As the author of one of the first books on social media, I'm a huge believer in the power of social networks to transform our businesses and careers.

When LinkedIn took social media out of the friends and acquaintances zone, and into the world of business networking, professionals found new support for job searches, business development, and "shop talk." I've personally made incredible contacts through LinkedIn, and the platform has helped me grow my business and my own personal network.

However, I've found the real power of platforms like LinkedIn -- and other networking apps, like the new popular app Shapr -- is in the relationships they've helped me cultivate offline. The end goal should always be to develop inspiring, face-to-face relationships that enrich our work and lives.

I recently spoke about the importance of developing relationships to a large audience of rising corporate leaders at a women's leadership conference and event sponsored by Ericsson. After all, relationships are not just "nice to have," but critical to our success as leaders and entrepreneurs. A relationship can mean the difference between a promotion -- or stagnation. Between landing the big client for your firm -- or losing out. Between growing your business -- or falling behind.

Here are three strategies to help you make the most of your relationship building efforts.

Make your online networking serve your offline life -- not the other way around

How do we ensure that we're using our social media presence to enrich our real, offline lives?

While none of us can expect to have a real, face-to-face connection with every one of our contacts, we should strive to translate at least some of those online relationships into the real world.

One quick way to gauge how you're doing is by simply asking yourself how often you get in touch with your social media connections outside of the social media platform. Do you have connections whom you text, just to say hi? Do you correspond via email? Or better yet, do you actually meet them now and then for coffee -- in person or virtually -- to explore ways to collaborate and potentially support each other?

If the answer to all of these is "never," then you've got some work to do.

It's not always easy to do this, of course. With social media's global reach, many of the relationships that we'd like to bring offline must contend with miles of distance, differing time zones, and conflicting schedules. Beyond that, plenty of us are introverts who would much rather leave it all online. But when we overcome these barriers, we can make the most amazing connections -- both personal and professional. In that hope, I highly recommend taking the time to reach out to a few of your online connections to see if you can set up a time to meet in person and explore how you can help each other.

Use Technology to Focus Your Efforts

When it comes to building relationships, never underestimate the power of apps. I've found the app Shapr in particular to be very helpful in encouraging authentic, meaningful networking.

Using the familiar "swipe left, swipe right" motion that we're all so familiar with, Shapr shows you profiles of people who share similar business interests with you. When you'd like to connect with someone, you swipe right. If they do the same for you, you're a match, and you're able to message and set up a time to meet in person.

 inline image

So, yes -- it's kind of like Tinder for networking.

But what is different about Shapr is that it's repositioning networking as a mindset and an essential professional skill to master, rather than a means to an end. The number of people you get to see each day is limited, to prevent people from going for quantity over quality. The goal is to actually facilitate offline conversations that lead to meaningful collaborations and connections.

When you're setting up your profile, one of the questions is how you prefer meeting, and you can choose from options like "coffee," "on a walk," or "phone call." There's implicit encouragement to take the connections you make on Shapr into the real world.

Make the most of conferences, forums, and other gatherings

Many of us automatically switch into networking mode when we're at a conference or other business gathering, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I'd suggest, however, being a bit more intentional about it. Look at the list of attendees and make a note of anyone whom you'd like to connect with. Use LinkedIn to familiarize yourself with their background and experience. Or, use Google to learn more about their work, so you can ask meaningful questions once you meet them -- instead of resorting to generic "small talk." Ask any online connections whom you've been wanting to meet whether they'll be attending, and make plans to get together.

Making brand-new connections at a conference is wonderful, but remember to focus on the people you've already connected with -- online, that is -- as well.

Remember that the connections that enrich your business, yourself, and your life are the ones you make face-to-face

There have been enough studies done on social networking by now to establish that online "friends" don't have nearly the same positive effect on our well-being that real-life friends do.

People who have a strong, supportive social network offline, and who focus on helping others succeed, live longer, happier, and healthier lives.

In these days when so much business is conducted online, whether that be working on your personal brand or closing deals, it's easy to forget that there are real live people behind every username. If we're not careful, we can end up focusing on upping our follower counts at the expense of connecting authentically to the people we could be building real relationships with.

It doesn't take much. A simple text to ask how someone is doing, an email wishing them luck with their latest venture, or an invitation to coffee could lead to your next big success. Or -- perhaps even more importantly -- to theirs.