Social Media: The End of Friends? Or the Beginning of Friendship?

Remember all those curmudgeonly quips about how online “friends” were cheapening the real thing? How the Facebook generation was mistaking true friendship for the faux, virtual kind?

Can we finally lay all that to rest?

Who’s Kidding Whom?

People with a thousand LinkedIn connections, 2,000 Facebook friends and 10,000 twitter followers are perfectly aware that what they have is not the same thing as the relationship with their high school buddies.  They don’t even use “relationship” to describe it.

But neither are those connections always number-bling (though yes, some of them are).

Social media hasn’t so much redefined “friend” as it has offered a new channel to find friends.

LinkedIn and Twitter are to friends what was to dating – a vastly superior mode for doing lead-generation and processing early-stage pleasantries.  Does anyone really think singles bars were a preferable way to find romance?

The online dating services, like online genealogy services, simply made it vastly easier to broaden the range of people from whom one might choose to become better acquainted.

The Social Impact on Business

I find my business life has been remarkably impacted by social media these past few years.  A lot of the people I now call friends – real friends, in the old-fashioned meaning of the word, and rich business acquaintances – I have initially met through social media.

People like @davidabrock, @iannarino, @julien, @chrisbrogan, @johngies, @zerotimeselling (Andy Paul), @jillkonrath, @robincarey, @ianbrodie, and more, I have gotten to know personally – through social media.

Social media are a “starter drug,” if you will; just because you “friend” someone on social media doesn’t mean you’ll end up being real friends.  But increasingly, a lot of real friends start out with the online “friend” channel.

Online “friends” may not be friends, but they can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.



8 replies
  1. Dave Brock
    Dave Brock says:

    Charlie, great post! Social media is can be a very powerful for so many reasons. I’ve found it to be a great starting point in developing deep relationships. At the same time I’m shocked by the number of peopel that don’t take a social relationship further–picking up the phone, sending an email, getting together for a cup of coffee.
    It is possible to start great relationships on social media–but it is a means, not the end.
    One of the greatest things in my experience using social media is “meeting” you and developing our relationship! Thanks for a great post. Regards, Dave

  2. Gail Severini
    Gail Severini says:

    So true.
    Zuckerberg (Facebook) was a visionary in
    this. From his Letter to Prospective Facebook Investors (
    – I particularly liked “Personal relationships are the fundamental unit
    of our society.” which, for me, relates directly to trust. Here is an excerpt:

    “We hope to strengthen how people relate to
    each other.

    Even if our mission sounds big, it starts
    small — with the relationship between two people.

    Personal relationships are the fundamental
    unit of our society. Relationships are how we discover new ideas, understand
    our world and ultimately derive long-term happiness.

    At Facebook, we build tools to help people
    connect with the people they want and share what they want, and by doing this
    we are extending people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships.

    People sharing more — even if just with their
    close friends or families — creates a more open culture and leads to a better
    understanding of the lives and perspectives of others. We believe that this
    creates a greater number of stronger relationships between people, and that it helps
    people get exposed to a greater number of diverse perspectives.

    And if you want to look ahead, check out Nilofer
    Merchant’s perspective on the Social ERA here (

    From the ‘back cover’:

    “Smart companies are letting social
    become the backbone of their business models, increasing their speed and
    flexibility by pursuing openness and fluidity. These organizations don’t
    operate like the powerful “800-pound gorillas” of yesteryear–but
    instead act more like a herd of 800 gazelles, moving together across a
    savannah, outrunning the competition.”

    In our work, strategy execution, I am intrigued by how much speed
    this openness can has the potential to bring – seems to me it pivots off of
    authenticity and trust. This is good

  3. Chris Downing
    Chris Downing says:

    It of course can be treated casually like calling in the dark to see if anyone wants to answer. On the other hand if we pick up the phone or emila someone who seems to share our thoughts and wants to talk, we can meet face to face and take it from there. In 2010 a survey showed 17% of people met their future spouse this way. Talk to those couples and I think theywill tell you social networks are a serious communication tool. However that still leaves 83% of use meeting our future partner by other means. And so it is in business – probably even more conservative, with us still relying on traditional methods of meeting up. I suppose meeting someone with just a social outcome seems less risky in many respects. The message must be that its out there to use – but don’t build your whole communication model upon it just yet – maybe in 20 years it might look different – but I suspect we may be plateauing already, in the way tape recorded courses didn’t replace actual live events, VHS tapes didn’t, CDs didn’t, DVDs didn’, and Skype isn’t either. They are all examples of remote communications technologies – each in its turn, at launch, was the next ‘big thing’. Social Networks are the latest versions of this ‘big thing’ syndrome.

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:

      You raise a great point; it’s tempting to glamorize the newest shiny object thingy, whereas in fact it’s just another version of plumbing. I remember all these kinds of discussions around voicemail (what’s the ROI, will it ruin social interaction, what are the new marketing tools…) and of course now it’s just a fact of life.
      Much the same will emerge here, I agree.

  4. John
    John says:


    I couldn’t agree more. I continue to have people ask me about the fluff of Twitter, LinkedIn and Face book. Yet like you I have made friends through each of these channels, friends I would not have made otherwise.

    I consider you one of these.

    And yet for those that say it doesn’t work let me suggest some advice from Paul Castain. Each week (or month if you are really busy) reach out to someone in your network that you don’t know that we’ll and schedule a brief call to learn more, you’d be surprised at how far your relationship with your new “friend” will progress.

    Take Good Care

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:

      John, totally right. You and I are a great example of people who’ve become friends, with significant interactions (e.g. doing a webcast together) without ever actually having physically met. Those kinds of relationships – within firms, between firms, across firms and people – are increasingly common, and very very real.


    There’s a word that can fit in well here – ‘acquaintance.’ Before someone is really trusted, before you can vouch for them, before they are your ‘friend,’ they are someone you know casually.

    Although, Facebook ‘acquaintances’ loses all the powerful alliteration of Facebook ‘friends.’

  6. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    From Ed Drozda (posted via Charlie)

    Yes, social media can indeed lead to a “RELATIONSHIP”. Of course that is only if that was the intent in the first place. On balance, I receive about 10-15 requests to ‘connect’ on LinkedIn each week. I have a canned response for those I do not yet know- let’s learn more about each other, either through a phone call or, when practical, face to face. Of the 10-15 requests, perhaps 2-3 will respond. Quite frankly I am totally open to meeting new people, but if they have no desire to engage in a conversation how can we possibly support each other, no less establish a relationship?


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