The following is a draft version of a chapter submitted to the Cleveland Social Media Club eBook.
Spend a while on Facebook and it can begin to seem like an acceptable substitute for face time. Don't be fooled. Even if all you're trying to do is have a conversation, studies have shown that our words convey only about 7% of our meaning. The rest is tone of voice and body gestures. Besides, you might want to do more than converse - how about sharing an ethnic meal with an expert, or seeing a concert, or even dating? So yeah, Facebook isn't everything.
Let's say you're new in town. How do you find people to hang out with? A good starting place is meetup.com. Meetup usually has a wide variety of themed groups that meet locally. (There's probably a film meetup group in every town.) Here in Cleveland, I'm a member of a wine tasting group, a blogging group, and a couple other general-purpose social groups. If I could describe Meetup in a nutshell, I'd say that it acts as a filter, bringing together all the people who are interested in meeting new people. Just think of the last time you got the cold shoulder trying to strike up a conversation with someone, and you can see the value immediately.
I've also gone to social events organized by more specialized sites, like LinkedIn, the professional networking service. If you imagine that professional networking is something you only do when you're out of work, then you're doing yourself a disservice. In addition to finding possibilities for yourself, a conversation over beers can lead to finding a job lead for a friend, or a new business opportunity for a valuable client. The LinkedWorking Cleveland group threw an event at Rock Bottom and hundreds of people showed up!
Dating is another application for social media that's hard to argue against. My wife and I met on match.com - in 1999. In this case, the social medium of profiles and escrowed emails exists for the sole purpose of getting people together face to face. Let's put that one in the "win" column!
So find a way to put your interests or areas of expertise to use. Do you exercise? Are you a gardener? A hardware hacker? Google up a social medium that caters to your specialty, and let serendipity happen!