How to Build Meaningful, Safe Relationships Online

You can do just about anything online these days…

Shop for that last-minute birthday gift you forgot to buy your mother, make reservations at your favorite restaurant for your blind date, meet the girl who you’ll actually be taking on that blind date, build an entire business from scratch, and build relationships with people from around the world who you would never be able to connect with otherwise.

Just over one year ago I started my own business online from scratch with a daily podcast that interviews today’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs 7-days a week. It’s called EntrepreneurOnFire.

Since then, I’ve recorded over 400 episodes, been featured in TIME Magazine and on, and I just had over 420,000 unique downloads in the month of September alone.

How did I do it? With a ton of hard work, passion and drive – and through building meaningful relationships.

You might be wondering how I’ve built these relationships via an online business podcast. I mean, it’s not like I’m interviewing my guests in person (every interview I do is online via Skype), or meeting with my audience on a weekly basis face-to-face. Yet I’ve still managed to build hundreds of very meaningful relationships with my guests, my audience and with others in my industry, and it’s all thanks to the Internet.

While I’ll always be a huge proponent of building upon relationships in person whenever possible – at conferences or other meet ups – for an online business it really starts, well, online.

By joining online groups, reaching out to others via social media and their websites, and engaging with my audience on various online platforms, I’ve been able to build some very meaningful and long-lasting relationships. And all of these relationships have in some way, shape or form helped me grow my business.

Okay, I get it – building meaningful relationships online isn’t as easy as it sounds – nor is it always safe. So where do you start if you know no one? And how do you know when it’s safe to connect with someone you don’t technically know?

Valid questions, both of which I want to dive into right now so you know how to go about building meaningful, safe relationships online that will help you grow your business.

How do you find the right people to connect with when you know no one?

Online groups – such as groups established on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn – and online masterminds (or membership sites) are two of the most accessible, easiest and most powerful ways to build meaningful, safe relationships online.

These two options not only give you the opportunity to find insanely targeted groups, focused on the topic or industry you’re interested in, they also offer the added security of knowing that you’re communicating with real people who are also interested in building meaningful relationships.


Finding Targeted Groups

Finding targeted groups is as easy as using a specific social platform like Facebook or LinkedIn, which are a little more secure than your search tool, or using Google to find the type of group you’re interested in.

In any case, be sure to include terms in your search regarding specifics like geography, the name of your industry or keywords from your niche that are important to you in finding a group to join.

For example, if I were looking for a broad-topic group online to join others who are interested in writing, where I could share my writing, get feedback and build relationships with other writers, I might search Google for something like “join writers group online”.

Having Added Security

More often than not, a group created within a social platform like Facebook or LinkedIn has to meet specific criteria to be created in the first place. They require enough information from the creator to get them started – so you can do your own research before deciding whether or not to become a member of the group.

Here are some of the questions you might want to ask yourself before requesting to become a member of – or accepting a request from – a group online:

Q: Is the owner of the group a well-known person or brand that I can trust?

Oftentimes you can spot a dishonest group from miles away. A quick and easy way to tell whether or not a group is legit upfront is to look at who is running it.

If you don’t recognize the person or the brand, and the group wasn’t directly recommended to you by someone who you know, like and trust, then you might want to check out the person’s (or the brand’s) profile on the platform you’re using to see what they’re all about.

Q: How long has the group been around?

Not to say that new groups definitely aren’t good groups – or even that “old” groups definitely are good groups – but if you see a group that has been around for 5, 6, 12+ months, chances are they would have been “spotted” for misuse and shutdown if they were doing something really out of line.

Q: Is the group active?

Once you find a group you’re interested in joining, it’s always good to see how active the group is. Inactive groups could be a sign that the group isn’t genuinely interested in building meaningful relationships, otherwise, the members would be actively posting and engaging.

Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook don’t always automatically shut down inactive groups, and so it’s always good practice to check to see when the last person posted is.

If it turns out that the latest post is a recent one, then take it one step further: how many members are engaging with the post? Has anyone commented on it or “liked” it? By checking out these types of things you can get a feel for the group. If you’re looking for a really active group, and the latest post was two days ago and it has no comments on it, then it might not be the right group for you.

Q: Does the group have a moderator(s) and established rules?

Wouldn’t almost every group be great if they had a moderator and established rules for posting and engaging with other members? If you’re looking to join a group, check to make sure they have a moderator and that there are rules for members to follow.

 A group without established rules makes it awfully easy for people who aren’t serious about sharing valuable content and engaging in meaningful conversations to join and then immediately corrupt the atmosphere.

 Also, groups that are moderated well tend to have trustworthy individuals within, who it’s likely safe to interact and start building relationships with.

With masterminds or membership sites, you’re likely paying an entry – or even a recurring – fee to be a member.

Thus, you should ask yourself the following questions before you decide whether or not to join a mastermind group online:

  • Are you already familiar with the person or company who is running it?
  • Did someone who you know, like and trust refer the mastermind?
  • Have you done a decent amount of research on the company (read testimonials or talked to other people who have experience with the group)?

Online groups and masterminds both sound like a great way to connect with like-minded people who you can trust, right? As long as you know what to search for and the questions you should be asking yourself before you join, then you’re on your way to building some great relationships online.

But what about all the other platforms you use online to communicate with people? How do you know when it’s safe to connect with people outside of the groups and masterminds you find on Facebook, LinkedIn and via Google?

How do you know when it’s okay to connect with someone who you don’t technically know?

Facebook seems to be the most “protected” social platform out there right now. What I mean when I say this is that you don’t typically receive friend requests or messages from people who you don’t already know.

LinkedIn and Twitter are a little different. While it’s certainly easy to connect with people who you already know on these platforms, they seem to make it much easier for people to send requests and messages even when they don’t personally know the person they’re sending them to.

That is why it’s important to look for a couple of things before accepting a request to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook, or messaging back and forth with someone:

Q: Does the person have a profile set up that includes things like their current position or occupation and a website address or other social links?

If someone online is looking to engage in unsafe business, it makes sense that they wouldn’t have a completed profile or much contact information. This is because they don’t want to be traceable. If you are contacted by someone who has little or no profile information, then you might want to dig a little deeper before connecting with them.

Q: Does the person have a profile image?

This is not a superficial question by any means. One of the quickest ways that we connect with people online is to be able to put a face to the name. Much like the incomplete profile, if someone isn’t putting up an image of himself or herself, it could mean that they aren’t there for the right reasons.

 Q: Do you have any friends in common?

If someone reaches out to you to become connected and you don’t recognize their name, then sometimes it helps to know how they’ve found you. Some social platforms offer a quick look at the other people in your network that both you and the person reaching out to you are connected to. This might help you understand why the person is reaching out to you in the first and offer some insights into how they might know you.

Q: Does it make sense for you to connect with this person?

This is one of the easiest questions to ask yourself when someone has reached out to you who you are not familiar with is, but it’s not typically a question that comes to mind.

 What I mean by “make sense” is, does this person work in the same industry as you, or have the same interests as you, or live in the same geographical location as you? If the answer to these types of questions is no, then it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to connect with them if your goal is to build meaningful, safe relationships online.

It really is amazing what we can do online these days. Of all the positive things can come out of building meaningful relationships online, it’s always smart to make sure you’re putting yourself in the right situations and that you’re surrounded by the right types of people.

There are definitely a lot of spammers and scammers on the Internet, and the last thing you want to deal with is a bad online experience as a result of connecting or communicating with someone who you can’t trust.

Knowing who you can and can’t trust online starts with putting yourself in the right situations. By following the tips above, you should feel comfortable and confident in the relationships you’re building on line.

This post was written by John Lee Dumas, Founder and Host of EntrepreneurOnFire, a daily podcast interviewing today’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs.

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