Social media and the big conversation “fail”

I am feeling sad and a bit ashamed of myself.

Something happened — a wake-up call about this notion of social media “community” and “conversation.” It’s making me pause and reflect on what we’re really all about here on the social web. What I’m about.

Last year I collaborated with a bright young woman named Jenn Whinnem.   I didn’t know her at all and in fact I kind of pulled her out of thin air to help with a post on sexism on the social web.  She had made a random Twitter comment to me about women and blogging and I suggested that she write about it instead of talking to me about it … and one thing led to another, including a great post called “Is Blogging a Man’s Job?”

Since then, Jenn and I have been regular Twitter buddies and she has been a frequent contributor to {grow} through her comments in the community.

She recently revealed on a guest post on Jayme Soulati’s blog that she has a terminal disease, cystic fibrosis, and suffers every day.  Until this moment, I had put Jenn in the category of “friend” but realized I did not even know this single important fact that dominates her life, in fact dominates every breath she takes.   I hadn’t even talked to her on the phone. I would have heard the coughing. I would have asked her about it. I could have, and should have, known.

I lost sight of what it means to be a friend. It’s a word that has been social-media-cheapened and distorted for a new generation and I got caught up in it too.

While many of us pontificate and debate about the heralded Age of Conversation, I’m realizing we’re not having conversations at all.  Twitter is not a conversation. Commenting on blogs is not a conversation — it’s usually just a comment.  We see these little smiling avatars each day without really having a clue about the person behind the picture.

Isn’t it ironic that a thousand blog posts have been written about the importance of “the conversation” and more truthfully, the social web enables us to avoid conversations through status updates and other non-invasive procedures.

After a speech last week, I hung around to meet people and answer questions.  One young lady had some in-depth questions about how she could improve her business. Obviously I could not effectively answer the questions with 10 people waiting in line to talk. So I gave her my card and said, “Look, just call me. We can talk next week. I’ll try to help you.”  She looked like I had just hit her with a club. Funny how a phone call is regarded as something extraordinary these days.

I’ve decided that I want to do better. I want to have real conversations and make real friends.  I have gained so much from actually talking on the phone — and even meeting — the people on {grow}.  And yet, most of you are still strangers.  Want to talk?

I’ll trust you to handle this in a sensitive way, but if you’re interested, I would love for you to call or Skype me. Seriously. Let me know who you are and what we can do to help and support each other. My phone number is all over the website.  And who knows, I might just randomly call you.

In fact, I think I need to start with Jenn.

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  • Brad Lovett

    Mark, I appreciate the fact that you and I have met in person, and you were the first to welcome me to Knoxville. I’ve had the privelige of taking your class as well. I hope to stay in touch with you. You are right that a lot of our online relationships are very surface, and we need to find ways to interact in “real life”.

  • Mark

    @Brad — Meeting IRL makes all the difference, doesn’t it? I feel like we’ve bonded! Thanks, Brad!

  • Wow, Mark, I’m flabbergasted! I’m quite touched that the post meant so much to you. Would definitely love to talk to you!

  • EJ Ellis

    This was just beautiful. And poignant.

    I agree with the tenor of your post on this. Online exchanges can often feel so mitigating, so contrived in purpose, so impersonal.

    May we all take a long pause to consider our online exchanges in light of more openness, more kindness and more respect for each others’ circumstances & individuality.

    Warmest regards,
    EJ Ellis

  • Mark

    @Jenn — You’re on. : )

    @EJ — Thank you for this special comment.

  • One of the BEST things that happened to me when I made the decision to start my own company was the day you reached out to me and offered to speak to me. I had (have) such respect for you before then and for you to be willing to take time out of your day to offer insight and guidance meant a lot to me then and still does.

    I love my online friends but what really seals the deal is the power and magic that happens when we meet IRL! Our TweetBroads community is growing quickly just for that reason alone!

    You’re the best, Mark!

  • Mark

    @Kristen — That is so very kind of you to say KD! Thanks for all you do. Look forward to meeting you soon!

  • Thanks for doing this post. Jenn and I have been conversing awhile on the meaning of “friend,” and it always disturbs me that we’re (collectively) not. Not really.

    I’ve spoken candidly with Jenn, and she is one of the most admirable women you’ll meet, and the way she so courageously regards her condition is an inspiration.

    Had I not called her, I never would’ve known. And, I asked her, “Jenn, if something happens to you, will you please tell your family and loved ones to let @Soulati know?”

    We laughed and made light, but deep down it bothers me the relationships we’re building on social media are not truly friendships.

    If you want that to happen, Mark, you hit the nail on the head — pick up the phone, and then life happens beyond 140.

    How fitting for this post on a slower day than most. It causes serious reflection, doesn’t it?

  • Mark:
    What a heartfelt post! I am privileged to have spent time with you in Memphis courtesy of our mutual Twitter comrade and supersweet superstar Amy @HowellMarketing. From our content on Twitter, we can discern who we want to call, email, visit, work with. I have developed many deep working relationships from people I never would have met otherwise. Our entire @TheSocialCMO group is a prime example. Thanks for reminding us what’s really important about our 140 characters–it’s the people behind them.

  • Mark

    @Jayme — And don’t forget you were one of the FIRST Twitter friends I ever reached out to!

    @Anne — Agree. Super group of folks. Thanks for taking the time to comment Anne!

  • Mona Askalani

    Authentic friends and conversations will have to have a new name since I agree Social Media has definitely changed things up to create shallowness to these terms. Just today I had a playdate with a friend and her daughter and was taken aback when she greeted my daughter with “nice to meet you.” I couldn’t believe it had been 2 years and they had never met. Yet, she felt like she knew her already from all my FB posts & pics. The beauty of Social Media is the opportunity to be exposed to great thinking and people — given our geography, I don’t think our paths would have crossed. But face time, talk time, and even handwritten notes will still convey the human touch we can’t live without. Great post.

  • Jayme, thank you so much for asking me to author that post. I don’t remember how I found Mark’s blog, but I know I found you through Mark’s blog. I’ve enjoyed watching your journey in blogging as well as getting to know you. I must say I’ve met some of the best minds and most generous hearts through the {grow} community. It really is a very special bunch that Mark has pulled together.

  • This is perhaps one of the most touching articles I have read for some time. And you’re absolutely right, we tend to lose touch with the real people behind the twittering, blogging, posting, etc. We are human beings, after all, and we need to be ‘nurtured’ (for want of a better word). This is the first I’ve seen of your blog but I’m very impressed. I’ll certainly be back!
    By the way, my name is Suzy, I’m 34 and British, I’ve lived in the Algarve for the past 24 years but am hoping to move to Canada in the next couple of years with my husband. (Just some random info about myself!)

  • Mark,

    That was one of the best examples of how social media “community” still needs the In Real Life contact of face to face, or phone. We humans do need that interaction, we are Pack Animals!

    Social media does give us the less intrusive method of interaction, and that works fine for business, but sometimes in our personal lives, we do need to hear the voice, or look in the eyes of the people we care about. It does strengthen the bond.

    Great stuff! Keep it up!

  • Mark

    @Mona — Fantastic story. Thanks for sharing it!

    Jenn– Funny thing is I didn’t pull anybody together. Everybody just found each other. If I knew how to pull specific people to my blog I would have quite the secret formula!: ) I do think the log attracts a certain kind of independent thinker though. And I LOVE the way people connect with each other and form relationships. Happens all the time!

  • Mark

    @Suzy — Welcome and thanks for sharing that. I look forward to having you as a member of the {grow} community. It’s ironic that I was in the Algarve exactly one year ago, I think almost to the day. Thanks for taking the time to comment today Suzy.

    @Paul. Absolutely agree. The social web opens many new doors and is an important touchpoint in our society but it also gives us an excuse to be hermits. I am a nice guy but not really an out-going kind of “friend-maker.” So, reaching out and calling people is a little out of my comfort zone but it simply must be done to further these new relationships! I’m greatful that you took time out of your day to contribute to the dialogue. Thanks!

  • Mark you and I both know that there is bias in everything when money is at stake. And there are a lot of people and some businesses that have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this false view of what social is, because it is making them money. When the bubble bursts, a lot of people will have to look for new jobs, no different than what happened with the and real estate bubbles.

    BUT I saw a really cool graph during a webinar that shows the lifecycle of these things. I wish I could find it. But after the bubble bursts the real value will be derived. And you know I view Social Media as Interpersonal Communications Technology vs a Marketing Platform. So when this bubble bursts I feel the technology is going to serve us well as humans, just maybe not so well for marketers (at least not in it’s present form)

  • There’s a huge difference between acquaintance and friend. Like eating soup from a plate instead of a bowl. Most of our on-line relationships are acquaintances. Taking the next step to become a real friends is a big act of faith, and you have to be prepared to fail.

  • Mark has flattered me by allowing me to post a link to a Blogpost from my old blog from last March discussing this very subject to add a bit more to our ‘conversation’ here!

    Thank you Mark!

  • I have a few friends that I’ve made online in the last year or so. Of course, let the caveat be that we are not extremely close like you might be with a best friend. Nonetheless, I care about them, their families, endeavors, etc, and one of the biggest reasons for that is that our relationships are reciprocal. If they started with them commenting on my blog, I began reading theirs when I could. If we found each other @ replying each other frequently on Twitter, we eventually took it to IM to make things easier. Through this contact, we had to learn about each other. I wouldn’t blame anyone that gets a million blog comments, @ replies, or whatever else for not being able to follow each commenter’s blog or each @ replier’s tweets, but doing so effectively does make it easier to becomes friends.

  • Mark

    @Howie — Thanks for the comment and the great link.

    @Carla — So nice to hear from you! Thanks for the insight.

    @Eric — That is the way it has worked for me too, at least until the numbers began to grow larger and larger. It is more of a challenge now but why engage on the social web if you’re not prepared to build these relationships? Otherwise you are simply “broadcasting.”

  • @Mark Agreed. While interaction and conversation is not necessarily integral to the survival of every business, many people certainly appreciate it, and I hope that your readers applaud you for continuing to attempt two-way communication despite the volume of inbound messages you recieve.

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  • Mark,

    Beautiful post. I completely agree with you. I think Twitter etc only help us begin to identify who we might like to get to know. It is our job to take the relationship one step further.

    I have enjoyed meeting many Twitter friends on the phone or in person. It is important to the relationship.

    I look forward to meeting you in the future!


  • Mark, Thank you for the post. Engaging with someone, personally, via SM or IRL, takes a commitment to give of yourself… but giving leads to receiving leads to… a wonderful cycle.

  • Mark

    @Eric — It’s a challenge but I’m committed to do it!

    @Perri — I can’t wait to talk to you and get to know you! I think we have a lot in common. Send me an email and let’s schedule something!

    @George — Could not agree more! Thanks!

  • So true, So true, So true! It’s still all about people and you’ll never really ever “know” anyone until you meet (if only over the phone, and even then…..). I agree with @carla that the definitions are a bit skewed in the online world: the difference between “acquaintance and friend” or “conversation and comment”. A friend, especially meaningful conversation with a friend, is something that takes a long time to nurture.
    Unfortunately, the social domain is trying to change the definitions of these basic terms to suit its own purposes.
    Great post Mark. As always, really challenging everyone’s “Reality”.
    @jenn, I’m sorry to hear about your illness.

  • Hi Mark!
    What a beautiful post that reminds us what life is all about – personal connections with people who touch our lives in one way or another.

    I always make it a point to connect with my Twitter friends whether on Skype, phone or F2F. I do hope we connect soon because your content and interaction stands out from most of the noise on the networks.

  • Mark

    @steve — You and I have enjoyed so many wonderful (and sometimes stressful hee hee ) interactions together over the past year or so and it was all enabled by our connections. I’m sure we’ll be working together on stuff for years to come. I appreciate you! Thanks for sharing today.

    @Anna — Send me an email and let’s set it up! I would love to get to know you.

  • Karen Whinnem

    Jennifer is my daughter. She truly is a remarkable young woman – with an incisive sense of humor if you haven’t realized that as yet. Her dad and I have always been, and will continue to be, proud of the way she lives her life.

  • Karen Whinnem

    Mark – Thank you for your article on Jenn.But… I think I should warn you – what may start out as a quick conversation will definitely become one that is longer and guaranteed to make your day!

  • Mark

    Now THAT is cool. Thank you Karen!

  • Like others have said, one of the most striking things that has happened since starting my business, is how people have lined up and offered to help. You certainly are one of those people, Mark.

    I think social media opens the door for meaningful to conversation. However, the meaty stuff doesn’t happen on a blog or on Twitter, it happens in phone or in person. Social media just gives people a place to make the connection happen. Taking the “conversation” off of the computer and into real life is where the magic happens.

    I’m glad that we’ve had the opportunity to connect in person and I look forward to doing it again sometime. I’m sure there’s still so much more we can learn about each other!

  • MOM!!!! I have to say, my mom told me I was no different from anybody else, and I always believed her. Thanks for that, Mom. It’s because of her that Mark knew me as a feminist before he knew me as a sick person.

    And @Laura – love what you wrote about “social media just gives people a place to make the connection happen.” Twitter has been invaluable for me in that very way.

    Also @Steve – thank you, but I swear, I am so healthy it’s almost not fair. I cough a lot but there is nothing I can’t do (except be quiet).

  • This is a very relevant post. So many people are far more private then you would ever think even in this age of “conversation” where so often the private things, as you found out just don’t get shared. Last week I was surprised three times by what people are dealing while being totally professional in business (and totally professional usually means not bringing up those potholes in life we all have to deal with from time to lime). I found out because I was actually talking to them on the phone, and there is so much more you can gleam about a person on the phone that twitter or email do not reveal. I just said something like….. you seem somewhat stressed out today, is there something I can do to help…. and voila I heard some surprising things and only hoped the sharing was helpful in some unburdening way…. and in one case I was actually able to help.

    I always gain a great deal from reading your timely and very informative posts, so let’s talk?

    CASUDI on all communication media.

  • Mark,

    You have gifted way of capturing the difference between truth/reality, the made up world, and marketing that sits in the middle. (Full disclosure – I consider myself a marketing professional … maybe that has bled into my personal world as well.)

    I read your post and said, yes – I want to connect with Mark, on skype or otherwise. Not just based on this post, but based upon many of your writings and insights.

    Then reality set in … when can I scrape some time. Yeah, at work, I find two seconds here and there to “have conversations and connect with friends.” I put this in quotes, because while I do care about these people, they are not real friends as you highlighted with the case of Jenn.

    So I want to connect – I just need to find the time. 🙂 So I guess you are not a friend, but really someone I value for your wisdom and insights.

    That said, I hope we connect sometime soon. 🙂

    (No double talked intended.)

    “Social” Steve

  • Jenni Leeds

    Timely post. I experienced a reality check last Friday when a “Twitter friend” of mine (who I helped in a job search) was waving frantically at me at happy hour, and I realized I couldn’t remember her real name.

    Mortifying, to say the least.

  • I have to laugh at Jenni Leeds comment.. do we consider it a disconnect or a connect when all of us are out at networking events and as we write our names on the “Hello! My name is” badge, we add our twitter handle 🙂 I know I do it!!

  • Mark

    @Laura – Thanks! In fact, we’ll be speaking soon about some opportunities!

    @Jenn — Any comment that starts with “MOM!!!” is going to be plowing new ground here at {grow}!

    @Casudi — I’ve sent you an email — let’s set it up!

  • Touching story, thank you for sharing, Mark. It really made me think about social media in a whole new way, a new perspective on who and what and WHY…

    Thank you…

  • Mark,

    What a fantastic post. I am a graduate student at the University of Memphis and currently working on the development of a Social Media course for journalism and PR students. Over the past few months, I have followed, tweeted, retweeted, and blogged about the various aspects of SM and how PR folks and journalists are using these tool in their professional lives.

    About a year ago, I attended an event at the Brooks Museum called “Continuing the Conversation.” It was at this event that I heard Amy (@HowellMarketing) and numerous others talk about what their businesses are doing with social media.

    I began following Amy on Twitter and talking with her (in 140 or less) about SM and public relations. Recently, in the research that I am doing for the social media course, I was able to sit down IRL with Amy and talk about the SM skills that students need to make it in PR and journalism.

    It was a wonderful conversation with a very intelligent woman. A woman that I would know nothing about had I not followed her on Twitter. However, that meeting made me feel like I know her in a different way. I know she has kids…She knows I have kids. We talked about that.

    There are so many things that you miss about a person when you only see one aspect of them online. You can look at my Tweets and know that I am interested in PR and SM, like Starbuck’s based on my 4sqaure check-ins, and that I am an avid football fan. What Twitter doesn’t tell you is all of the other great things that make me who I am.

    Thanks for this post, Mark! From the comments, I know that you are in Memphis at times…We should meet IRL. I’ll buy you a Latte @starbuck’s!


  • Mark

    @Kristen — That is a pretty powerful comment. I am going to print that out and put it on my wall : ) Thank you!

    @Donna — You may or may not know that Amy and i are friends. Real friends : ) One of the things that enabled that was that she stayed overnight on business trip to my area just to meet me. We’re connected forever now and it all started with Twitter. I look forward to connecting with you too!

  • Sharing is caring. Mark, you are so good at both sharing and caring. Thank you! : )

  • Mark – I really appreciate your unique and insightful point of view. Thanks for this. I have no doubt we will talk IRL soon. In the meantime, thanks for your contribution to the conversation about conversations.

  • I love cats. But, I am allergic to them. Not so much now, as an adult, but as a child it was bad. Is Jenn’s condition being aggravated by the presence of her cat? I sure do hope not because finding homes for cats these days is incredibly hard. But, if it is life or death, what else can one do?

  • Hi Mark;

    Great post. I felt that “broadcasting” dilemma when I first started using Twitter as well. I tried a #3thingsaboutme campaign early on and found a few people who are now friends as a result. People are interested in us as humans, we just don’t give each other the opportunity to really open up!

    I am going to schedule time 2 times per week to chat with new people- maybe we could devise a introduction format to follow that would save us from pitches etc. and get to the human stories that are truly interesting?



  • Hey Jack – Clio doesn’t bother my breathing at all. My sleeping, however, when she’s clawing at my mattress to get me to feed her…that’s another story.

  • Wow! OK, I’m in shock that my name has come up two times in different contexts here on 1 blog. First of all Mark, you are a real person who connects with people. Relationships are one of your many gifts (along with telling me what I *need* to know–ha!). This is an awesome reminder that the real value in social is connecting personally and in meaningful ways. @AnneDGallaher has become a real and dear friend and business associate–we talk almost every week; @Donna was kind enough to even consider me for her graduate research–a big compliment. The fact that you and I have met IRL twice now (and plotting more fun) is evidence that this Twitter idea is big. Keep tweetin’ & connectin’ (and don’t steal that as a blog post title! Ha). Thank you Mark. You ROCK. Amy

  • Mark

    @Rae — Thank you!

    @Leisa – Let’s make it happen! : )

    @Jack — Thanks for the very caring comment!

    @Craig — That is a blockbuster idea. I’ll have to stew on that for a while. We do spend a lot of time on chitchat, no?

    @Amy – Thank you my dear!

  • I really enjoyed your post. I think of Twitter like an online dating service, but just to meet interesting people. Once you connect with someone, you need to take it to the next level or the “relationship” doesn’t get any deeper.

    The good thing is that you have a platform to start the conversation in person (or on the phone).

    I had a “blind date” where a Twitter friend and I decided to meet for coffee. We had so much in common that the conversation just flowed, and we had a great time.

    It’s a good launch pad, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for genuine friendships. That takes more than 140 characters.

  • Hey Mark,

    I wrote a blog post about avoiding creating idle chatter and ‘just another water cooler’ on the social media networks. The idea that Social Media is more than ‘just talking’ .. it’s about creating authentic relationships and having meaningful / relevant conversations. You have taken this thought to an entire new level in your blog post – kudos to you!

  • Good read…

    …though I have to say that most of our social media communication with others is business-related. Granted, this isn’t the case 100% of the time, but for the most part, it’s a means for both parties to mutually benefit from one another–be it in exposure, business possibilities, client growth, etc.

    No one would ever ask a client what’s going on in their personal life. It’s important to keep those two aspects separate in my opinion. When those barriers are broken down, you’re going into risky territory. It can either be a good thing, or a bad idea depending on several factors.

    However, I do agree that social media isn’t necessarily a “prime” example of intimate conversation. But then again, I don’t think it should be. It’s there for a different type of engagement.

  • Mark

    Such an eyeopening post for so many. I do have to agree with Casudi above as there are people that are private and live in the world of telling people what they want them to know. It is not easy to throw it all out there as some people run as far as they can where others are genuinely there to listen and offer support.

    The people that are speaking to the masses and chasing traffic are missing out on a whole lot.There are friends and then there are friends. The ones that I regularly converse with I do know things about them as we had the conversations on twitter, emails, skype chats or sometimes via the telephone. It does make a difference.

    While social media affords us the tools to reach out to people and make initial connections, it is up to us to take it further. For many, the excuse is time. Ok well do you have time to write a blog and chase traffic or do you make time to talk to someone to get to know them and who knows they just might lend a hand with bringing in qualified traffic and not just boosts of numbers.

    Jenn seems like a remarkable person as she is showing us all how you take an illness and push through it and be a friend. Truly a remarkable woman.


  • Win

    Can’t agree with you more. I have just read another article by Malcolm Gladwell on how social media (Twitter, Facebook) aren’t what we think they are – aka creating close friends and initiating social change.

    Check it out here:

  • Mark

    @Cyndi — Great analogy! Love that and will probably steal it from you and claim it as my own. : ) Thanks!

    @Nancy Beth — I would invite you to share your blog link with the rest of the community. No need to be shy. We’re all about sharing and looking out for each other here. And shameless self-promotion. Yeah, that too. : )

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  • Mark, something about your post really got to me. I couldn’t put everything I was thinking in a comment, so I wrote a blog post. Sorry if it’s long and a bit sloppy. I had to get this out, though. You know how it is…

    I’ve got to run to help plan today’s Girl Scout meeting and pick up kids from school. “Talk” to you later.

  • Mark

    @Cristian — This is an excellent point, however in my long experience I find that even business is built on relationships and friendships. I had some very senior-level sales and marketing jobs and routinely became close friends with my customers. And yes, they knew about my kids and a lot of other personal details of my life. In fact, some of my best customers were also my best friends. What does the community think of that notion? Discuss among yourselves …

    (and thanks for taking your time to contribute today!!)

    @Suzanne — This is an amazing and lovely comment! Thank you so very much for sharing it!

    @Win — I am a huge Gladwell fan am currently in the middle of his “Dog” book. I will check out your link and read it carefully tonight when I have a little more time. Thanks for being so thoughtful, Win!

  • Mark

    @Neicole — I’m speechless. That was magnificent. Don’t know what else to say except thank you to my dear friend. And we do need to talk, don’t we?

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  • Suzanne – that is very kind of you, thank you. Just followed you on twitter so I can get to know you too!

    Nicole – I think your take on how events transpired between me and Mark is correct. I never just tell someone I have CF unless they ask me about coughing – and since the cough doesn’t show up in my typing (yet), my e-friends typically don’t know about it. If anything, I’m happy Mark got to know me as an outspoken feminist before he knew me as a sick person (as I wrote on Gini’s blog). As for Mark’s ability to manage his popularity, I don’t know how he’ll do it and frankly I don’t envy him at all!

  • Hey, Mark, this post illustrates what I’ve felt about you since I’ve known you (virtually). Every comment you’ve made on the net tells me that you share and play nice.

    Social media can bring us closer together, when previously we’d have no chance to connect. I do get to connect with the Greenville, SC, folks ’cause they’re only a one-hr drive away. With you, it’s harder, but you did help me and Dewey with your time on the phone a while back. 🙂

    Thanks for the honesty, the humility and the offer to take time to know us all more deeply.

  • Thank you Mark!

    In the two years that I have been active on Twitter I have seen the medium morph from a real community level conversation, to a non stop firehose of broadcast tweeting. With all the nifty clients which allow scheduled parsing of one’s ‘virtual presence’, often time, no one’s home even after a fresh tweet hits the street.

    Yet, I find that via Twitter I’ve connected with people who’s paths I may have never crossed; and, when we meet in real life, there is a preexisting relationship that’s real.

    A delicate balance perhaps? Though no doubt, sole preoccupation with one’s followers’ count, for push or message broadcasting vs. being useful in the conversation will generally lose my attention pretty quick.

    Thanks again for the post!

  • I agree 100%. This happens in real life too. One day in college, a friend was having a real tough time. I asked a mutual friend, “Hey, what’s her favorite kind of candy? I’m going to go get her something.” Neither of us had any idea, and that was well before Twitter and Facebook.

    I think people have put up guards at the same time that we flash our personal information all over the internet. It’s a very difficult balance.

    Kudos to you for calling it out.

  • I met Jeff Pulver at a #140conf road trip meet up in Dayton last month. After two very large bear hugs, I am convinced that above everything else, social media is a contact sport. 🙂 I’ve adjusted the end purpose of every tweet, every comment as one more step toward meeting the person I’m “talking to” in real life. If you are in Dayton ever, call. Or come up to Detroit Oct 20 for 104conf

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  • Mark

    @Despina — You are so very kind. Thank you!

    @Gregg — You are hitting on a cool point that I discuss in my classes. With the social web it is possible to “pre-populate” business relationships. By the time you finally meet somebody, you feel like you already know them. That is a very powerful business benefit, isn’t it? Thanks for commenting today!

    @Rufus — That is a brilliant comment you posted. I absolutely love your take on this. I just gave a speech in Cincy last week — so close to Dayton! A missed opportunity!

  • Mark, I imagine you rarely fail at anything, much less friendship so I disagree with you. Yes, social media has borrowed the word friend to define what is often only a digital connection but I still think you are wrong.

    So far, I am liking my first disagreement with you and I’m just getting started.

    I learned the meaning of friendship from the best two grandfathers ever.

    Charley Bishop, my Grandpa, was a modest farmer in Winchester Tennessee and whether sitting with him on a swing on his front porch, walking with him in town or out on a boat fishing, he waved at every passerby and gave a smile and a friendly tip of the hat or greeting. I thought he knew EVERYONE and everyone knew him. But it wasn’t that. His greeting was simply a way of saying “I’m ok, you’re ok” and meaning it. Aren’t most of our social behaviours in real life that way? And aren’t they still part of valid and sincere friendship?

    My Grandfather Mitchell, or “Pa” as we called him, drove a city bus in Knoxville and I would sometimes go with him at 5:00 in the morning and ride all day on the giant bus. Every passenger, all day long was greeted with his confident grin and friendly banter. Even as a small kid, I admired his crisp uniform and hat and how he knew so many people that obviously liked him. He was a funny guy and even tired commuters cheered up a little when he said hello.

    Both of my granddads had a close circle of friends for life they shared good times and bad with. But they both also had that Will Rogers approach to “never meeting someone they didn’t like” and hundreds, if not thousands of “friends” they simply greeted many times and said “Hello”, “Have a nice day” etc. and they meant it.

    I feel that way about social media. I like saying hello and waving. And if a friendship develops further, like many have for me via twitter mostly (Amy Howell* for example), then that’s a great thing. But those that don’t deepen beyond an occassional RT or greeting are still ok. And you’re ok too.

    How’s that for a friendly debate?

    *3rd mention of Amy Howell

  • @Mark:

    Thanks for your additional thoughts. I see what you’re saying. I guess for me I separate the two worlds: work + friendships. Or, I should say, I have different types of friendships with business or professional colleagues vs those who are friends of mine from outside of the professional world. For me, I’ve found this to be the better situation as I am a bit too open at times with my personal stuff and have learned to be more reserved and cautious in the professional landscape about things like that.

    However, we all have different types of relationships and boundaries with our professional colleagues. We are closer to some vs others, and I do feel at times that I wish I could’ve gotten a little closer to certain individuals, but didn’t want to cross personal boundaries.

    Your piece was a good read, I enjoyed it, and thanks for the “food for thought” as I like to call it.

    And thank *you* for listening. Much obliged. 🙂

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  • Mark

    @Billy — I think I could save us all time and energy by simply renaming {grow} as “Amy’s Blog” : )

    I can’t disagree with a fantastic characterization like that so I hate to disappoint you in that our first REAL disagreement is still on the horizon. In fact I love the way you’ve brought Grandpa and Pa into the discussion and think their style of “friendship” is certainly valid and probably needed more than ever. And you know, the social web is perfect for that.

    So as much as I hate to admit it, I learned something from you today. In many cases, a friendly wave might be exactly what is needed to connect and brighten a day. I do seek deeper relationships but maybe just waving to people now and then is doing some good too. This comment really rocks Billy.

  • Mark

    @Cristian — One of the things I love about this community is the way people come in with a professional, yet caring attitude about people and the issues we discuss. It has pretty much been a no-snarky zone!

    So I really appreciate the fact that we can push around ideas and learn from each other like this. For better or worse, I was a much different person going into my career with Fortune 100 giants than coming out of it. To succeed I had to conform to business standards to some degree and reign in emotions and even relationships. This is neither good nor bad, it’s just the way it is in a big company and a compromise you make to get a fat paycheck, bonuses, etc.

    Now that I’m out on my own, I am starting to take some of that back. I can work the way I want to work and relate the way I want to relate and create a company based on my values instead of a corporate mission statement.

    So I can certainly appreciate your point of view and appreciate even more your openness to share your thoughts in such an awesome way. Thank you!

  • Mark Winchell


    I am new to your blog (found you through Twitter) and have to agree completely with you. Working in Travel and Tourism and coming from a very close family, I am a “hug and a handshake” kind of guy. The impersonal approach to most of our social media has my mind spinning as my wife and I are raising our two young children. Will they grow up in a world where we are void of physical closeness with our “friends”? Social media is a wonderful tool and I enjoy it very much, but it is no substitute for a good hand shake or hug from a “friend”. Many thanks for your great post!


  • Mark – what an amazing post. Thank you for sharing. It was very timely since one of my Twitter “friends” just sent a DM about his final rounds of chemo when I commented that I hadn’t seen him chatting in a while. It makes you wonder what else you’re missing when someone drops off your social media radar…

  • Mark

    @Mark — First of all, welcome to the blog. I think you’ll like it here!

    I have written extensively about how children are being “conditioned” in the text-gaming-social media world but I have not brought up the topic in awhile. i think there is little we can do about quite frankly and may be doing our children a disservice by isolating them from technology. Nevertheless, things are going to radically different for employers and we are already starting to see changes. Luckily, my kids are out the door!! Thanks Mark!

    @Sharon — Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment!

  • Grammar nazi time:

    “I could of, and should of, known.”

    No. Wrong.

    “I could have, and should have, known.”

  • Honest social communication is flawed by the need to always appear “nice.” There are the raw and rude, a small percentage of the population who make brutal cuts and slams as a hallmark that they are proud to be among the raw and rude. However, most of the population seeming has two main motivators. One is to get instant gratification and recognition with little vested and no risk; the other is to be politically correct and maintain position on the winning side at any cost. Blogs offer the ideal medium for this (i.e. press the “like” button) and it is not surprising that their use is mushrooming. True communication can only begin when one knows and accepts oneself and honestly can share his or her original thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and feelings, regardless of whether or not they are the accepted norm. Revelation: It is neither rude nor incorrect to be not in agreement.

  • @BillyMitchell is awesome! Thank you Billy for sharing a story about your Grandpa! Love that TN connection;))) and yes @Mark, I like your idea! (actually all of them). PS: I have *never* seen a blog with this much comment/interaction/engagement!!! Kudos!

  • Hi Mark,
    Your last blog posting truly resonated with me. The advances that we have made due to computer innovations have been fabulous but not without consequences. In the early 90’s, while working for a not-for-profit agency responsible for brokering training for disenfranchised workers, I evaluated a training program having the stated goal as being to provide coaching and instruction of basic communication skills. Sounds great, right? The delivery mode, however, was static computer-based training. Um… really? Was I the only one struck by the irony of the training program’s delivery approach?! I bring this up for two reasons. The first being, the benefits of any technology cannot be expected to cover all of the needs for which it has been created. People are highly adaptable; they will eventually modify behaviour to conform to something they perceive as being the norm. We really must consider consequences before instituting behavioural changes. The second reason is that, for me, I often reflect on this specific occasion as the first time I noticed the de-socialisation of community. This trend seemed to grow with the increasingly chronic use of digital audio players, texting, tweeting, FACEBOOK, etc. People are spending less and less time really connecting. We are all leading exceptionally busy lives; is social media becoming a way to fool ourselves into believing that we are making those missing human connections? Don’t get me wrong. I tweet and I blog and thoroughly enjoy doing both but my friends (the people for whom I would go to the mat and who always are there for me) will often get a text/email/DM from me saying: “I am dropping out of the 1s and 0s and am actually calling… so pick up the phone!” Your posting is just another reminder that technology really can’t (nor should) replace actually connecting with those people who matter most to us and for those people who may become important to us. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts!

  • Mark

    @Reid — Just don’t tell my mom.

    @Sandra — I think this may be your first comment here and perhaps you are a newcomer? We’ve had some pretty lusty debates on this blog so I think you will see that dissension is encouraged, occasionally celebrated. I hope you’ll come back often and see for yourself! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  • Mark

    @Amy, so when do I hand over the keys to you? : )

    @Michelle — this is a wonderful commentary and strikes upon deep, important topics. You have basically offered your own blog post here and I am so very grateful and humbled by the thought and care you put into this comment. Thank you so very much!

  • Margaret

    Wonderful comment on friendship. You can’t blame yourself though; the internet is providing a place for so many people to make contacts that they never would have known about otherwise. You probably provided real friendship, even though you didn’t know all details about her life. Good for you – you have a good heart.

    I just have to add, because I’m a grammar nitpicker; that you “could have, and should have” known. Not “of”. 🙂 common mistake, getting more common.

  • This is such a touching post and I just need to say it’s ok that you didn’t know. It’s ok for us to know one another in as much as we choose to share. I can think of many friends, in person or otherwise, who choose to share information as they feel ready to. Although I am a very forthcoming personality, I get why others would choose not to share aspects of themselves.
    But I do thank you for sharing this very amazing perspective of friendship. Your thoughts have made a huge impact!

  • @Mark,
    I’m sorry to be responding so late to this one, but it’s a fabulous point you raised. I immediately reached out to Jenn when she wrote that story, asking her to write a post for me. Not because we’ve been tweet-mates for a while, and not because she suffers from cystic fibrosis. Nope, I reached out to her because she’s an awesome writer. I loved the tone of her voice.

    Jenn doesn’t write a lot in public and the comments she writes, although insightful, don’t showcase what a great writer she is.

    That’s sometimes another thing that goes unnoticed on the social web. Just how talented some of our “online” friends really, really are.

  • Mark

    @Margaret — Yes, I made that change in the copy. Thank you for catching the error. And thanks for adding your perspective today!

    @Jennifer — I appreciate your support. The other factor here is sheer volume. I have something like 16,000 people following me on Twitter and who knows how many hundreds also connect through the blog? I try to make a sincere effort to connect with those who want to connect with me but I recently wrote about the challenges with that as i also have to balance a work and family life. Thanks for stopping by today.

    @Jon — That was a great call on your part. I didn’t mention the interesting process Jenn and I went through to write the blog post together. We did it in real-time over Google docs. We literally were watching each other write the response to each other as we were typing on the keyboard. It was an interesting and efficient method for collaborating on a blog post! Thanks Jon.

  • Sitting here in “good old Germany” your posting impressed me. It got me thinking, as I do encounter the same problems. There are quite some people (not called friends, but contacts, as I traditionally do not call a lot people friends), I talk a lot online, but do not know anything about them. I did not call, or skype them. what, after thinking a little bit, is quite sad. I really do not know them, what dark light does this shed on our oh so celebrated social component in social media?

    we talk aboud leads, conversion rates, and so on… I feel like a dog on the marketing-leash sometimes…

    blogging on social media myself I think, I will think some more on this topic and, if you would allow, naming you as inspiration, i would like to post my own thoughts on this on my blog.

    greetings from hamburg, germany
    sven doering

  • Sven and Mark and anyone else that is sad…snap out of it! Any of us that need to reach guys like you feel we can so it’s all good. How great is the vibe in a busy cafe or open market? Short chats, pleasant greetings, and everyone going about their busy day. Those occassional breaks, smiles and encouraging words or even vigorous but brief debates are invaluable and social media brings that back on both a local and global scale. The world is getting smaller and I love it. I care about many charities and people in need but I can’t help them all. I do try to make myself accessible though and help where I can. So snap out of the sadness cause you’re bumming me out and the world needs guys like you two to enjoy your coffee, cafes and private time too. We don’t have to be BFF just being friendly is cool.

    I am just trying to lighten this up a little. I totally understand all the points made in the many comments. What a great cafe this {grow} community is eh? I’ll have another cup now and just enjoy people watching for a while longer…

  • Mark

    @Sven — I love this perspective and am glad you took the time to provide your thoughts. I would be honored to be mentioned in your blog and please post the link to the comunity when you publish! Thanks!

    @Billy — Perfect comment. What can I say? You’re the man!

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  • Hi Mark,

    Once again a very thought provoking post. I am also connected with Jenn on social media, and if I hadn’t read your post here, I would have no idea about the things she goes through on a daily basis. Wow!

    Sometimes, especially when we have recurring interactions with people online, we come to take it for granted that we know them. That the small sliver of 140 character blips they are sharing with us is the whole of their daily lives. I’ve been surprised several times, when I’ve taken some time to talk to some of my online buddies, by all of the joys and pains that they are quietly experiencing on a daily basis. Joys and pains that they are not sharing with the world online.

    I think that people have different philosophies about how much to share with online friends. Some of us are very open, some of us are very private and tend to use the social web as a way to share cool things we find with people who have common interests.

    I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way to participate in online communities, but I really commend your goal to *truly* connect with yours. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially with the number of people you interact with. I have to say that you do a damn good job, and are very engaging… so go easy on yourself, okay?

  • Hello friend Elyse! And likewise for you, I just learned that you are so very close to having your baby! Congratulations!

    I would also like to agree with Elyse that Mark does a great job of connecting with people here.

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  • Love this. I’ve been thinking about this lately from another perspective – that people for get that social media is *people* not technology. That’s where the disconnect is. People hide behind their avatars and do and say things they wouldn’t in person. And marketers look at those of us who use social media as some special group. We’re not – we’re just real people using these tools to communicate and share.

    Thanks for sharing the story.

  • Wow…this is a pretty sober post and I have to say that I feel a strong sense of irony as I am typing this comment.

    What you’ve posted here is something that I’ve struggled with for a good while. I have to wonder if my use of social media is contributing anything meaningful to the public forums that I am on, or if I am just adding to the white noise of posts that are part of “the conversation.”

    You’re totally right, though. “Friend” has been cheapened and meaningful dialog, at least meaningful dialog over the web has been reduced to 160 character status updates.

    God Mark, you’ve hit it on this one. However, I think that social media has made face-to-face interactions all the more meaningful. What you did for the young lady, telling her to call you, was golden–literally. You gave her something that had a lot of value to it in an age where things have become cheap.

    When I read this, I thought, “Wow…it seems like even our conversation is matching this ‘microwave’ instant-gratification mentality.” We can say whatever we want, how we want, when we want to say it.

    I do want to say that this was a very…convicting post and that you nailed it. Thanks for the insight Mark.

  • This was a great post that gave me a lot to think about (it will probably spawn a whole post of its own on my end) for one simple reason…

    I’m a disabled person…but I don’t look like it or act like, and I rarely talk about it.

    So what does this mean for all the social media relationships I’ve cultivated?

    Are they based on a big lie?

    The disability is a huge part of who I am and a big explanation for why folks might not meet me IRL. (When I spoke at the Optimization Summit in Dallas a few weeks ago, other than presenting both days, I was pretty much confined to my room. Most of the other speakers didn’t even know I was there.)

    So should this be a part of my social conversations? And what is the value of the conversations I have if I choose to exclude it?

    Basically, how transparent should my “transparency” be?

    I thought I knew the answer to these questions, but I’m not so sure anymore.

    So yes, I agree, it is a great idea for people to reach out and give of themselves to others. But maybe it’s just as important for those of us on the other end to offer up something in return.

  • Figures. I’m always a day late and a dollar short. I owe a thanks to @mjayliebs for sending a link to this post.

    @mark – I’m a lurking fan. 🙂 This post is a perfect example of what I’ve seen from you repeatedly – you reach through the screen and really engage with people. No apologies needed. Excellent.

    @Billy – Such a natural gift for storytelling! Love it! I think you’re dead on. We can’t all be BFFs. Twitter is a front porch on the 4th of July. You sit, sip your tea and say hi to those that pass by. Some stop and chat at the fence. Some come up and have some tea. There is a bit of serendipity about who passes by and who ends up on the front porch. It’s all good.

    @Jenn. I love this “I’m happy Mark got to know me as an outspoken feminist before he knew me as a sick person.” Sometimes, our “stuff” doesn’t define us, no matter how big a part of our life it is. Hats off to you. You’ll be in my thoughts.

    Thanks, Mark, for a great conversation!

    P.S. For those editors out there – let me just say my apologies right now.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Elyse — You’re having a baby? So very happy for you!

    I like this notion that we can make the social web whatever we want. That’s important. Certainly there is no pressure for disclosure, but I do enjoy getting to know people and frankly I have more opportunities on the social web than in real life! Thank you dear!!

    @Jennifer — That is SUCH an important point! Every person behind those avatars has an incredible story to tell. Every one deserves respect and compassion and it is to easy to bring out the snark machine. Thanks for this great comment!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Aaron — Sounds like this had quite an emotional impact on you. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment and say so. Look forward to meeting you soon since you live so nearby!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Jen — Now you are going to make ME cry. Look I have a reputation as a baddass right so no fair with this stuff : )

    Gosh, this is one of the most amazing comments in the history of {grow} and my friend, I think you have already written the post! I am blown away by the issues you are raising here.

    @Brenda — Delighted you are no longer lurking. Many thanks for stepping up and contributing today!

  • @jenn and @mark — Thanks for the baby congrats! Due date was yesterday, so any day now. 😉

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  • The most important thing you should know about me is that I am left-handed. You’d be surprised at how lefties identify themselves with this trait. Right-handed bias is all everywhere and we have to adapt. Southpaws are generally very adaptable (and accident-proned). We are also typically creative because we are right-brained. But I am one of the oddballs because I am more of numbers-type rather than artsy. I think it’s an advantage because I’m forced to use both sides of my brain 🙂

    Seriously, though, I identify myself first and foremost as a husband and father. I have the best wife and two beautiful kids. I am very, very curious and always asking “why”. I am also very competitive which is why I am currently addicted to running.

    There is definitely a fine line between connecting with people and over-disclosure (i.e. TMI). One thing that everybody can relate to is suffering. It is part of the human condition. Who knows, you may just be helping someone by sharing your suffering and how it affects you.

  • @Mike, I’m a left-hander too. Know exactly what you mean!

  • This is why I immediately gravitated to you from the moment we ‘met’.

    You are not only magnetic, and charismatic and fantastic, you are thoughtful, thought-provoking and a great listener.

    From the first time we spoke, I’ve been raving about how you really listen…it’s not only an exceptional quality in a man, it’s more so, in the realm of social media.

    When everyone talks…you, my friend, are out there trying to listen and learn. It’s part of what makes you such a great teacher and sets you apart from the masses.

    I remember calling up my husband and telling him all about you. About your son, a musician, about how you cared to know what I think in regards to artists and branding and social media.

    I had been trying to get pregnant for 7 years, you and I met as soon as I became gleefully pregnant. Months later, I suffered a terrible miscarriage and when I disappeared online, you emailed me to check in on me. I was feeling so blue…you lifted me up by reaching out.

    The fact that you so humbly reveal that you didn’t know about Jenn’s personal challenges is simply another way of demonstrating to everyone how deeply connected and caring you are about the people in your community.

    You can’t possibly know what’s going on with all of us all the time, but when you do find out…you are there to support. That’s a TRUE FRIEND in every sense of the word.

    I’m so glad that you have such a phenomenal reach and your site continues to GROW – because the world needs more people like you Mark!!

  • P.S. @Mike Campbell – you cracked me up!

  • Being left handed used to be considered some kind of curse. I like being left handed and consider it an advantage. Two of my three kids (now grown) are southpaws too. I have had to learn to live with the accident prone thing though so maybe there is something to the curse aferall. All lefties are part of a special and very secretive society that will one day rule the world and correct all the industrial design mistakes that cause us so much harm.

  • Fabulous post. So much of what we put online via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc just seems to go into a black hole sometimes. So refreshing to find someone looking for more.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Mike + @Jon — I have told you so many times. No left-handers allowed here. Now go away.

    Mike, the comment you make about suffering brings to mind one of my favorite books, “Man’s Search for Meaning” and how men found a way to live even through concentration camps. Don’t mean to bring the room down, but you make a great point about how we can help sometimes by sharing our suffering. I am so glad you are part of this community, despite the left-handed thing.

  • @Jon – thank you for the lovely compliment about my writing. I look forward to finalizing my post for you! It is a pleasure knowing you.

    @Billy – I don’t know what to say other than I agree. I understand why people feel bad when they find out I’m sick, but they don’t need to. I too can enjoy the wave from a front porch, or small talk at a coffee shop.

    @Jen K – Privacy has been a big issue for me. I wouldn’t have to tell anyone anything if it weren’t for the cough, which has increased as I’ve gotten older, so now I have to tell people all the time. I don’t love it. I have also had to spend more time thinking about having CF in the past few weeks than I have in years, and that has been strange for me. So, I hear you on the transparency issue. I honestly wrote the original post because I thought it might help someone else, and my CF center is trying to figure out how I could help transitioning adults with their career choices. I guess it worked!

    @Brenda – loved your comment, thanks for understanding about the “I am not my disease” piece.

    @Sugarluxe – I am so sorry for your loss. My prayers are with you. Thank you for sharing your story – as I learned from this post, it’s not always easy to share your story, but someone else always benefits when you do.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @sugar a.k.a. Chandra — You always humble me because I know a little about your story and what you have overcome and my gosh you are stronger, more visionary, multi-talented and determined than I will ever be. I sincerely appreciate your very kind words but it always surprises me when people compliment me like this. I don’t think I am really all that different. I think the real difference is that I don’t put up a shiny wall (usually) and allow people to see that I’m just a person. I think it is true that showing people the flaws makes you more beautiful, certainly more accessible and human. Look at the things people have said about themselves on here! I don’t see them as weak. THAT is REAL power isn’t it? So many bloggers try to fashion themselves as super-heroes. What the social web needs is more flaws. Hmmm. I think there is a blog post there.

    Thank you Chandra. It is always an honor to hear from you!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Billy — You know, I’m not sure I noticed you were left-handed. I may have to re-think the friendship.

    @Larry — Thanks!!

    @Jenn — I think we all owe you a big THANK YOU for being so gracious and kind to serve as the flag bearer for this commentary! I’m sure you didn’t expect your week to go like this! : )

  • @Jenn – I know I already tweeted this…but it must be said everywhere!! You have inspired me. I admire your sweetness and sense of humor despite the totally unfair cards you’ve been dealt. You are so charming and a beautiful soul. Thank you VERY much for you kind words and prayers. xoxoxo

    @Mark – stop making my eyes watery. I’m super mushy and you know it 🙂 But for real though…you are reMARKable!!! Thank you. THANK YOU!

  • Mark, you’re right (as always!). Social media is not “friendship”, it’s just the first overtures that can lead to friendship – perhaps, if one or both parties make the effort – glad we were able to Skype after connecting on Twitter must do so again soon 🙂 Brian

  • @Mark – nope I definitely never expected, well, any of this, but it’s worked out so well! Saw you went to a fundraiser for CF the other night – thank YOU.

    @Chandra – that is so nice of you to say! I’m so happy to have connected with you.

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  • Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the insight. I was especially impressed at the recognition that the word conversation is an overstatement for what’s actually happening. I feel like even interaction at times is taking it a step too far. Marketers want to use these words because they sell better.

    I just might take you up on your phone call, fair warning!


  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Cody — Be glad to have it. About a dozen people have taken me up on it so far! Lots of fun!

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  • We’ve gained breadth of interaction, and sacrificed depth. No question about it.

    Net gain or net loss? Today, I think loss. Ask again tomorrow.

  • Mark

    I’m trying to do both. See you after my therapy session. : )

  • this is so true, and said so eloquently…

    love the comments too, esp “he word conversation is an overstatement for what’s actually happening”

    I look forward to getting to truly KNOW you and some other twellows and fb’ers much better.

    thanks for your post, marking it for future reference 🙂

  • Reza Malayeri

    Mark, after our conversation yesterday, and me finally having time to read this post, my view on “social-web friendships” has completely changed. By the end of the post, tears were streaming from my eyes. A life of superficiality is not one worth living in my eyes. I’m so blessed to have made friends like you on Twitter, and even more blessed to actually form a meaningful bond with them beyond 140 characters. Thank you for your heartfelt honesty in this post. My perspective is completely changed.

  • Mark

    @Michelle — Thank you!

    @Reza — Powerful stuff. Thanks for expressing this!

  • Hi Mark,
    I’m a new friend of Reza, and found your blog when reading your write-up about the Twitter snobberati.

    My daytime job is being a nurse psychotherapist. I find it a rare privilege and honor to be a part of the lives of others. So many times, they comment about aspects of Social Media, and how aware they are of the impact of these platforms on their lives. But I agree with you that many are struggling with relationship issues with as much gravity as before the advent of these tools, if not more. Perhaps some of the struggle is not understanding that most people are not “wired” to care about so many followers called “friends”. Most of us can barely handle five or six close friends, let alone 100 or 200. There can be a deep sense of inadequacy when people allow themselves to be convinced that the number of followers they have has anything to do with their ability to carry and cultivate real relationships.

    I think one of the highest kinds of relationships is that of a true friendship, and it is entirely OK to count the number of real friends you have on your fingers. I think of Twitter as a way to touch people, but I don’t hold high expectations that I can give the kind of true care to people that F2F contact can.

    I hope people don’t lose their ability to show true hospitality and kindness while hiding behind 140 characters. Or in my case, sometimes my 140 characters need only include, “Let’s get together soon” followed by my phone number, so they know I mean it.

    Perhaps if more of Social Media was about asking questions and getting people to answer, there would be more dialog, conversation, and community. I agree with you that commenting on blogs can be simply commenting, not true conversations. Perhaps if we were more inquisitive, people would divulge more. Then again, maybe that’s why I’m a therapist. I’m curious about what makes you tick, cry, and jump for joy, or try harder.

    But if everyone did that, you’d put me out of job. And then, I would be so happy. We’d be the kind of friends that put therapists out of work. Fantastic!

  • Mark

    @Imei — Thanks for this spirited comment. Well said!

  • Another great post Mark! I love the fact that I learn as much (or maybe more) from the comments, as much as from the original post.
    Do we all have to adopt the same approach you now advocate (due to a moment of personal epiphany)? The answer probably differs for each one of us (based on many personal situations both ‘real’ and ‘imagined’ :)).
    Billy, has commented with some great points…in fact I think if you put Billy’s rejoinder and your post together, it makes for a perfect read!

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    @Jacob — No, I never tell anybody what to do. I agree. It’s all about what works for you. Billy is such a wise man. He blogs occasionally at so check him out there too. Thanks for your comment!

  • Thanks for the kind words Jacob and Mark. Mark always gets things started and the comments section takes on a life of its own here at {grow}. Mark makes everyone welcome. Cool people, cool place. If I have any wisdom, it’s from being OLD and making many mistakes multiple times. Nice to meet you Jacob!

  • @Billy, Hi Billy, yes Mark is doing a great job here at {grow}. I’ve only recently been introduced to Mark (thanks to Mitch Joel’s article for setting that up) and he’s already influenced what I write about…
    Hope to continue learning from Mark and his community.

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  • I’m a little late to the comments, but was directed to this site by a twitter buddy of mine.

    Love the theme here. It resonates with what I’ve been feeling. As a full-time writer so much of my life is online. I often wonder how real it is.

    But knowing this is my life, I need to make it real. To dig past the tweets and comments and engage in meaningful discussion.

    Thanks 😉

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  • @markwschaefer – did you connect via phone? Your story’s left me hanging!

    Appreciate your thoughts (and your tweet today, it brought the post to my attention even if late)…but don’t be too hard on yourself. Perhaps it’s because I live in Austin, and we’re almost all friendly here, but there are lots of conversations that happen IRL where happy exchanges happen, but no “real” sharing (i.e., personal info about family, health, etc.) takes place. That doesn’t mean the exchanges have no value. But you’re right, it does mean that we run the risk of missing chances to develop deeper ties.

    FWIW, I have some folks in my life from my blog activity who I’ve never met IRL, but who do know some intimate details about family, etc. We took our chat off the blogspace into email; their care and engagement are precious gifts, and I hope someday we can actually meet.

    I suspect Twitter, blogging, and other tools are more like the chat that happens at a conference, or in the grocery store…good, and good for us, but a gateway for friendships that we may or may not choose to develop.

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  • I love these wake up calls. I know I’m guilty of this as well. And I tell my clients not to fall into this trap, and yet I do it all the time. One of my favorite moments this year was when @shonali:twitter picked up the phone and called me out of the blue. Made my day that day. I want to do those things as well. I want to connect with my online friends in very real ways. I do value them, but I need to let them know that. Thanks, for this Mark. this is one of those posts I should probably print out and hang on a wall and give to my clients.

  • Lovely post. It’s true – how much do we really know about each other? It’s interesting how this topic keeps recurring. Yesterday, I was reading a post about person and persona and how those two things work in an online world. The truth is that we all have the “persona” we share with our online community. Getting to know the person behind that persona takes effort and a willingness to be vulnerable.

  • It’s stories like this that give me pause to reevaluate the ways in which I use social media on a daily basis. We’ve  most certainly sacrificed depth of relationship for breadth.  A shallow network serves little practical purpose beyond giving the appearance of connectedness.  Our online relationships should have importance well beyond the blog comments, tweets and Facebook updates – and not just in ways that benefit our professional well-being.  

    I’m reminded of @AmberCadabra:twitter ‘s excellent prompt a few months ago to write a post about what you wish more people knew about you.  It was my most difficult post to write this year – and the most powerful in ways you can barely fathom. 

  • Anonymous

    As a newcomer to social media and in trying to create/join online communities I will always remember this post. Thank you for sharing this with your readers. 

  • Hey Mark,

    I feel you. We know nobody, but still we have friends on Facebook and followers on twitter that will @ us anytime about anything. What you experienced regarding Jenn is more common than we all think it is, but thats just the way it is.  We often forget about the real connections in life, but it is silly to blame on social media, technology, or whatever…(not saying you did it!).  I really thought about calling you like you mentioned on your post, but couldn’t find the # so decided to write.
    Anyway, my point is that the depth of our connections via Social Media will give us the sense of ownership, intimacy, that today we are lacking. However I must add that Social Media is so good, opens so many doors, feeds us with so many knowledge…is up to us to make the right usage of it.  I run a Health Social Network start up that rather than make lots of connections wants to make a few right connections, because by the end of the day people that you trust will help you more than people that you think you trust (acquaintances). 
    Keep up with the amazing work and I guess I see you around here again.
    Caio Peluffo

  • Couldn’t agree with you more, Mark. I’ve started doing cold calls to some of my followers recently, just to put a voice to a Twitter feed, and it’s been a wonderful experiment with exponential results. The importance of connecting offline cannot be overestimated, especially in this day and age.

  • Anonymous

    @9ae97231316ba7ced06d7eec5b0c259d:disqus you are indeed a gifted and thoughtful writer.  This was a beautiful post.  I completely agree that we “know” people differently here in the social media world.  It is an odd sociological phenomenon because we really do share our hearts and souls to some level with these many people that we have never met but with whom we have created a real bond.  And, yet, we don’t “know” them in the conventional way that sociologists define friendship.  I find this fascinating.  I am one who really loves to listen to others and really get to know them.  Social media has gifted me with many wonderful friends.  I ache to know them better but, in a strange way, if you pursue your social media friends further than the “limits” that are “set” by social media standards, it can seem weird…maybe pushy…I can’t put my finger on it or give it a word that describes it exactly.  I guess, though, that the flip side to this is that the logistics of getting to know all of your social media friends deeply is just not realistic.  Your compassion and warmth are moving.  Thank you for sharing such a touching post, Mark.

    First off, a Stearns and Foster mattress is one of the best bed mattresses on the market today. However, with the company offering over 1,200 mattress sets it’s virtually impossible to rate one against another and decide if it is good value for money. So, when shopping, look at the constituents of the mattress and know exactly what you’re paying for.

  • Even though this post is 2 years old it’s even more relevant now. Gave me goosebumps. Kudos to you for your public self-examination…

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