In social media, we focus on building our online relationships. We retweet helpful links. We like relevant Facebook fan pages. We upload funny videos. We comment on poignant blog posts.

And oh yes, we meet up in person. You might say we “tweet up.”

Events, both hosting and attending them, are key to a successful social media strategy. By meeting someone IRL (“In Real Life”), your relationship with that person strengthens naturally. Even if you spend only a couple of minutes together, you’re able to read each other’s body language, maybe share a couple of stories and ultimately establish a human bond that is impossible to achieve online.

At ChicagoNow, the web site I worked at before joining 435 Digital, events were essential to growing our online community. When we launched the site in May 2009, we wanted the bloggers to regularly link to each other, comment on each other’s posts and even collaborate. The best way to do that, we decided, was to introduce the bloggers to each other in person and hope they clicked.

So, borrowing a line from the brilliant Andrew Huff of Gapers Block, we began holding monthly meet-ups. Each month, we invited the ChicagoNow bloggers to join the ChicagoNow staff for drinks and conversation at a bar in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. ChicagoNow picked up the tab and staff members introduced bloggers to each other, making sure everyone felt included.

My favorite part of a meet-up goes something like this:

A talk man with gray hair turns to the young woman next to him. “Hi, I’m Joe. I write the blog ‘Arresting Tales.’ I don’t think we’ve met.”

The woman’s eyes light up. “Joe! I know you! I’m Jessica. I’m ‘All the Single Ladies.‘”

The man gasps. “Jessica! It’s so good to finally meet you in person!”

Turns out they’d been commenting on each other’s blogs for weeks. They’ll now spend the next 20 minutes exchanging funny stories and deciding how they can collaborate on future posts. A friendship that was two-dimensional online suddenly becomes three-dimensional offline.

Don’t believe me? Then I invite you to attend tomorrow’s ChicagoNow Tweet-Up and see for yourself. We’ll be gathering for free drinks, food and lots of conversation at Sub 51 from 6 to 8 p.m. You can RSVP on ChicagoNow’s Faceook fan page and yes, you can bring your friends. Online ones and off.

-Tracy Samantha Schmidt