I woke up this morning thinking about something that fascinates me about social media. Yesterday in Denis B Hancock’s great blog post on tipping points, I made the comment that social media is the great leveler. It gives anyone with an Internet connection and something to say an equal opportunity to be a blogger, a podcaster, a contributor.

As a result, I am fortunate to have the musings of hundreds of bloggers, dozens of podcasters, and thousands of Twitterers at my disposal at any given time. It’s enriched my life and opened my eyes to many new ideas and experiences that I may not have otherwise had.

It’s not just about making friends out here. I have been fortunate to partner up with several of the people I’ve met through social media in a variety of exciting projects.

I find it fascinating, at least in the circles of bloggers and podcasters and Twitterers that I am involved with, that we aren’t more competitive. After all, many of us are out there, trying to do the same things. A lot of us are in the same business, be it PR or marketing or video production or web design, and yet, we all seem to get along. Not only that, but we’re sharing experiences, about what works for our businesses and what doesn’t, and even helping each other find opportunities. We are technically each others’ competition, but we don’t seem to be competing. The great leveler.

This got me thinking about partnerships. They can be tricky. When you take that step with someone, from just being acquaintances or friends, to actually doing business together, it can be a wonderful thing. But it can also go horribly wrong very quickly if you aren’t careful. I feel the difference between having a strong business and having a struggling one is fully dependent on the strength of the partnerships you have. Building solid partnerships takes time and energy. But it’s the foundation of any good business. Here’s some of what I have learned about partnerships over the past several years.

It’s a myth that you can’t be partners with your friends. I have been friends with my business partner for 16 years. We met at a bar/restaurant she worked at in 1992, got to know each other, and eventually became very close. People have actually mistaken us for sisters in the past. She’s the one girlfriend I tell everything to, and she’s one of the few people I trust more than anything. 7 years ago we decided to start our business together. People warned us against it – “it will ruin your friendship!” – “you’ll end up not speaking to each other!” and so on. We didn’t listen to the naysayers and did it anyway. Today, our business is thriving and we are closer than ever. It hasn’t always been easy but I can safely say we’ve never had a fight. Argued? Of course. Disagreed? Definitely. But we always work it out and more importantly, we move on. Being business partners with your friends doesn’t always work. But it definitely CAN work, and work well. The fact that we know each other so well is actually an advantage. We know what the other is thinking, we finish each others’ sentences, and we have different strengths. Put that together and there’s really no end to what we can accomplish.

A good partnership demands good communication. The key to good partnerships is ALWAYS communication. You must be honest with each other. You must not be afraid to say you don’t know something. You must be clear in what you need. You must talk to your partner if you have an issue with something they have done or said. You MUST leave your ego at the door.

Don’t be inseparable. One of the reasons my partnership works so well is that my partner and I, even though we are close friends, tend to travel in very different circles when we’re not together. I’m the geek of the pair, so I’m online, doing the tech and social media thing, and also have certain face to face social circles that differ greatly from my partner’s. Since my partner is, among many other things, a television host, she has interviewed someone from just about any industry you can think of. Therefore, she has connections for just about everything. Between the two of us, we can find resources for almost every subject you can think of. Don’t be joined at the hip with your partner. Do different things. Certainly make appearances together at events and of course meetings. But build your own relationships separately and you will be stronger in the end.

Partnerships are all around us. When I talk about partnerships, it goes beyond just my partnership with the person I run my company with. I am seeking out new partnerships all the time. I look around me, and every day I see so many terrific, talented people. You never know when you are going to hit just the right stride with someone, when their needs and what you have to offer (or vice versa) somehow sync up and there’s a way you can start working together. Always be on the lookout for this, but don’t force it. Partnerships cannot be pushed into existence. They need to be allowed to just happen as the opportunity presents itself. Keep your eyes open to what’s going on around you. Find out how you can fit with others. And then don’t be afraid to explore the possibilities.

And now, over to you. What are some of your experiences with partnerships? The good, the bad and the ugly. What did you learn? How do you make your partnerships work. Have a go in the comments…