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.
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?