Digital Strategies

Digital Tactics

by Stacey Hood

Are we really friends?

Posted on 08 Oct 2010 in Blog Posts | 18 comments

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4744d91c0289f050be9bae03031bbea6 300x187 Are we really friends?

I use social media for business networking. As I’ve built my online network over the years, relationships have broadened and deepened beyond the scope of “business contacts.” I’ve allowed myself to show a more of my personal side and socialize a bit. Twitter followers whom I’ve never met have become Facebook friends. And, throughout it all, I pondered this notion of “friendship” with online contacts. Is it “real” to actually consider these people my friends? Within the past year or more, I’ve started to believe so.

If you’ve been using social media for a while, you’re probably with me on this. You probably have a handful (or more) of individuals with whom you engage more frequently than others. You’ve identified common interests, share punny jokes, have one-on-one exchanges via DM, and you notice when they’re missing from your feed because they’ve been sick or are on vacation. They’re your friends.

Or are they? In his post on the blog {Grow}, author Mark Schaeferdiscusses a collaborative online relationship – one that he considered a friendship – that he developed with a woman via social channels. Just recently, he learned (via social channels) that this woman has cystic fibrosis – which made him truly re-think the definition of “friend.” Obviously, as a friend, he thought this was something he should have known. Something he would have known, had he ever spoken to her on the phone.And now, Mark has me thinking about this all over again.

Take Stacey, for example. I’ve been following him on Twitter for a several months. We’re friends on Facebook. I know that he loves soccer, was having his knee treated with cortisone shots over the summer (probably an injury from soccer), has three boys (a set of twins), lives in (or around) Birmingham, Alabama, and recently went through a job transition. He has a snarky sense of humor and we joke around amongst a handful of mutual followers (of which I happen to have quite a few from BAMA land). One day, he asked if anyone was interested in guest blogging opportunities here on his blog, and I took him up on it.
We’ve never met. Never even spoken on the phone.

Does that matter?

There’s a big part of me that says, no, it doesn’t. That that’s the beauty of social media – we can connect quickly with like-minded individuals, establish a sense of trust, and develop relationships that fuel our business, professional development, social interaction, or all of the above.
I often talk about being a real-life introvert; online extrovert. For me, being able to network and connect via Twitter is a golden opportunity where I’m incredibly comfortable. I have a Skype account but have little interest in using it. I rarely talk on the phone with anyone who’s not a colleague or client. And, in the past year, I haven’t made it to nearly as many conferences as I would have liked to, yet my network, and level of engagement with the individuals in my network, has increased significantly. Like Mark, I’ve developed what I consider to be “friendships” based on information I’ve collected using the limited senses available to me in this medium. And, I think that’s been working out OK.

Am I in the minority? Are the rest of you meeting and talking while I sit with my keyboard? Perhaps. But, based on discussions I’ve had with peers, and responses to Mark’s post, I don’t think so. In a follow-up post, Mark shared a response from a woman who works from home who found great value in using social media for human relationships, but like me, she’s wondering if there is a missing layer from these relationships.

When it comes to online friends with whom we have a connection, there’s a feeling that you’d care if something major – good or bad – was happening in their lives. You’d express condolence, congratulations, and offer help if you could. But, like Mark, what if you never even knew? In this space, we really have no idea what we don’tknow about each other.

We talk all the time about how social media allows us to be more “social” and offers us more opportunities to connect and engage with others as humans, but, if those connections only exist in this two dimensional space, are we on a road to an ignorant, apathetic existence, a la Fahrenheit 451? Or, are we advancing our collective wisdom through connections, collaborations, and efficiency?

As marketers, we help clients to find their “human” voice, and teach them not to talk like a brand-bot, especially on social platforms. But, through this process, have we stopped using our actual voices?

Does it make a difference?

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18 comments

  1. Mark W Schaefer / October 8th, 2010 14:55

    Kary, I am so appreciative of this very beautiful and thoughtful contribution on this topic.

    That original article had an impact on a lot of people and a result I have so far had a dozen phone calls from people wanting to connect and break the cycle of Twitter-level relationships. It’s been a wonderful experience!

    Thanks again for your lovely post!

  2. Antonia / October 8th, 2010 15:56

    This is a lovely post. Over the last few months I’ve met so many great people online, some of which I would consider friends. You offer help when you can, you check on them when you know they aren’t well, you joke around and still, you aren’t really part of their live. You are “just” part of their virtual life. I use the word “just” carefully. Because maybe, that’s all you ever need to be. Who says, that in this day and age, we need to sit face to face to actually be a “good” friend. You build trust even though you might have never met or talked to someone in person.

    Though, I still prefer face to face interactions I do truly believe that people can become important to you even if it’s “just” online. If they aren’t around you wonder where they are. Just like you would with your real life friends.

    I also believe that social media allows as to learn a great deal for our personal lives. We might start out to be introverts and even remain that way, yet I firmly believe social media teaches us to connect with people more easily.

    thanks for this post Kary. Loved reading it :)

  3. Kary Delaria / October 8th, 2010 16:03

    @Mark – Thank you for stopping by to read my response to your post, and more importantly, thank you for sharing your story to begin with. It’s a topic that I’ve had in my head for a while now, and your story helped me (and, many others) articulate it.

    @Antonia – As one of my newest Twitter/FB friends, this is quite interesting, isn’t it? I agree. We can connect more easily here, and it’s easy to quickly feel that we’re friends. I think it’s pretty similar to pen pals back in the day. Think of all those fantastic relationships people formed by writing letters back and forth. While I agree that there’s a huge element to knowing someone and communicating face to face, I don’t discount the relationships that continue to live only in this space.

  4. Debbi Morello / October 8th, 2010 16:08

    This is a lovely thoughtful piece Kate, one of the more thoughtful I’ve read. I have been pondering this a lot more of late. However, I should preface this by saying I’m not always known for my patience, so what I say here may simply be a matter of being more patient… but in this case, maybe not.

    Yes, I am fairly “new” to the proverbial “social network” – on the other hand, I’ve been around (age ha) a lot longer than the Internet. And I do remember thinking when voicemail replaced people at the other end of the phone, and emails replaced conversations, that it was the beginning of the end.

    What end? Human interaction as we knew it. In friendships, relationships, business – the entire landscape is changed forever. OK, that’s a longer story.

    In my book, as one who grew up before cable television and a thing called TVLand – I watched those shows, for real, our phone rang, just like the download on our mobile phones… (stop guessing my age ha), these friendships are different and they always will be.

    I will say, the people I have “connected” with – new people, on Facebook and Twitter, after a fair amount of exchange, my nature and inclination is to talk to these folks – not the ‘online convo’ but face to face, at a minimum, email.

    Clearly, I am not a 140 character gal, holy crap I can’t believe I have even managed on Twitter LOL. Tweets to DMs and some then to email. However, I would venture a guess, it won’t move past those channels. In a few instances, we even live in the same area – I was excited to learn that – mmm, I would have been hangin’ by now… not yet.

    I was happy to meet a number of folks at a conference I attended recently – but then, things went back to the online space … no responses, really busy – off they go.

    I’m thinking out loud too – and in my stream of consciousness rambling – I guess what I’m saying is, for me these channels are ways of keeping in touch with a lot of people all at once… but some connections you would like to know personally, professionally, what have you. But most, I believe, are happy keeping it just where it is.

    I don’t buy the online extrovert, off-line introvert thing – it’s become a substitute for many. For the Gen X Y Z or the post-Cable babies, not sure they really know how to talk to each other.

    Why bother when you can text, or tweet, or say it on Facebook. Email seems so antiquated now… let alone a telephone.

    If most of one’s adult life is learning to communicate virtually, how do we really have meaningful relationships and friendships – again?

    Thanks for listening :-)

  5. Kary Delaria / October 8th, 2010 16:24

    Mark, thank you for stopping by to read my response to your post, and more importantly, thank you for sharing your story to begin with. It’s a topic that I’ve had in my head for a while now, and your story helped me (and, many others) articulate it.

  6. Kary Delaria / October 8th, 2010 16:24

    Antonia – As one of my newest Twitter/FB friends, this is quite interesting, isn’t it? I agree. We can connect more easily here, and it’s easy to quickly feel that we’re friends. I think it’s pretty similar to pen pals back in the day. Think of all those fantastic relationships people formed by writing letters back and forth. While I agree that there’s a huge element to knowing someone and communicating face to face, I don’t discount the relationships that continue to live only in this space.

  7. Kary Delaria / October 8th, 2010 16:50

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Debbi.

    You have a good point that “online extroversion” could be a substitution. In my post, I linked to this one written by my colleague, (http://www.kaneconsulting.biz/blog/2010/i-love-you-whoever-you-are-building-online-relationships-in-a-sensory-underloaded-world/) In which she poses the questions about what affect all of this will have on our psyches, like, how will all of this affect the “real” relationships that we have, and how are these online relationships shaping our overall sense of identity?

    There’s definitely a fine line here, and (as a PRE-cable baby) I do believe this shift in our communication is having an incredible influence on our behavior. I shudder to think of the criteria by which my own kids (who, even at pre-school age, have no concept of live TV programing and when they pick up a phone are more apt to “type” on it than “talk”) will form friendships.

    So much to discuss! Thank you for stopping by and contributing to the conversation.

  8. Debbi Morello / October 8th, 2010 17:23

    I need to wear my glasses – why did I type Kate?? Kary! No, this is not a function of impersonal nature of online connecting :(

    Thank you so much for pointing/reminding me of the link you refer to in your post.

    Oh I agree, so much to discuss. And there is a fine line… thank you for the prompt reply!

  9. Greg Smith MD / October 8th, 2010 18:39

    Kary,

    Beautiful, thoughtful, timely post. One that makes me proud to be your friend on Twitter. Enough said.

    Greg

  10. Kary Delaria / October 8th, 2010 20:28

    You just made my day. Thank you.

  11. Melissa / October 11th, 2010 14:26

    I have plenty of just “online” friends but they’re still friends. But if you think about how much you actually know about your “real” friends, do you know more about your “online” friends? I have IRL (in real life) friends that I haven’t talked to in ages but those that are online, I know when their children have soccer practice, if they’re sick, if they’re running late to work… So who am I actually closer to?

  12. AlexandraFunFit / October 11th, 2010 15:50

    I’d say that I have definitely made friends on Twitter. They are the same type of friends I make “in person” – funny, smart, hard-working, diverse interests. What’s different is not the people; it’s the type of friendships. Rather than hanging out together for 30 minutes at once (at a coffee shop or at home), we hang out for 30 minutes that might be spread out over a day or so.
    And, even though I don’t have time to tweet back and forth with all my Twitter pals, I do try to read their tweets as they fly by. That way I still feel connected even when swamped with work.

  13. Kary Delaria / October 11th, 2010 15:51

    You bring up an interesting point that by simply “being online” we may be closer to friends who we’d otherwise have lost touch with years ago. And, like you, I’d agree – yes, we’re friends. But, does seeing glimpses of this trivial information (running late for work, dropping kids here or there) equate to actual friendship? Has the ability to publish every random whim diluted the quality of relationships? Do we need to somehow transition from online to offline in order to truly have that human element, and get what we need out of friendships, or is it enough to interact two-dimensionally? As always, I have more questions than answers. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  14. Kary Delaria / October 11th, 2010 17:02

    LOVE your perspective, Twitter friend! With limited time and resources, Twitter is a great place to make and maintain new and existing connections. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Jamie Sandford / October 12th, 2010 13:54

    Honestly, I don’t know that my relationships with my “in person” friends hinge on knowing the minutiae of their day. I think some of what dictates the apples-to-apples comparability between “in person” friends and online friends is how much the other person is willing to share about themselves without being asked.

    If someone talks about having a bad day and they’re someone I’ve connected with online, I’m very likely to ask more about what is making the day bad. If they don’t share this, I’m not likely to know. But again, I’m not likely to know this of “in person” friends either unless I’ve run into them or talk to them on the phone, which I don’t do to ALL of my friends each day.

    So I think it goes back to that “sensing” element you talked about. We get gut feelings from what our senses tell us about trusting people and how much we want to build relationships. And we have to trust those gut feelings if we want to create new relationships.

    I don’t think I trust my online relationships any less than my in-person ones. I think it comes down to how often you interact, how much you decide to share with each other and how much trust you place in the other person. These elements, I feel, transcend the medium.

  16. Kary Delaria / October 12th, 2010 19:59

    It’s the trust that transcends in medium where we have limited senses. And, like I mentioned in my comment to Debbi, that’s really not all that relatively new to social media. But, the online world does deliver more quickly.

    I think it comes down to personality traits, too, in how you use senses to form trust and friendships; as well as personal responsibility to friends and social networks, both online and off.

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