Twitter is a community in which it is eternally summer. We can sit online and chat over the back fence of the Internet for hours, even though our neighbors may be a world away.
Recently I had the chance to sit down with five women who chat everyday about the ins and outs of their lives over this virtual back fence. When Holly Pavlika, president of Momentum, contacted me to tell me about her meet up with her best friends, all of whom she met online and none of which she had actually ever sat in the same room with, I was naturally intrigued.
Not to long ago, I met up with the group of five women. After a few photos and a few introductions, they all gathered on a white leather couch in the back of a midtown restaurant to chat about the life they share together online.
They all met when Ms. Pavlika started the Twitter hashtag #MILFF (moms I like to follow Friday) two years ago. The hashtag started as a way for Ms. Pavlika to give shout outs to her favorite mom bloggers and though it started small, the hashtag has become quite popular. All the women now sitting on the couch met while using the hashtag and the rest, as they say, is history. And truly this may be history. As social media shapes our lives more and more, I wonder how many people are meeting their closest friends online? When our now famous social media networks were created, is this what their creators expected?
I had the pleasure of connecting with Rachael Horwitz, a spokesperson for Twitter. As she sees it:
Twitter brings people closer to things they care about the most -- major events, their favorite athletes, entertainers, their elected officials and much more. And sometimes Twitter brings us closer to each other particularly around shared interests. We know that Twitter connects individuals to communities outside their geographic locations. People discover these communities on Twitter via many features enabled by the product -- from retweets to hashtags. Hashtags in particular allow users to discover a conversation they care about, give them a way to participate in it and sometimes even form lasting connections.
These women have certainly created a lasting connection. For example, Ms. Pavlika and Mara Shapiro of Momfaze feel they would be best friends if they lived next door to each other and their teen daughters would be as well. However, without Twitter they never would have met. They talk everyday online, sharing the best moments and the hard times together.
Karina Tano, mom and wife who's living it up in the suburbs and blogging about it at Stranded in the Burbs , feels she has much more in common with the women sitting on the couch than she does with her neighbors back home.
Likewise, Kate Semp of Smotherly Love has found the group to be a way to connect with like minded moms that she may not find as easily in her home community.
And when Ann, founder of Living Through the Tears, lost her husband suddenly last year to an acute medical problem, these four other women women rallied round her. They organized a local catering service to deliver food and Ann says she felt a great deal of support from her friends on Twitter. In fact her family was shocked that "Twitter people" did so much, much more than the people in her "real" life. Ann now writes her blog about creating an independent life after her husband's death and has become much more involved in social media thanks to the relationship she has with the women sitting next to her.
In the past being present for celebrations and hugs were hallmark signs of close female relationships, but those days seem to have passed for many women. Instead, as women spend more time online they are finding ladies that share their values and sense of humor far beyond the office, the carpool line, little league practice or church. These traditionally are the places that women have found their friends, but when we take away these structures, it appears that women are finding relationships based on something else. The women on this couch are not friends of convenience, they are friends who have based their friendship in common interests and a genuine sense of getting along well. The group is diverse. The five women come from different backgrounds professionally and personally. They don't share religion as a common thread or politics. They aren't the same age and their kids range from tots to teens.
When social media was first gaining momentum many felt that the relationships created online would never replace the face to face contact we have with our "real" friends, but is this true? Are our virtual lives and our real lives now equal in quality and importance? Ted Rubin, chief social media marketer at Collective Bias and the most followed Chief Marketing Officer on Twitter, had this to say about the phenomenon of building meaningful relationships online:
"Social media is a facilitator of relationships, but it is not the relationship itself."
You have to give to get; it's so simple in concept yet not always easy to wrap your arms around when online since it is not as simple as a favor, a hug or a handshake... I believe everything we do in our personal lives and business revolves around relationship now more than ever. With effort, an online relationship may begin from the request of a Facebook friend or following someone on Twitter; but make no mistake -- that initial request or follow will never create the relationship. Trust is built upon interaction and engagement... when you're true to your word, authentic, and genuine. I use Twitter as a tool to not only let people know what I am thinking, and to engage them about ideas, but much more importantly for me, I use Twitter to meet new people, get to know them, and build a relationship that very often extends into the face-to-face world.
In the past when we visualized the 21st century we pictured flying cars and space food. We didn't imagine meeting people online. However, here we are in 2012 without space food or flying cars, but instead with a cultural infatuation with social media and being online. What all this connecting allows for is the very real possibility that somewhere out there is someone just like you, someone you may never have the chance to meet without the vast tool of the Internet. Hop on Twitter and find out. You may just find a new best friend or maybe four.