Online Relationships: The Real Deal?

by Cindy Kane, Director of Student Involvement and Leadership

(Cross-posted for the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership blog and the BSU Student Affairs Professional Development blog, as part of the BSU Social Media Week “BlogFest.”  Today’s theme: technology)

I’ll confess.  I’m braver behind a keyboard and computer screen than I am in person when it comes to networking. I think I’m a generally friendly and confident person “live,” but it’s so much easier for me to fire off a compelling email to someone or a supportive tweet to answer someone’s question than it is to put myself out there at a networking event.  Don’t know if I lack confidence in my own ideas or if I just don’t feel like competing for “air time” in a room full of extroverted student affairs types.  It’s probably a little of both.

The idea of building relationships via online communities would have felt a little odd to me five years ago.  Today, I’m a doctoral student taking classes at University of Nebraska via distance education and totally immersed in the professional world on Twitter to the tune of frequent participation in professional development chats and frequent engagement with fellow student affairs professionals and others.  I’m even a mentor to a student affairs grad student that I’ve never met in person because of that online community.

Critics may believe that these connections are not real relationships.  I’d offer that my connections online aren’t that much different from my connections that are face-to-face.  I have a core group of people that are close, a second group of those that I interact with frequently but not as deeply, and a group of people where I do more listening to them than I do interacting. One thing where online life has face-to-face beat… I get to “unfollow” those I don’t want to hear from or interact with in that space.  I’ve learned the “unfollow” option doesn’t exist in face-to-face relationships, but also learned some other things about online relationships.

I’ve learned that for “real” relationships to develop online, you have to invest in two-way communication.  Just like in face-to-face relationships, you have to give even more than you get to feel a sense of connection.  As leadership consultant Michael Miller shared with our students, “give more and you’ll have more.”  This has been so evident over the past year with my online professional relationships.  The connections with undergraduate students interested in the field on up through senior student affairs officers has influenced me deeply and has challenged me to “step up” as a professional and as a woman in leadership. 

I’ve also learned that online communication breaks down barriers.  This “icebreaking” makes the eventual meeting “IRL” (in real life) even better.  I anticipated “awkward” when I met some of these twitter colleagues for the first time, but it was such the opposite.  What I found was that the small talk need was gone, since we had been connected for so long in other ways.  We jumped right in to substantive discussion, laughs, and amazement that meeting people IRL was even better than we had ever anticipated.

A very savvy woman who I connected with via Twitter, Teri Bump once said “you are who you tweet.” She was so right! I got over my “creepy factor” when thinking about online engagement and I hope you will think about taking a leap of faith as well.  Online communication, when done right, is another great forum through which to share our authentic selves.  I’ve seen it with my “tweeps” in the student affairs community and I’ve seen it with my classmates at UNL

How about you? Have you had the chance to build relationships online? Oh, and after you post your comment…check out the other BSU Blogfest posts here!

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About cindykane

Director of @BSUInvolved and interested in leadership and professional development strategies. Mom, scholar-practitioner, looking to make an impact! http://www.linkedin.com/in/CindyWKane
This entry was posted in Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Online Relationships: The Real Deal?

  1. Brian LeDuc says:

    Thanks for posting this, Cindy! As conference season rolled around, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about this idea of meeting folks from #sachat “in real life” rather than 140 characters at a time, especially in reflecting on how generally introverted I am when I meet “new people” for the first time. While I still struggle with this and relate to much of what you said about being more likely to “tweet it” then say it in person, it has been a great checkpoint for me in being authentic online and more open when I meet “tweeps” in person.

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