Making Real Friends In A Digital World

Digital WorldHow much effort do you put into making friends? If you’re like most people, I’d guess you focus more on networking, than on making friends. After all, friendships take care of themselves. Only they don’t. [Tweet this]

According to Shasta Nelson, friendships don’t just materialize. You need to make them happen. Friendships typically start with some initial attraction, usually based on shared activities or interests. But there’s more. As Nelson points out, there are five steps to friendship: being open, consistently initiating, adding positivity, increasing vulnerably, and practicing forgiveness. Certainly, these steps take time and regular interactions online and in person.

In other words, friendships require investment.

So Much More Than Business

Yet, if you’re like a lot of people, investing time in making friends may seem too demanding. After all, you’re life is already busy. Really busy.  Besides you’re already meeting new people at business functions and meet-up events.  Yet, you’ll likely regard the majority of people you meet as business contacts.

Why is this so? Aside from the nature of the events themselves, I think it’s because we tend to overly subscribe to the notion that business is business. Perhaps it’s a cultural artifact from The Godfather. You know, it’s not personal, it’s just business. Somehow, that theme is so strong that it’s easy to miss an even more powerful message. One delivered by Don Vito Corleone himself:

“Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”

If research is any guide, friendship is also equal to health, happiness, and longevity.

Actually, making friends is personal. It goes well beyond the aims of networking objectives. True social connectivity is so much more than big numbers of friends, fans, and followers. With lots of contacts but few friends, you’re at risk of being lonely. [Tweet this]

Real Friends

Fortunately, our digital world supports us in pursuing friendships. [Tweet this] Certainly, it’s one way to keep up with friends we already have. Yet, it’s also possible to start and nurture new relationships online. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and other social media platforms, the idea of online friends is not quite as inconceivable as it once was. Well, as long as you’re able to get past the distinction between online friends and real life friends.


Over time, if you take a real interest, the people you interact with online not only emerge as real people, but can also end up as friends. Sure there are differing depths to these friendships, but where possible to connect by phone or in person, these friendships can blossom into some of the most important relationships in your life. Case in point: One of my best friends ever is someone I met and long interacted with on Facebook and Twitter – before ever chatting by phone or meeting up!

Digital Chemistry

Frankly, the shared activities and interests that are the basis for growing friendships typically happen in person. Yet, interacting with people online can nurture the consistency and intimacy that makes bonds stronger. It also helps to when you “click” with the people you meet.

While you probably wouldn’t associate chemistry with online relationships, social media is not without relationship dynamics.  In fact, online relationships can be driven by subtle influences that create a kind of digital chemistry. [Tweet this]

One influence is the mere-exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle. As it applies to people, it means that the more you see someone, whether in person or online, the more likeable they appear to be. [Tweet this] Sure, there are going to be exceptions. Yet, overall you’re most likely to warm up to and interact with the people you see most often.

The other influence on digital chemistry is something called ambient awareness. It is a peripheral awareness that comes with exposure to fragments of social information. As discussed by Clive Thompson, in the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” this awareness “…brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business.”

Sure, that’s not always a good thing. Yet, what it does for budding friendships is truly powerful. Online social information about people we meet gets us beyond mere familiarity to allow for enhanced intimacy. [Tweet this]

It Starts With Genuine Interest

Of course, not only do friendships take time, but they grow out of two-way sharing and caring. Yet, as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” So, for new relationships to have a chance, especially online, the first step is showing you care.

Showing you care means taking a genuine interest. This involves showing empathy and establishing rapport. It also means getting others to share what they enjoy, and making them feel good about themselves.  In other words, make your initial interactions about them, not you.  Doing so conveys your interest, caring, and generosity. As well, putting others first, is time-tested advice for making friends.

In the long run, becoming adept at the art of friendship will enrich your life[Tweet this]


How do you distinguish between connections and friends? How important is it to you to cultivate friendships? Do you have online friends, and how did you meet them? Have you experienced digital chemistry? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.


  1. says

    Walter–I have found this to be so true the deeper I get into my own business. Although I think boundaries are key with clients, I do understand that longevity in business is about relationships for sure.

    As I spend more and more ‘down’ time focusing on my own writing–which is a loner’s gig, I am making myself get out there and connect with people who fill me up and with whom I can give of myself in a meaningful way. For me, this has to be planned and scheduled or it just won’t happen. It’s just too easy to skip face to face time if I don’t.

    Great post!

  2. says

    Thanks for your insightful comment, Cait!

    I agree that pushing boundaries with clients can deepen relationships!! I’ve always tended to do that, but keep in mind that it can be a fine line. It really requires responsiveness and openness on the other side. And yet, more often than not, our willingness to initiate, stay positive, and become more vulnerable makes the difference.

    As for making new connections, I think getting out is really important! And even though getting together in person can deepen relationships, I don’t think we’re limited to those. One of my frequent recommendations is to look for friendship opportunities online. When we find and interact with people with whom we have a natural affinity, we can often end up with some great friendships.

    Of course, that natural affinity may not emerge right away, so I try to simply keep a friendly approach as much as possible. As a result, I have the most delightfully diverse online friends you can imagine!!

  3. says

    I don’t think that internet and social media sites are good to make friends, as I’ve faced a huge loss in past because of making friend on twitter and that person scammed me $200 and disappeared from twitter. Almost 90% of people are fake there.

  4. says

    Well, Muhammad, it certainly is possible to be a scam victim on the internet. So, being cautious is advisable. Your figure of 90% seem really high to me. I’ve used all kinds of social media for years, and found most people to be genuine. And for those who are fake, there are usually some clues. Wish you better luck in the future.

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