My Weirdly Not-Creepy First Tweetup Experience

miss seattle mckinley smith
McKinley, my Twitter follower, is running for Miss Washington.

Ah, Twitter. The only social network where it’s really ok to stalk people you don’t know.You can have a one-way relationship with anyone you want and take everything from them—their links, their Instagrams, and their locations — without giving anything back, except a few retweets.

You can silently follow someone for years and, if they have enough followers, they’ll never notice that you’ve snuck along for their Twitter stream ride.

And then there are tweetups, the sketchy-sounding phenomenon where total strangers who follow each other on Twitter move beyond the 140-character boundary and meet offline. Everyone from mums to venture capitalists are doing it.

I have 756 followers. I know about 20 of them and have met maybe 50 of them. The other 686…I haven’t the slightest.

Last month, one of those 686 people wanted to meet in person, and I didn’t know what to think.

On April 7, I wrote a personal article about my dwindling business venture and received an email titled,  “From one youngin’ to another…”

Intrigued, I read on.

Hey Alyson,
Let me just say, I absolutely love following you on BI and Twitter. I recently graduated from college myself, am also an aspiring entrepreneur and it is AWESOME to see a young, savvy blonde woman rocking the startup media space.
If you are up for it, I’d love to set up a time to chat about what you are doing at Business Insider, and where you want to go in the future. I’m based out of Seattle and work in public relations for a few startup companies that you might be interested in learning more about for Business Insider.  Regardless, maybe there’s a way I can support your vision in the future. It’d be great to talk with you by phone if you have the time. I’ll also be out in New York mid-May, and am happy to meet in person, too.
Cheers, Alyson. I hope we can connect in the future.

From this email, I saw a lot of similarities between myself and my Twitter follower.  We seemed to be the same age, have similar ambitions and careers.

So, I wrote back.

From there, our offline friendship began to blossom.  McKinley and I exchanged a few more emails, set up a time to chat, and she called me promptly at the scheduled time.

From our 20 minute call, she really seemed like a normal girl. She had just graduated college, lived in Washington, and worked in PR. So when she mentioned she was going to be in New York City the following month and wanted to meet for lunch, I obliged.

But as the lunch date loomed closer, I began to second-guess the meeting. What was McKinley after? Did she want to network? Did she want a job? Or did she really just want to be friends?

Nervous, I did some Googling. It turns out McKinley is quite impressive. She’s traveled the world for charities. On top of being everything she said she was, she is also Miss Seattle, running for Miss Washington next month.

Last Friday, I took a leap of faith and had my first, official tweetup. McKinley and I met in Union Square. We chatted for an hour like long-lost friends. We swapped stories about college, business, our careers and ambitions. We continued the conversation over happy hour.

McKinley proved to be an ambitious networker. So much, in fact, that the person who sat next to her on her flight to New York offered her a 6-figure paying job two days later.

McKinley is the antithesis of the creepers you’d expect to reach out from the depths of the Internet. She’s someone I’d like to stay in touch with for a long time. In fact, I’m glad she reached out. Maybe people like her are the reason tweetups are becoming socially acceptable.

“I’ve met with two random Twitter followers, we grab dinner every few weeks,” my colleague Steve Kovach said.

Venrock’s Marissa Campise met her former boss Howard Lindzon because she messaged him on the social network.

Startup [email protected] is trying to make a dating service out of Twitter too.

While I’m still not convinced that many tweetups can turn into real (safe) friendships (or that I’ll test my luck with a stranger twice), but I am really glad that McKinley reached out.  It’s nice being able to turn one of those 686 people into one of the 20.