When will we ever use this in the real world? I remember hearing that question posed by students over and over again when I was in school.

Now, years later, as the founder of Social Marketing Solutions, I get questions from entrepreneurs about social media and how they can convert online interactions into real world relationships that have tangible benefits to their business and personal lives.

When was the last time you met a social media contact out in the real world? If you have never done it, or it’s been a while, you could be missing out on the most powerful connections in business and life.

Since I began networking on social media, it has completely changed the business landscape for me. The virtual relationships I’ve made via social media have been my biggest business driver and enabled me to take my career to places I couldn’t have imagined only a few years ago.

My online activities have allowed me to create a massive global network that would not have been possible using traditional networking activities.

The relationships I’ve made have created powerful brand advocates for my startup that have helped me attract new clients and build credibility.

However, to maximize the value of a virtual relationship, I am a firm believer that it should be converted into the real life whenever possible. I have made it a point to make this happen over the past year and recommend that you do the same.

Maximizing virtual relationships

Before traveling anywhere, always check on social media to see if anyone in your social network lives there. Then, arrange a meeting over coffee, lunch, cocktails, etc. Never miss an opportunity to take this step.

Are you going to a conference or a trade show? Make sure to study the agenda to see who will be speaking. Connect with the speakers a few days before the event on LinkedIn, beBee, and Twitter. Then, arrange to meet over coffee at the event.

Check the event hashtags from the previous year to see who the top influencers were. Connect to the ones that are most relevant to your business and reach out to them letting them know you will be there this year. Suggest a meet up at this year’s event.

Do not approach these meet ups as a sales call. Instead, use the opportunity just to get to know one another a little better. If you are selling anything here, it should be just to sell yourself as someone of value, in other words, just be genuine and authentically helpful.

Once the trust has been built, you won’t need to close these people at all. Doing business and collaborating with them just becomes the next logical step. If you’re lucky, you might just make some great friends along the way.

Recently, I had the great fortune of meeting with CNBC Columnist and LinkedIn Top Voice, Dustin McKissen, and his wife. Dustin and I met on LinkedIn via our mutual interests.

In the two and a half years we’ve known one another, we’ve helped each other grow our businesses and take our careers to new levels. Here are a few ways we’ve collaborated:

  • Client referrals and introductions
  • Online recommendations
  • Content sharing and amplification

Dustin lives in St. Louis, and my wife and I just happened to be flying in there to go to a wedding in Illinois this weekend. There was no way I was going to miss out on an opportunity to meet Dustin in person.

We met for breakfast and had a delightful conversation at the finest pancake house this side of the Missouri River.

There is no doubt that Dustin and I will be doing business and collaborating in the future.

In fact, we will be giving a workshop together at the No Longer Virtual Conference (Named a Top 7 Conference for entrepreneurs by Forbes) in Atlanta, Georgia – February 23 & 24, 2017 at The Ritz-Carlton. Dustin and I will be speaking about how to leverage your online network to improve your real life, face to face business opportunities.

Conversations create opportunities.

A version of this article was originally published in the Huffington Post

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.