Are Online Friendships Inherently Shallow?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Last week I was reading a Guardian article by Ewan Morrison, "Why Social Media Isn't the Magic Bullet for Self-Epublished Authors." Morrison discusses problems and fallacies about self-promotion via social media. He takes an honest look at some of the things that have been touted to help but haven't proven to increase sales: including tweeting, buying Facebook ads, or hiring marketing companies to help improve your social media platform.

He said this, "As individuals and companies abandon Facebook advertising, and finally come to realise that Twitter does not increase sales for the vast majority of writers, then the very idea of using social media to sell books will begin to collapse."

I don't agree one hundred percent with everything Morrison said. But I do concur that we'll fail IF we approach social media with THE goal of selling more books.

Social media was never intended to become a giant billboard for every writer. 

The same way the phone was never intended to be a place for businesses to call and bug us with those annoying "ad calls." When I pick up the phone, I don't want someone on the other end trying to sell me something or trying to get me to donate to their charity.

Instead, when I answer my phone, I want to talk to a REAL person AND have a REAL conversation.
But is it possible to build REAL relationships on social media?

We can complain about how the "social" is gone from social media these days. And we can talk about the need to keep our social media sites places of community, encouragement, and learning.

However, even if we make efforts to have more conversations, are those connections merely an under-handed way to gain popularity and followers? Are we guilty of using each other to build our platforms? Are we ultimately having conversations with one another for the ulterior motive of trying to sell more books?

After all, we've been told if we build our "tribes" or "teams" they'll become some of our strongest supporters and promoters when our books release.

But how REAL and strong are internet connections, especially if they're based on ulterior motives for gaining promoters?

In the Guardian article, Morrison says, "the internet is good at forming weak, not strong links. Commitment on the net is shallow."

Of course, after reading his statement, I had to stop and evaluate all of the connections I've formed online over the past few years. I admit. Many of the friends I made early in blogging have fallen away. I don't keep in touch with them, and they don't visit my blog anymore either. And yes, some of my twitter connections have never gone beyond a few tweets.

But, over time and with effort, I've also made some really solid friends, writers with whom I share my deepest joys and struggles. They do likewise with me.

And THOSE are the kinds of friends who now go out of their way to support me when my book releases. They genuinely WANT to help me. And I love to help them too with endorsements, book reviews, advice, etc.

In my opinion, that's what social media is all about—forming genuine, mutually beneficial friendships. When we do that, we won't have to worry about social media "collapsing" on us. And we won't need to resort to spam because our friends will be excited to help us spread the news to their circles of influence. Their word-of-mouth is better than the best spam we could ever come up with.

So how do we go about creating mutually beneficial friendships on social media?

1. Check our motives. Anytime we base relationships (whether online or in real life) on selfish motives, the relationships will be shallow. We need to go into friendships without the ulterior motives for selling our books or gaining popularity. If we're doing that, people will eventually find out. And no one likes feeling used.

2. Quality is better than quantity. As tempting as it is, to try to increase our follower numbers on social media sites, we're better off to go deep with a few friends rather than be shallow with many.

3. Take the time to be a friend. Every friendship takes some effort, especially in the beginning. Whether in real life or online, we have to be a friend to have a friend.

4. Don't expect anything in return. Give to people without demanding something back. If I buy a friend's book to support her, I don't turn around and ask her to buy mine. If I endorse someone's book, I don't hold it over her head expecting high praise on mine. I give without strings attached. Always.

So are internet relationships inherently shallow?

They don't have to be.

Like any relationships we form (whether in real life or online), we get out of a relationship what we put in.

What's your experience been so far with online relationships? Are they more shallow than real life relationships? Or is it possible to get beyond the motive of selling books to have real friendships?

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