Cultivating Virtual Relationships in Social Networking

virtual relationships

The desire to feel connected is a basic human instinct. People do most things electronically, so why not nurture online relationships just as one would in person?

Associations, whether close or peripheral, allow people to form personal bonds, expand professional networks, and gain a general sense of connection and purpose. With advances in technology as well as changes in how and when business is conducted, the world has become increasingly interconnected.

People are plugged in 24/7. They have the ability to check email on mobile devices, make phone calls on the way to the office, and send texts to family and friends. In recent years, this need to create and maintain connections has spilled over onto the web in the form of social networking.

For some, an online network is nothing more than a collection of two-dimensional entities. Rather than creating solid relationships with these virtual “friends”, they simply form an online-based community of contacts. They can then draw on these contacts when conducting a job search or simply keep them in their network should they need to reach out in the future.

Others utilize these networking resources to maintain ties with those around them. They may add colleagues, former managers, or close friends to their online profile pages. Pursuing relationships both in-person and online often strengthens connections and allows these relationships to exist on a number of different levels.

However people choose to use them, networking sites provide a convenient way to communicate and conduct business. Using the various mediums available demonstrates one’s ability to work within the fast-paced, ever-evolving modern work environment.

But what has caused the general public to become so fascinated with networking and creating online connections? Perhaps it’s comparable to the reality TV phenomenon. When the concept of broadcasting “reality” was still relatively new, shows at the beginning of the curve became quite successful. Similar programs were soon to follow, riding on the coattails of that popularity and success.

And so it is with social networking websites. Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest – the list seems endless. The number of users on these sites is growing right alongside the number of networking avenues available.

There are many advantages to using social networking, be it for personal or professional reasons.

Social Networking Websites Provide a Non-threatening Way to Communicate

Networking from the comfort of one’s office or home computer takes the pressure off speaking to new people. Many don’t have the desire or confidence to build a relationship with people they don’t know very well. Communicating online allows them to think about what they want to say and how they want to approach a contact. Since they aren’t speaking face-to-face, they are less likely to be hesitant in reaching out or requesting information. They can set up an in-person meeting once they become more comfortable.

Networking Websites Offer Accessibility and Flexibility

Whether people are online or not, social networking sites are always working. People can receive and respond to messages at any time, day or night. This is especially important when communicating with co-workers who are on different schedules (enter workplace flexibility), or working with colleagues or clients internationally.

Networking sites also allow people to view the connections of those in their network. While meeting friends’ or colleagues’ connections in-person can be difficult, it is easy to send an invitation online or have an acquaintance suggest that you get in touch with someone they know.

A Wide Variety of Social Networking Options are Available

There are many options to choose from when it comes to picking a networking portal. People who want to post their professional accomplishments and past work experience can log on to LinkedIn. There they can re-connect with former colleagues or seek out contacts of those in their network.

Those on a mission for a more personal experience may choose to open a Twitter or Facebook account. On these websites they can find family members, friends, or former classmates. They can uncover an abundance of information and pictures, and easily access profile updates.

It’s important to note that there is a lot of crossover when it comes to using social networking sites. The line between personal and professional becomes blurred when so much information can be found online. People may have colleagues who double as friends, and for that reason they end up on multiple networks. Anyone from potential employers to potential mates may be able to access this information, so it’s crucial that one is careful when they post information online.

These days the majority of people are plugged in. For the computer and/or mobile device-savvy, social networking is just another way to use technology to maintain relationships and stay connected.

Tracing the Origins of Social Media Before the Advent of Facebook

social media before facebook

From its humble beginnings as a slow running personal bulletin board system, the social media revolution today is driving everything about news and information

If you think Social Media began with Facebook, or maybe MySpace, you should take a look at “The Complete History of Social Networking – CBBS to Twitter” which is online at Maclife.

CBBS? Yes, the creation of the first Computerized Bulletin Board System by two Chicago area geeks in 1978 — that’s when it all started, according to writer Michael Simon in the 2-webpage overview of the development of social networking and social media.

Between those days and the social media-driven world of 2010, Simon outlines many of the online developments that led from there to here. MySpace, Simon writes, “with deep pockets and a vast database” ultimately proved more successful than its predecessor, Friendster, “the first site that got everything right.” Friendster had come along in early 2003, a logical outgrowth of the short-lived (1997-2001) SixDegrees, which Simon calls “a bona fide precursor to the modern social networking sites.”

Social Media, Marketing, and Journalism Today

It’s a fascinating history, and one worth learning now that social media is, according to some experts, what’s driving news and information in 2010. The highly respected Nieman Reports, which is one of the most scholarly of journals studying the journalism profession, devoted its Fall 2009 issue to looking at the impact social media is having on journalism.

In an introduction to the issue, editor Melissa Ludtke notes that because social media is transforming “how people receive and share information”, it has become the job of the journalist to adapt to it.

However, Michael Simon, who wrote the MacLife article adds a cautionary note. “As a journalist, I certainly understand the place it has in the industry, but also realize the inherent danger therein. As more stock is placed on anonymous ‘sources’ from Twitter and the like, facts and integrity become increasingly blurred.” Simon made clear in an email that his true concern is less about the use of social media by “the casual observer, than the mainstream media outlets” that might be tempted to break news using only Facebook or Twitter as a sole news source.

Like journalists, marketers are another group of professionals who are analyzing the rise of social networks and studying ways to use them. E-business executive and author of the book Socialnomics, Erik Qualman, grandly calls social media “the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution.” At his blog, also called Socialnomics, Qualman presents some jaw-dropping statistics about social media via YouTube videos:

  • If Facebook were a country it would be the fourth-largest nation on the planet, larger than all but China, India and the U.S.
  •  It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners, television acquired 50 million viewers in 13 years, and the Internet reached 50 million users in 4 years
  • But more than 100 million people joined Facebook in less than nine months

The Bulletin Board System That Launched the Social Media Revolution

The computer bulletin boards of the late 1970’s might be as remotely related to what social networks have become as the Model T seems to the jet engine. The two Chicago computer hobbyists who built the first computer bulletin board system just wanted a way for their computers to share information about upcoming club meetings.

Ward Christensenn and Randy Suess had become friends through their hobby and the club – CACHE (Chicago Are Computer Hobbyists’ Exchange) – that supported it. They spent a couple of snowy weeks in January 1978 working on the software (Christensen) and the S-100 computer (Suess) to run it on.

Simon’s article discusses how other bulletin boards – each with a specific purpose – followed their lead and “began to pop up across a variety of platforms” and how gradually the scope of the boards changed, and they began to offer users the chance to establish unique online identities. The article is a trip back through recent history and a perfect demonstration of one thing leading to another, and eventually to real social change.