When I think about the people closest to me, aside from family, more than half of those individuals have come from social media. I have been introduced to some incredible folks through Instagram, Facebook, OkCupid (yep, that's right), and other various sites or apps that allow you to connect with others. The world is literally at our fingertips and if you haven't taken advantage of that, you've been missing out.

In all my years of meeting people "online," I've never had a truly bad experience. Sure, I've had some unique encounters and connected better with some over others, but overall it's been positive and helped me to become a more well-rounded person.

So, how DO you meet people through social media? I think it's pretty easy, but I've had many people inquire about it. Let's take Instagram for example... Elise (@roundtheworldgirl) was one of the first people I met in the hiking community. She had a beautiful feed, clearly enjoyed being outside and active, and she seemed like a genuinely interesting person... and let's be honest, who isn't mesmerized by that hair? After a few comments back and forth, I told her to let me know if she ever wanted to go hiking together. One direct message and an exchange of telephone numbers later, we were planning a weekend backpack trip. A few weeks later my friend Jason (who I met in "real" life) and I met up with Elise, and we set out on one of the most memorable backpacking adventures I've had.... and Elise and I have the scars to prove it.

I think there are varying methods of meeting people online, depending on the platform and your intentions, but for the most part the same general rules apply. It is important to find common ground - an interest you both share. For me, I'm drawn to people who look happy, are active in the outdoors, and who engage with me in a fun and friendly manner. It's important to interact with the person and start chatting, whether it's through comments or direct messages - but this HAS to be mutual. If someone isn't being responsive, it's probably best to move on for the time being. Do not come out guns a blazin' and ask someone to meet up that you haven't developed a friendly foundation with. Generally speaking, it's too much, too soon. We're already meeting strangers, don't make it any weirder than it has to be.

I also think it's important to communicate electronically in whatever way makes you feel the most comfortable and for however long you need, whether it's a couple days or a couple months. There are messaging tools in place to make chatting easier, so you can keep your personal information (like you telephone number) out of the equation, if you so choose. Lastly, pay attention to any gut feelings and/or red flags you might have. If your spidey sense is going off about someone, maybe it's best to hold off on getting together. I think we often know when something doesn't feel right, and at the end of the day, you are meeting a stranger, so make sure you let a friend or two know what your plans are and who with, or better yet... turn it into a group event. After that, be open, be yourself and have fun! ....go ahead and apply the above strategies to your online dating life - my advice comes free of charge.

The nice thing about Instagram is that for the most part people post photos showcasing their lives and their passions, and for us outdoorsy folk.... we all share the same desire to connect with nature, and that says a lot about someone's personality and what's important to them. Even if we lead very different lives, we are connected in a meaningful way. It blows my mind to think these wonderful individuals wouldn't be in my life if social media didn't exist, and if we weren't wiling to take a chance on meeting a stranger. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of these people will be in my life for years to come, and that many more will be walking into it as time passes on.

I would love to hear your experiences in regards to how social media has expanded or not expanded your social circle. Feel free to share in the comments below. Thanks for reading!