With a lifelong heart for building quality and authentic relationships in-person, I think it would be amiss not to discuss a phenomena in our generation—online friendships.
Who would have guessed that a majority of our networking would happen over mediums like Instagram or Marco Polo apps?? I certainly didn’t until three years ago when I started investing in online friends and saw the immediate benefit to having women from all over the world to lean on for support.
Why invest in online friendships?
Being a writer and pursuing particular endeavors would be so lonely without the support of others. Having family and friends say they love what I create is a gift but, finding people in my social circles who can understand my unique challenges can be hard to come by. Social media opens up the door for the potential to connect with women writers from all over the country. Online friends expand our ability to relate to someone who may be going through similar challenges or seasons of life.
Social media friends can also be fun! They may inspire you to read more. Give you recommendations on new recipes. They may help you find your next workout routine or encourage you to stick to your goals. You can stay connected to your favorite author and if you’re like me…you may even get an opportunity to win a contest and meet your favorite author at their home! Talk about the power of social media!
Levels of Intimacy
Over the last three years, I have developed a variety of online friends with differing levels of intimacy.
Level 1: Strictly Online
There are some women that I have various conversations with strictly online. We never move past a stage of commenting on how cute our kids are or anything deeper than what we can see through a picture.
Level 2: Moving the conversation to another platform.
There are some friendships that have moved our conversations to other apps like Marco Polo or Voxer. Typically, when we realize there is more to be said or shared past a comment box. Now we are connecting with video or voice which takes the friendship up a notch and creates a more casual conversation.
Note: Sometimes, video communication makes this friendship a lasting friendship. Other times, you may communicate for a brief three-month period and it dies off. And maybe after a few messages, it doesn’t feel right and that’s okay too. Just because you give this a try, doesn’t mean you are trapped in talking to this person forever.
Level 3: Collaborating Together
This is may not be a level of intimacy you experience, but I have worked on projects with people I have met over the internet. I trust their work and the relationship moves past acquaintance level to partnership.
I think this could also come in the form of sharing someone else’s work/projects with your community. You’re saying that their information is valuable enough to you that you want to share them with your in-person community.
Level 4: Meeting in Person
Honestly, this is my favorite. There are many faithful friends that began on social media and turned into real in-person friendships.
How to navigate these different levels of online friendships?
Now let’s get practical! There may be a woman on social media you really admire or perhaps you are trying to build your brand but you want to treat people like friends instead of clients. Here are a few tips to be genuine and create authentic connections with others that have worked for me.
When you see a woman on the internet that shares a similar interest or has a similar story, become a cheerleader for them online. You engage in the conversation they are hosting by commenting often. You may share their work or their words. You can offer up resources that have helped you in a similar stage of life. I have even had folks send me letters in the mail with small gifts to let me know they are thankful for my writing.
In ANY friendship, consistency is key. You want to be a constant presence in this person’s life. You want to be a positive addition to each other’s days. So, you show up often. You ask to pray for them…yes, I’m being serious. You can follow up on something they have shared. You can congratulate them when they’ve had a big life event. This practice, with reciprocated communication, may be the right time to ask to become friends on Marco Polo or Voxer.
Important: Know your boundaries and share them if you feel like the person is demanding too much from the new friendship or has an unrealistic view of what this online friendship should look like.
When I was expecting my second child, a gal I had done a podcast with sent me a baby onesie! Another author I had connected with sent me a baby blanket! And another writer friend sent a devotional book! I felt so loved by people who I had never met in person. But this kindness should go both ways!
I have sent candy and cards to women who have launched new courses or projects to say congratulations! I have sent flowers or gifts for birthdays and new babies! The important thing is to do these things out of genuine love, not expecting something in return.
Make the Time to Meet In-Person
This is huge! This is for when you’ve really connected and have decided to meet up! I have some local friends now that I first connected with online who have become real friends! We connect in-person regularly—we are sharing life together. Then, there are moments where I make time to meet someone and it was good but there wasn’t pressure for a continued relationship. We “wave” on social media and maintain a friendly countenance with one another.
Don’t Fall Off the Social Media Planet?
If you have truly built a friendship over social media, it will be hard to disappear and continue at the same level of connection. So, communicate when you’re in a busy season. Or as weird as this is, say goodbye. When a friend of mine left social media, she said she was thankful for our friendship and hoped to connect in the future. I didn’t feel forgotten or ignored after having their reasons explained to me.
What is the purpose of an online friend?
It is the same purpose as being an in-person friend—to portray Christ’s love to them. To be see them as God sees them and encourage them in that direction. To listen and pray for them. If you want to treat online women as friends, then remember to show them the hospitality you would show a friend you meet for coffee regularly (see a list of how to identify if you’re being a good friend). Care for them. Respect them. Love them.
Now go give a virtual hug to an online friend or send your first “hi.”