Since I started this blog a few years ago, something beautiful happened: I started to travel. I had been a little bit of a loner before, even if I had my own company and all. For instance, my first trip outside of the country was when I was over 33. Somehow, travel seemed to be something too difficult for me.Speaking of the travels ignited by this blog, I experienced two types, resulting in two types of friendships along the way: one type where i interacted with real people in the real world, on airplanes, in hotels and with backpacks, including countries like New Zealand, Thailand, Japan and the United States, and one in the digital world, where I started to interact with real people, but only on digital channels. Today I’m going to talk about the latter. Believe it or not, these trips and the friendships that evolved proved to be much more fulfilling than the real ones.

My Everyday Interaction Routine

Having a fairly popular blog, like this one, means interacting with a lot of people. Here are a few interaction patterns I have everyday, and the digital channels I use.

Twitter: Some of the people I follow are born in the UK, have family in Poland, but also spend a lot of time in Romania. I’m talking about Ian Peatey from QuantumLearning.pl. Another guy I’ve been talking to regularly is Diggy from UpgradeReality.com and guess what, he lives in South Africa.

Facebook: One of the most interesting female bloggers in the personal development field is Celestine Chua, (from CelestineChua.com) who is currently living in Singapore. She’s driving a lot of momentum with her 30 day challenges. Another pretty active guy on Facebook is Colin Wright, (from ExileLifestyle.com) who is originally from the States but has lately been residing all over the planet, last time in Bangkok, if I’m not wrong.

Skype: Every once in a while I talk to some of the people I’ve met online or in real life on skype. I remember starting a mastermind group with Adam Baker from ManVsDebt.com and Glenn Alsopp from Viperchill.com. Adam is from the States but I met him in New Zealand, and Glenn is from South Africa but has recently experienced a love of all things Holland.

Email: Some of the people that I’ve followed for a long time have also becoming regular contributors to my email inbox. This is the case with Jonathan Wells, from Oregon, as well as Steven Aitchison, from Scotland. I currently contribute a monthly article to Jonathan Wells’ newsletter SharingLifeSkills.com, and with Steven I initiate all sorts of blogging challenges, or we brainstorm projects together.

Web: I make a habit of reading a lot of blogs, and I also like to keep an eye on their authors. For instance, I like Luciano Passuelo’s LiteMind.com (Luciano is from Brazil) and Sid Svara’s SidSavara.com (Sid is living in Hawaii).

Are you dizzy yet? Ok, let me add that this post you are reading right now has been proof-read by a young lady from Montreal, Canada, Jessy Caruana. Jessy is one of my newest friends on Facebook, and she’s taking part in this because she likes my blog (and I’m sure she could do this for you, if you ever need a proof-reader).

So, as you can see, I have a LOT of friends, from all over the planet. What you just read is less than 5% of my daily interaction routine. Apologies to those I didn’t mention here, but naming you all would have easily inflated this post by another 40.000 words :-).

Digital Versus Real Life Friends

There are a few differences between real life and online friends. These differences have to be taken into consideration if you want to start enlarging your circle of friends using online channels, because they will directly impact the quality of the people you engage with, as well as the quality of the overall relationship.

Digital friends are somehow always “on”.

Even if digital friends are not there right now, they will be in a few hours. Being spread all over the world makes digital friends live in a time-space continuum rather than in your own time. So, even if you’re not having a “conversation” in real time with them, they are there and they will respond somehow, eventually.

Digital friends have a limited set of tools to interact with.

Most of the time these tools are only words. There almost certainly will be a lot missing from these interactions, especially body language, eye contact and so on. There will be less emotional involvement as well. Get used to it, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Digital friends have an avatar and a status

Instead of a body and a voice, most of the time you will identify a digital friend by the avatar they use on various social media sites, and by their status. Please, don’t base your whole impression of a friend on these. Behind these images there are real people. They can and will change their mind at any time, even if their status remains the same. Subsequently, when they change their avatar, it doesn’t mean they’ve changed their life.

How To Make Friends Online

Well, enough talking, let’s get down to business.

1. Initiate Contact

That’s the fundamental rule of creating a friendship, and not only in the digital world either. If you don’t reach out and actually initiate contact, you will not transform a person you know into a person who is your friend. He or she may continue to be your object of admiration in some way, but you will not have an open channel to them.

Use social media functions with trust: retweet, like, promote. Start a dialogue. What can go wrong? The worst thing that may happen is that they will ignore you. It’s Ok. Don’t take rejection too personally. If you do that, it will be much more difficult to create friendships than you think.

2. Don’t Fake It

There can be a strong emphasis placed on numbers: Twitter followers, Facebook friends, blog subscribers, etc. Somehow, you tend to put value on the number of people you’re interacting with, not on the actual interactions. In my experience, this is highly dangerous. It will slowly affect your real life friends.

For instance, you may feel the need to use the “like” button when somebody in your group tells a good joke, or you may also look in the room for the “retweet” link. All joking aside, try to see the real person instead of the “social media benefit” you may get out of contributing. Go for common interests not for numbers.

3. Agree To Disagree

These digital channels lack most forms of emotional communication, as well as body language. It’s very easy to misunderstand the other person in the absence of these subtle metacomponents of communication. So, don’t look for a perfect or effortless fit right from the start.

Agree to disagree and look for the common points first. Be more patient, resilient, and flexible than you’re used to. A digital friend is much easier to repel, and then to attract again, than a real friend.

4. Go Live As Often As You Can

I remember how scared I was first time when Ian Peatey sent me direct message on Twitter asking me where the restaurant that I was having lunch was. Wait, will I actually meet this nickname? At this restaurant? No, I’d better run away. Of course I didn’t, and we met face to face.

As time goes by I’ve learned to look forward for these types of encounters. Now I go for live meetings with a digital friends as often as I can. It strengthens the digital relationship even more.

How To Maintain Online Friendships

Being active on Twitter or Facebook accounts is only half of the job of having online friends. Making friends is one thing, but maintaining friendship via digital channels is a completely different ball game. Most of the time, digital friendships last as long as the underlying hidden agenda’s of both parties last. If you’re using social media to promote a product, being it your blog or a customer website, your friendships will last for as long as you have the blog, or as long as you are actively promoting that website.

This is sad. Making a friendship for a hidden benefit is always a stupid thing to do, and it will always come back to you negatively, in one way or another. Most of the time this happens by attracting the same kind of people, ready to take advantage of you for some temporary benefit. What goes around comes around.

So, how do you expect to maintain an online friendship, for the right reasons?

1. Be Patient

That’s the fundamental quality of a digital friendship. You live in different time zones, you may have different interests, or different family lives. You may check in on that digital channel only once in a while. Well, look for that opportunity and be happy when it happens.

Don’t badger your online friends with requests that you would usually direct to your real life friends. They have different levels of availability and resources. If you manage to be patient you may enjoy digital friendships for years. I know, because I’m enjoying some of them right now.

2. Don’t Ask Too Much

This point is closely related to the one above. Be very careful of what you ask. It’s best to make a few trials until you define the boundaries of each one of your friendships. For instance, I know I can send emails to some of my friends anytime, and they will respond, but others will take a few days until they can get back to me.

One thing that may surprise you: be very careful of what you are ready to receive. I was put more than once in the very strange situation of receiving “good karma” from my circle of friends: unexpected service or support. These things will happen, so accept them, even if they look atypical. In a subtle way, this is also a consequence of not asking for too much: you will receive much more than you expect. ;-)

3. Support Them

This is the hardest part, because of the very narrow nature of this communication channel. The emotional part will be especially difficult to fulfil in this type of relationship. Emoticons, sending tunes, little stupid Facebook games in which you send a heart or something like that… well, go for these. These are the pale correspondent of the real life emotional support gesture that you would make normally.

Also, be very careful of your digital friends, not just when they’re at their peak, but also when they’re missing in action. One week of inactivity is usually a sign of something happening, while one month of absence is usually a sign that something serious is happening in their lives.

Make contact. Ask. Send a joke.

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Well, I hope that this short guide to making friends online was at least intriguing, if not useful. So, if you’re here for the first time, let’s be friends :-). You can start by subscribing to my RSS feed, and then add me as a friend on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Let’s see how this will work out :-).