Online vs. Offline Relationships: Build Them Before You Need Them

By: Guest | June 26, 2012 | 

This week our guest posts focus on adapting the traditional to the new. The week will culminate on Thursday with a webinar on How to Socialize Your Newsroom.

Today: Relationships by Pat Rhoads.

Last month Gini Dietrich asked, “Is Facebook making us more lonely?”

Her post was based on a study in The Atlantic, concluding that indeed people seem to be more lonely in the age of social media.

The theory is that greater numbers of connections had not led to more meaningful ones. Gini’s reaction is she was torn about how she felt.

But I was not torn.

Although the study had  a number of valid observations, I disagree it is making us more lonely. The social media tools aren’t to blame; how we use them is the culprit.

I lost my wife Aimee in a boating accident a week before Christmas this past year. In the immediate aftermath of this terrible loss – not  not only to me but also to our then three-year old daughter, Aimee’s family, loved ones, and friends – I turned to social media.

Other than the closest family and friends whom I called, I made the announcement of Aimee’s death via Facebook the day after the accident. That same day, I started a blog titled Missing Aimee, through which I’ve shared my grief process. As word began to spread through various social media outlets, much needed support came pouring in.

Facebook clearly was not contributing to loneliness – it was facilitating the opposite. Social media in general, were saving my life. All those connections I’d made were coming through for me.

The reason those connections were so valuable was because of the effort I’d made in the years prior to that tragic day, when I had built and maintained real relationships with the people I was connected to via social media.

In other words:

I treat my online relationships the same way I treat my offline relationships. I treat them like they’re important to me, because they are.

So when the proverbial stuff hit the fan in my life, a lot of those ‘connections’ were real friends. The love, support, and help I needed were there because those people genuinely cared about me.

In their tough times, I had been there for them. I had invested time in those relationships. Many of these connections were more than just a number of “friends” or “followers” in a social media profile. They were real, in the most important sense of the word.

Before the advent of social media, we all knew popular people who had lots of friends. But most of those friendships were pretty shallow and didn’t mean much in the long run. Today is no different. It’s just virtual and more global than ever.

There are many articles debating the quality of online vs. offline relationships.

People, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t make a difference. Yes, I believe it’s important to get to know people “in real life” and spend face time with them, but you can have a real friendship with someone without it.

Where the rubber really meets the road, what truly determines the quality of the relationships in your life, online or off, is the time you invest in them.

Pat Rhoads is the social media specialist for AdoptUSKids, a position he’s held for a little more than a year and a half. More importantly, he’s the father of an amazing four-year-old daughter. In addition to playing with her and wasting hours a day on Twitter, Pat also enjoys the outdoors, photography, and playing both the guitar and golf very badly (though not at the same time). You can follow him on Twitter @patmrhoads. He blogs at Missing Aimee



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59 responses to “Online vs. Offline Relationships: Build Them Before You Need Them”

  1. KenMueller says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, and I agree with what you’re saying. I did much the same along the way in terms of building meaningful relationships online, without even knowing that’s what i was doing. I guess I just didn’t “know any better”, so for me, I never separated the two, and made what i believe is a false dichotomy. 
    And I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the years of how that has truly enriched my life, both with people whom I’ve never met, and even with those with whom I started a friendship online and later was able to take it offline. 
    I can’t even begin to say how important some of those people are to me. 

    • patmrhoads says:

       @KenMueller I love how you say you built those relationships because you just  ‘didn’t know any better’. I was exactly the same way. I never anticipated I’d ‘need’ those relationships, I just treated people well, like PEOPLE, and relationships were formed. I think too many social media users see others as followers or fans, and not as people. And I think those poor folks are truly missing out on the richness social media can bring.
      Thanks for sharing your views!

  2. NancyD68 says:

    This is something that has been vital to me. I started out blogging as a person who wanted to improve her writing. My friends that I have made through social media channels have given me emotional support when I lost my home and some even got together and sent me a check to help make a dent in what I owed. These friendships are not just online, they are as real as they get and I don’t know where I would be without them

    • patmrhoads says:

       @NancyD68 Well said! I like how you referred to your online ‘friends’ instead of followers – that’s the critical difference!

  3. NickWAllen says:

    @souterrain thanks for the RT!

  4. kmsandrbs says:

    Two stories that corroborate what you share. I follow USSMariner (a blog about the Seattle Mariners). One of the authors was up for an online contest worth $10,000. It was essentially a popularity contest (based on votes). They lead for the majority of the time but lost in the end. The readers of the blog ended up donating almost $9000 for a scholarship for the author:
    I also follow Fatwallet, a deal-sharing website. In the finance forum are quite a few regulars and lots of visitors. One member posted a story seeking advice regarding a stray cat he ran over. The cat needed surgery, and the individual felt responsible, but also did not want to be on the hook for taking care of a stray cat. Forum members pitched in over $1300 to pay for surgery and care, prompting the individual to decide to keep the cat (sadly, the cat did not survive surgery):
    Yes, we hear stories of people who meet sociopaths and stalkers online, but many of us have connected with communities that will stand up for each other and pitch in – even for someone they have never met “in real life.”

    • patmrhoads says:

       @kmsandrbs Thanks for sharing, Robert. These are just two of what I”m sure are countless examples of people coming through for others, facilitated by social media.

  5. ginidietrich says:

    @patmrhoads It’s a huge pleasure having you! We’re big, big fans of yours!

  6. haluhalo says:

    @ctrichmond I completely agree w/ your brother-in-law! Sending hugs to your entire family.

    • ctrichmond says:

      @haluhalo Aw, thank you! It has been a rough six months but I think (I hope) things are getting a bit better.

  7. AshleyLaurel says:

    Truth: RT @vanhoosear: Online vs. Offline Relationships: Build Them Before You Need Them via @ginidietrich

  8. I agree with you completely, Pat. I’ve forged several lasting friendships through online forums, which has gradually evolved into Facebook and Twitter friendships as platforms come and go. I’ve met some of these online friends in person after talking to them for a few years online, and it was completely natural. I see no difference between online and offline relationships, but I have had a lot of people express disbelief that I feel that way.

    • patmrhoads says:

       @annedreshfield It does seem like some people keep them separate in their minds, but I really feel like those people miss out on some incredibly enriching relationships that way. I have very dear friends now that would never have been part of my life if I had treated my online relationships with a more shallow approach. 
      Anyway, thanks so much for reading and commenting on the post.

      • AdamBritten says:

         @patmrhoads  @annedreshfield Agreed with both of you. Add me to the list of people who has developed relationships that I really value (and have added greatly to my personal and professional life) through connections I made online.

  9. patmrhoads says:

    @delwilliams Thanks for sharing my guest post! 🙂 Have a great week.

  10. patmrhoads says:

    @hollygemer Thanks so much for sharing my guest post on Spin Sucks! 🙂 Hope your week is a good one.

  11. EmilyThousand says:

    This is a really great post and right on the money, Pat – you are an inspiration!

  12. BrendaLeeFree says:

    @kmueller62 @patmrhoads Thanks for sharing – great story and I agree – Social media has been an awesome way to make real friendships

  13. AdamSinger says:

    @LouHoffman @ginidietrich you guys are channeling your inner @jowyang …good advice in 2008, still smart today (

  14. patmrhoads says:

    @aileenabella Thanks for sharing my guest post on @SpinSucks!

  15. Lisa Gerber says:

    Hi Pat, As you know, this is a story that has moved me deeply. I think about you and your daughter a lot. I feel like any comparison I’d make in my laugh pales, but I have to say, my time on social networks has seriously enriched my life. I have NO patience for people who say they don’t have time for Facebook or have better things to do. 
    I stay in touch with old friends and family and nieces and nephews and make new friends, and meet new people. As you say – it’s all in how you use the tools. It’s not the tool itself. (so don’t be the tool. LOL!)
    Thanks for sharing your story here. 

  16. patmrhoads says:

    @topazsocial Thanks so much for sharing my guest post!

  17. patmrhoads says:

    @iarlabyrne Thanks so much for sharing my Spin Sucks guest post!

  18. John_Murphy says:

    Thanks, Pat. This is probably the most eloquent and authentic explanation of what the online relationship should be. Really inspiring±

  19. patmrhoads says:

    @jmicoaching Thank you for sharing my guest post from Spin Sucks!

  20. Texrat says:

    The most meaningful relationships I have now (outside of family and a few old friends) started as pure online friendships, and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to get together several times with many of them in person through conferences.  I would have never had these friends, mostly overseas, without the online experience first.

  21. patmrhoads says:

    @shonali Thank you Shonali, and thanks for sharing it with your followers.

  22. ginidietrich says:

    You know how much we love you and your story, Pat.
    I do a lot of speaking and it’s always funny to me when someone (or groups of people) argue with me about building friendships online. They don’t think it can be done. Of course, they’re also always the one who don’t use the web for social interaction so I just smile and nod.
    Thank you for showing a different perspective on how online relationships can produce really good friends.

    • patmrhoads says:

       @ginidietrich Thanks. I too have to remember not to let my jaw drop open when I hear people say that there’s no real value in social media. I figure they’re the same people who back in the 90’s said the internet was a passing fad that had no real business use.

  23. patmrhoads says:

    @shakirahdawud @jwongjk Thanks for sharing my guest post on Spin Suck about online vs offline relationships. I truly appreciate it!

  24. patmrhoads says:

    @thesocialsuite @marismith Thanks so much for sharing this post with your followers. I’m very grateful.

  25. patmrhoads says:

    @Rhondeloo Hey Rhonda, thank you so much for sharing this!

  26. AnitaKrie says:

    @arkarthick @SpinSucks Thank you so much for the RT! Happy weekend to you 🙂

  27. farrahhcollins says:

    You guys should check out , it’s pretty awesome.

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