Can we have real relationships with the people we meet online?

This question comes up in almost half the presentations I give.  It is a great question and one that I would like to explore a bit.

People are so busy.

Between work and life and all the demands to be in so many different places both on and offline that it is a struggle to capture a person’s attention enough to show them the benefits of paying attention or socializing with you and your organization. There is a perception that it is noisier online, and that the social web is not as personal, therefore, more difficult to build quality relationships.

I have found that the opposite is true. The demands of our offline world limit us to the people that are in our geographic proximity (work, school, spiritual centers, and so forth). We can not seek out a person who has similar taste as us in music, or a closet writer, or game enthusiast by typing in search terms at a local event. We spend our time bouncing from person to person making small talk about work, the weather, sports, and what our kids are up to.

People are spending more and more time socializing online because there you can pause, read a journal someone has chosen to share, explore and learn from each other, discover other people within the group, all before introducing yourself.

How does this affect our personal interactions with each other? Well just look at a blogger’s enthusiastic expression when they tell you they got to meet their friend that they have known online for some time, notice the trend of all the conferences popping up just so these new found friends can meet each other in person. They already know each other and they already know that the time and money invested in attending an offline event will be well worth it.

Sensei Project worked with the Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau organizing an event (SITSum) for social media influencers who write about travel, food, family, and entertainment. The event was organized to empower peer-to-peer learning. The event was a success in a variety of ways, but what made it special is people who knew each other online met in person and the people who traveled from various parts of the world to meet new friends get to stay in touch long after the event was over.

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My take is that online communities are helping us to slow down a bit to get to know each other again. It is not a substitute for personal contact, it is enhancing the need and desire for such contact.

 

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