Bear Hugs vs. Handshakes

Flickr Photo joshzam: Bear HugI’ve been meeting a lot of people online lately.

OK. Reading that sentence above without proper context comes across as a bit creepy. What I meant to say was that thanks in part to my new role as Director of Community at Blue Sky Factory, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with folks via various online tools/platforms like twitter, blogs, email, IM, etc. As I’ve blogged about in the past, these relationships really solidify and grow once they move from online to face-to-face.


In the United States, the “proper” (formal?) way to greet to someone you are meeting for the first time is to give them a handshake. Other regions of the world have different customs – from a kiss on both cheeks to a bow to a nose rub. The fact is, we’re all a bit unique. However, the US is all about handshakes. We are taught to be sure the handshake is firm, but not a death grip; to make eye contact, but not to stare.

(Aside #1: Is it just me or do others think of Jack Black’s “banana hands” handshake of Tony Robbins in Shallow Hal?)

All of these rules! Etiquette!

Why Bear Hugs Are Cooler

Recently, I’ve decided to mix it up a bit. I think handshakes are too formal. They are boring. They don’t stand out at all. Also, I believe that as we move to more of an online world, people are creating and developing relationships well before they meet face to face. As mentioned above, I’ve been fortunate to finally meet several of the people I’ve engaged with online. I feel like I already know then. If you know someone already, and consider them a friend and/or a colleague, do you shake their hand? I don’t.

I like to give bear hugs.

Bear hugs are way cooler because they convey a more personal touch (pun intended). They are more real, more genuine. They tell the person that you are human and not a trained robot.

(Aside #2: I realize that hugs are not a new concept. Top 5 favorite videos of all time? Free Hugs Campaign.)

Recent Bear Hugs

A few examples:

  • At my Kenan-Flagler Business School graduation last month (see speech), 99.9% of the graduates shook hands with the Associate Dean of the program. It was like an assembly line of handshaking. Really wild to see. These are students who just dropped $62k on their education and could only muster a handshake? Really? I bear-hugged Associate Dean Hugh O’Neil. I just spent the last 2 years of my life with this guy. We both needed a hug.
  • Last week I attended the Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston. I met the following individuals  – all of whom I’ve engaged with online – for the very first time: Amber Naslund, Mike Schneider, Valeria Maltoni, Chris Brogan, Justin Levy, Ann Handley, Lauren Vargas, Amanda O’Brien, Amy Mengel, Jason Falls, C.C. Chapman, Chris Penn (crap, who am I leaving out?). I bear-hugged every single one of them. On a side note, I met, but didn’t hug Gary Vaynerchuk and kinda regret it.
  • Over the next 11 day, I’ll be meeting many more people – Blogworld in Vegas, MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer in Chicago, and Social Media Business Forum in Durham, NC. I have a list of people I’ll be bear-hugging including Beth Harte, Sonny Gill, Teresa Basich, Cori Mozilo (maybe), and many many more. I hope they are ready.

Try It Next Time

As I often say, “try it, then report back.” I know that bear hugs are not for everyone. Some people are a bit less of an extrovert compared to me. But I’d be interested in hearing how it works out for you. How do people respond? Do they freak out? Are they surprised? Do they love it?

Photo credit joshzam

DJ Waldow