friends with a group of people in an AOL Chatroom (The Nirvana room, thank you very much). The thing is though, I’m still friends with these people. They’re on my Facebook feed, my phonebook, in my cherished memories of my childhood, and have no distinction from school friends, neighborhood friends or any other group.

Now that I’m running a business that handles international clients as well as local ones, I think nothing of sending someone an email on Linked In to compliment them on their commenting styles (literally happened, and resulted in one of my most favorite friendships/working relationships to date),  or striking up a conversation about someone’s choice of color for their purse/shirt/unicycle (it’s Los Angeles, after all).

I thought I’d throw together a useful list to help jar any introverts out there into engaging strangers– who are simply friends you have yet to meet. Whether you’re looking for freelance work, collaborative partners, or just to help round out your time, sending a simple note can really make a huge difference with the tiniest of efforts.

Linked In Groups–Like Minds!

BARELY considered strangers. These are probably the safest ‘strangers’ to approach; be they linked to occupations or hobbies, they’ll get you in touch with like-minded people. Hopefully sending you interesting reading topics, or jarring a heated response with one of the threads, joining groups on Linked In is one of the smartest networking things you can do.

Companies whose work you enjoy–Spread the love!

Double points for emailing art directors, creative directors, or designers at these companies. 

Like a magazine’s font and always wanted to know what it was? Always been a fan of the illustration work featured along the spreads? The fast way to make an amazing impression is by seeking out some answers to your awe-soaked faces. I once contacted an editor over at Jane magazine because I was in LOVE with the typeface they used on the cover (it was this one, btw). Within 30 minutes he had responded with the answer, and also asked if I was available to handle some freelance work. My type nerdiness has helped me over and over again, but it’s been my bubbly (unrelentingly so) outgoing personality tacked right along with it that continually draws people to me. If this seems too outrageous, consider this: Put yourself in the-person-your-sending-this-to-‘s shoes, wouldn’t you take nicely to someone emailing you to compliment you? I know I do when someone sends me an email like that.

I’ve had requests for mentorship, been asked advice on how to get a job, for feedback on work, requests for font pairings, and all sorts of other things. While I might be a particularly approachable person, I’m sure contacting your design hero won’t make them lash out sadistically, and at the very least, now they know your existence! Hooray!

For the Advanced:

Proactive attitudes are really (really really!) sexy

I’m sure by now I don’t have to tell anyone I’m not a shy person. I never saw a reason for it, and still don’t, but I understand how other people might. I guess.

Either way, when you approach someone based on what you know and value about yourself, what that other person finds valuable about you will sky rocket ridiculously. Yes there’s something to be said about arrogance, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. What I’m talking about is being able to walk up to someone asking for help, and say ” I am here, and I am exactly what you need”. That person’s mouth will drop open, you will get to waltz in calmly to do the job perfectly, and they will feel like you saved their life–even if we’re just talking about a brochure for the Make A Wish foundation.

I was perusing one of my Linked In groups when I saw a post saying how this person couldn’t find any design talent worth while. While I could have privately messaged the client, or skipped responding at all thinking “Someone worthwhile must have responded by now”, I publicly sent my information along with other people in the thread.  Not only did the original poster reply with an incoming client request (huzzah!) but other people who looked at the post and submitted their own work themselves have contacted me too. You never know who is watching, and you really don’t ever know who’s paying attention, so the absolute best thing you can do is throw out as many seedlings as possible and see what comes back. As long as you treat each opportunity genuinely and with sincerity, nothing but positivity should come out of it.

There’s no such thing as ‘being nosy’, let’s call it “productive eavesdropping”

Brain logged and hungry from sitting in a (truly inspiring) design conference, Jake and I were at a nearby italian restaurant decompressing. The area around us was pretty full, lots of tables with people talking, eating, but all of the sudden I heard someone complaining about their lack of design help.  I must have finely tuned hearing at this point, but regardless I couldn’t help myself leaking into the nearby table’s conversation. After Jake and I had finished eating, I walked over to them and introduced myself. The world is too small, I thought, but first I made sure to apologize for eavesdropping. I get that it’s a nasty habit and I do really tune out (It’s for the best), but when I hear a corresponding conversation, I am jumping on it. Maybe I can blame it on the fact I’m now a fully fledged entrepreneur,  but it’s a fact of my life. I make it work for me.

Don’t be shy about needling in on something that seems like is made for you. I’m no believer in coincidence, and would absolutely take it as “it IS!”. That thing about opportunity is you have to pounce on it. If it fails and you get death stares for making an innocent attempt, so not your issue. Giggle, shrug and bounce away. You’ve got bigger things on your plate to chew on!
Compliments are an amazing network builder
I’ve always loved the compliment-ice breaker. It’s how I made friends in a new city, established a social circle in art school, and shake myself out of a bad mood.
I like to think that when I genuinely appreciate something new out of nowhere, it’s a bit like organic inspiration and I always like to share those. Maybe it’s a bit silly, but acknowledging someone–even over a small matter over a beautiful color– makes such a significant difference both in you for acknowledging (hooray for small things!), and also for the receiver of the compliment– who knows where they were in their mood, but you just cemented yourself within a very happy place.

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