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Social Networking Versus Real Life Relationships

We live as cells of a giant body: the society. We have rules to manage this body, rules we learn very young. The whole giant structure is sustained by an invisible yet so powerful web of rules about when, how and why we interact with each other. Relationships.

I think the first rules of real life relationships are learned around the age of 3. After that age we know how to act and react in order to integrate in the society at the very basic level. Of course, after that comes school, job and other social interaction games that we learn along the way. But the core is learned at a very young age and so we act almost unconsciously when it comes to real life relationships.

But the last 10 years of history created another layer of relationships, on top of the traditional way of interacting, a layer powered by the online revolution. Right now most of our relationships have a strong online component. Either we met somebody online, either we keep interacting with somebody exclusively online, fact is a larger part of our relationships pool is now over the web. World Wide Web.

My approach with what we call social networking was a little slower. Although I had my share of enthusiasm and hype toward every major social networking service, I haven’t had the time, nor the curiosity to go deeper. I only started to immerse myself deeply in this new web only several months ago. And what I found there really surprised me. In this post I’ll share with you the differences I found between social networking (as in digital social networking) and real life relationships.

Consistency

One of the first differences I noticed was the higher degree of consistency needed in  social networking. One must be very strict about his identity and message in order to gain some attention. If you present yourself with an image of a blogger, you should closely stick to this identity. If you chose to be a environmental activist, by all means, stick to it.

If your presence is not consistently reinforced your identity will weaken. The only thing by which you are known is what you say and do about yourself. That will also ignite what others are saying about you, but the first spark is always you. If you change course just a little bit, your identity will be skewed.

In the real life you don’t have to do that. As long as you correctly channel your change, people will know about you. For instance, if you change your job and announce all your friends, they’ll know you’re doing something different now, but it is still you. You don’t lose identity if you change your message. The real life rules are strong enough to keep your identity solid.

Social networking is still a fragile medium, the rules are to a minimum level. This is why this medium is still so vulnerable to various infectious factors, like identity theft. In a space with loose rules you have to be the strong factor, hence consistently push your identity until you create what you want.

Pro-activity

Social networking is the land of free relationships. You can go out and reach to whoever you want and get valid responses. But only if you make the contact first and in an interesting way. You don’t have to be polite, but sometimes it helps.

By being so flexible, the social networking medium is a very good amplifier of your message, as long as you start making it early. If you wait for somebody else acceptance, you won’t get far. In fact you won’t go anywhere. If you want to say something, go out and say it out loud, you’ll be heard.

Imagine how this would be in real life. Going to someone else on the street and asking him for a Linux tip. Or starting a conversation out of the blue about political changes with three persons you never met before. You will break some serious rules, and I’m not talking about being polite.

In real life pro-activity is not the best way to approach people. Going by the rule is the safest bet. The giant body already made strict rules about that. Of course you can break them and start shouting at the people in the middle of the street but despite the short attention spike you’ll surely get, I don’t think you’ll get somewhere valid.

Persistence

In social networking you need more persistence than in real life otherwise your presence will fade. I’m not talking about consistency, which comes basically to sending a coherent message, but to the amount of messaging you have to do.

In real life you need a minimal set of activities and your presence will be carried away by the established rules of the society. You’re a writer, a teacher, a sales person. Your identity carrier is your business card. And sometimes what other people are saying about you.

In real life relationships you don’t have to broadcast yourself every time you enter a new space, you just hand your card over or say your name and profession. The other part will identify you enough for a simple conversation.

In social networking if you’re not persistently broadcast yourself you won’t reach enough of a critical mass followers to build an easy to remember identity. Being so young, this medium cannot simply carry your message without further effort from your part. So if you do want to be somebody in the social networking realm, prepare to work on it even more than in real life relationships.

Availability

The traditional notion of privacy is redefined in social networking. Your so called static presence in the digital world is available all the time. All your profiles on various social networking are read right now by somebody else. It’s like a giant crowd staring at you through the windows in your own house. They see you even if you don’t see them.

In real life you cannot simply start a new relationship while you’re sleeping, for instance, it’s impossible. At least if you’re not somnambulist in which case you won’t remember anything in the morning anyway. Your availability to new relationships is limited to the amount of time you’re physically spending socializing.

In social life your availability is unlimited. There are at least two degrees of availability: one is your statical presence (your own profile) and the other is your interactive presence (conversations, interaction with other peoples or stimulus). If the statical presence is something you can’t control and it’s basically unlimited, the interactive presence is something that you control and you can tune out for maximum results.

The social networking medium gives you tools to keep your interactive presence growing (or to fake it, if you want). Automating your posting, automating your responses, automating your conversations are things extremely easy to do and sometimes they are compulsory if you have a huge social network. You can actually grow your availability beyond your physical limits.

Blending Spaces

Living in a medium with strong rules, like real life relationships, makes it easy to broadcast yourself, but it drastically limits your audience. The rules in the real life relationships, rules we learn at a very young age, are also obstacles made from the giant body that contain us, in order to keep the body healthy. If you start shouting at people in the street you’ll be somehow ejected, the giant body doesn’t like you to go around freaking out people. Your message is limited in audience, so you have to broadcast it by following slow and limiting rules.

Participating in a medium with loose rules, like digital social networking, makes it easy to reach a fantastic audience, but it drastically limit your identity expression means. The social networking body is young and it doesn’t have a lot of established rules. You can go out and basically create your own rules. But that makes it extremely difficult to create and maintain a consistent identity. That’s the biggest challenge in social networking. But once you established a solid identity your message can be broadcast to a virtually unlimited audience.

Real life networking is based on rules and levels. Social networking is based on personal goals, actions and reactions with a minimalistic set of rules.

So, what say you? What are your experiences with social networking versus real life relationships? I’d love to hear in the comments.


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This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Hi,

    This is so true. For example I changed my Twitter username from WebOptimization to my real name TomaBonciu and in the first day I lost 30 followers. So yes, everything you do on social media changes perception on you.

    On holidays I didn’t posted everyday and again I lost few followers. Building a strong presence on social media is hard and, in my opinion, it can take few years on the same network or on social networks in general.

    Thank you,
    TomaBonciu on Twitter

  2. Toma tweeted – I followed and found this great post.

    Yes – Yes -Yes – “Social networking” definitely does have different “rules” than real life networking. I was grinning like a fool as I read your “imagine approaching someone on the street and asking them for Linux tips.” SO TRUE!!!

    I also issue a hearty amen to the point on consistency! Right on!

  3. Great article. While there are certainly different ways to use social networking one of the main keys I find is that a lot of people are discovering for the first time in their lives that giving to others first and offering yourself is what actually makes the most difference in the social network arena. This is the same in life in general and I think a lot of people still fail to see that. So yes, some of the rules are different and you must be careful about your brand, but if you offer help to others first and do something for them, it ends up paying off. Especially if you help those who really need it. In this sense, social networks and life are the same.

  4. I like your article very much.

    This does have the rippling effect both areas, real world/blog world.
    The beauty of it is that you discover a means of self improvement along with some wonderful people you would never have known of.

    Networking is a great tool. You join the right forum and I know I usually get fast results. We are reaching out to a wider community.

    If you are lucky, a few more experienced people take you under their wing.
    As Mike said above it is all about the brand and PR of your blog.

  5. @Toma Bonciu: it seems that consistency and persistence are the areas in which you need to work more. But relax, I don’t really think it will take years to develop a social presence. Months, maybe, but not years 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

    @Kathy Thank you for the nice words 🙂

    @Mike King Great point! Social networking and real life relationships are in fact just two different ways in which you can relate. But the core of the relation is always gratitude and generosity , regardless of the form in which you manifest it: digital or real. Thanks for commenting!

    @BunnygotBlog thanks for sharing your thoughts and commenting here. Especially in the business of consulting – in which I understand you are acting – personal branding is indeed a key component for success.

  6. Will skip the “great article” stuff, as it’s already something clear by now. 🙂

    Something stroke me while reading your article. Ever since I’ve heard about you (on Twitter, yes), and started reading you once in a while (depends on Twitter, again), been asking myself why do you use this “edragonu” brand, instead of your real name – especially since the blog is in English. Don’t you think it’d be more powerful, or let’s say, helpful along the lines of your goal with this blog? Just curious.

    On another note, congratulations for getting international comments, while I kept my blog in English, I didn’t manage, as I was a disaster in terms of my own blog. 🙂

  7. @Marius Thanks for your kind words about this article, I appreciate it.

    About the branding stuff, what can I say: I secured both my name and this nickname as domain names and I chose this nickname as a brand. Over the years I observed that people found me more often by this nickname (being it in my email address or on my nickname in various social networking areas) and it just felt right to me to use this for my blog. Sometimes branding can be a question of luck, you know.

    There are famous examples for both choices: problogger.net for Darren Rowse, mashable.com for Pete Cashmore, scobleizer.com for Robert Scoble, as examples of non-name-based famous blogs. On the other hand we have of course stevepavlina.com for Steve Pavlina, since we already talked about him in another post…

    Personal branding is something so special, after all 😉 …

  8. Thanks for your post. The first new nudge I felt (when the picture of all humans as components of one transcendent body as a being) caused a lot of pieces to fall into place that had only been murky outlines before.

    I just entered this “universe” on September 1, 2008, having had no previous experience with membership in online interactive social networks to guide me. In fact, I literally burned my bridges behind me by virtually shutting off my offline income streams and shifting to a consistent 16 hour daily “commute”, much the way I left Macon, Georgia in 1980 to move to Los Angeles without knowing a soul in advance.

    Like most readers, I can validate your identification of differing sets of rules that apply on different social networks, but your word pictures helped me articulate a specific hierarchy of those networks that not only most appeal to me, but which most welcome the online persona most comfortable for me.

    For example, hands down, Ecademy fits that bill in most particulars, while
    My Plaxo account was suspended because I failed in time to recognize or avoid the system-imposed discipline/limitations. Facebook, with which I began my exploration, in fact, faded from my consciousness because the effort became more demanding than the result warranted.

    That brought the second nudge. . . the Obama factor. I was born in Macon, Georgia in 1958. After the third killing (John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy), in 1968 my mother grabbed me, shook me, and warned me that her grandfather had been lynched for “asking” for money owed to him by the sharecropper he worked for an hour early because he needed to buy some medication for his sick child, and that America would never allow a Negro kid to be “accepted” into “their” world. . .

    . . . and yet, I can mark election day, 2008, as the day I felt the final strands of the invisible ropes with which I had been binding my hopes, ambitions and dreams dissolve, although my mother died eight years before that, and 3000 miles away.

    Which brings me to the final nudge. You failed to factor in one consideration – what if I don’t care about the limitations that “followers” can or may impose on their own reactions to my change and growth?
    To me it seem that living within the consistency requirements of an online persona would be more restricting than any physical pen or prison could ever be.

    Thanks for the nudges.

  9. @Andrew Williams Jr very interesting comments! You may not care about your followers and that is perfectly ok. My approach was made with a clear presumption that one would / should use social networking as a platform for more exposure. You can be in social without being seen, or you can be in social without constantly monitoring your reaction. That’s perfectly fine, sir!

    Even more: I guess you can safely switch statuses: from one that has interest in acquiring a large mass of followers to one that has no interest in that. You are free to do whatever you want.

    At the end, that’s the beauty of it, I presume…

  10. […] I am active on twitter, facebook and StumbeUpon. I have accounts on almost any major social networking, including digg and reddit but for various reasons I didn’t have any astonishing results with anything else, except twitter, StumbleUpon, and to some extent Facebook. If you take the hype out of social networking, you’ll come up with only a very useful tool for connections and nothing more. That’s it, is just a tool to make new connections. And as every other tool it can be extremely useful or extremely harmful. You can use a knife to cut your bread or to cut yourself. It’s not the tool itself but the way you’re using it. Social networking is as benign as any other activity, it’s your attitude which shapes it. And of course, you have to take the time to assess the difference between social networking and real life relationships. […]

  11. It’s very interesting how online relationships can complimment real life ones, but not overcome them.
    I like to have both going, since I come from a very communicative family, live now very far away from them, and am married to a very quiet man. So the online communication actually helps me and my personal relationships, since I can balance them all with honesty.
    Thank you for your article.

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