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Why I went to meet a bunch of strangers off the internet.

It all started with a hashtag… sounds like the beginning of a Generation Z teenage novel, but it’s true!

What’s in a hashtag?

I have always found Twitter to be a good place for people who enjoy taking part in industry conversations, freelance or not. The discourse is informal and even a little irreverent at times. Acknowledging the day-to-day downs that tend to come with the ups is allowed: a phenomenon you would rarely find on a channel like Linkedin.

Being in a minority of copy-flavoured creatives in my agency, I had been using social media to try and get better connected with my industry peers. Trawling the Twittersphere one day (in my lunch break, of course) I stumbled across #copywritersunite, and its originator, @Vikki RossWrites.

I followed this hashtag’s trail of breadcrumbs and found a whole pile of people who do what I do, and do it well. They’re working at agencies, in-house creative departments and home offices across the land. I followed those people, tweeted them, replied to their tweets, and got replies to mine, all the while making use of the hashtag that unites us all. I felt part of a virtual community, and somewhat validated in the career path I had chosen.

Out of the Twittersphere, into the bar

I missed one chance to meet these digital pals back in November, so when this little baby appeared in my Twitter feed, I was stoked to realise I could make it…

Let’s pause for a second: a stranger with whom I have only interacted via the internet invites me, and a load of other internet-based strangers, to an actual event, at a real world location. This is how people’s houses get trashed, right? Well, maybe in high school, but since we were meeting in the rather gorgeous One Aldwych lobby bar, I didn’t think that would be an issue.

When I arrived, I felt ever so slightly provincial. I’m pretty sure this is the effect of clocking off in rural Oxfordshire at half five, and rocking up a few short hours later to network in a 5* hotel tucked between Covent Garden and the West End. (In other words, it wasn’t them, it was me!)

Tweet, meet and greet

Although everyone was very friendly and the organisers were doing a good job of making themselves known to people, there was inevitably a slightly weird dynamic.

The usual kind of introduction, eg

‘Hello (first name) let me introduce (first name) from (business name)’

…was replaced by…

‘This is (first name) also known as (Twitter handle), who’s got that awesome portfolio website we were all raving about.’

Once we had worked out who was already acquainted with whom via Twitter, introductions were easier. Here are my tips for attending real-world events hosted by internet-based communities…

  1. Be identifiable. Use a profile picture for a week or so beforehand, if you don’t usually, so that people have half a chance of identifying you by sight.
  2. Do your homework. If you’re expecting to recognise a few people, make sure you know their real names and corresponding online monikers. It doesn’t do to get your industry legends mixed up.
  3. Find a buddy. Pin down a couple of people’s names and faces early on in the evening. If you split up, and then spot them talking to new people later, it’s a smooth way to get an introduction without just marching up and announcing yourself. (Although if that’s your thing, don’t let me cramp your style!)

Never meet your heroes?

There were a few people and teams in attendance who are at least well-known, if not a bit legendary amongst us copywriters, and I did wonder if what it would be like to meet them in person. Would they be divas, or are they just jobbing copywriters like the rest of us? The latter was universally true. Everyone was lovely, and there wasn’t a whiff of prima donna anywhere.

(My highlight was meeting the in-house copywriter at Eurostar – I have always wanted to express my appreciation for her ‘Cheap as Frites’ line!)

Round 2

The third physical uniting of the copywriters who frequent #copywritersunite is already in the diary, and I can’t wait. Meeting everyone from start-up freelancers to in-house heavyweights has made me feel even more excited about what I do. I came in on the Friday morning, slightly sleepy it must be said, but absolutely full of enthusiasm and buzz from the night before.

Moving from digital communication to face time isn’t as awkward or scary as you might think, when it’s managed well – just look at Behance portfolio weeks (more on those soon).

This industry is a sociable, collaborative one; we love our work and we love talking about it. Would I recommend this kind of event? Absolutely. Get out there!

What do you think?

Chloe Marshall

Chloe Marshall

Copywriter