Aristotle spoke about it as a moral good worth pursuing in itself in his Nicomachean Ethics; Cicero dedicated a whole book to it (De Amicitia); Plotinus deemed fit to extend it even to his slaves, whom he emancipated; Ralph Waldo Emerson declared it ‘the masterpiece of Nature’; and ever since every sane thinker has advocated it as one of the joys of our existence. I am referring of course to friendship, which in our time and age has proven its resilience by becoming beyond its ethical excellence the true engine behind the social media revolution we are living.
The social networks – such as Facebook – were indeed conceived precisely as that: networks of friends, even if it s true that a Facebook friend is indeed very different from a friend in the pre-digital sense of the word. Be it as it may, every invitation to friendship in Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere is an open door for a casual, professional or any other ideally mutually-beneficial contact to develop into a fully fledged friendship in which the good things of life can be shared and enjoyed together with one or many soulmates. And networking in the social media makes it possible even for those in isolated areas or mobility-challenged to build a web of digital contacts that can one day be met in the flesh and from which a number of true friendships can – sometimes spontaneously, others with patience and effort – emerge and develop. It is no exaggeration to state that even if it was just for bringing this wonderful and life-affirming possibility within the reach of so many, the social media would merit a golden place in the History books: for can anything compare to the happiness that true companionship brings to our hearts?
The visionary towering figure of Spanish literature Miguel de Cervantes addressed us all when he affirmed: ‘Tell me what company thou keepst, and I’ll tell you what thou art’. And that is as true today in our online universe as it was 400 years ago when he first uttered those words. Granted, the help of technology has made it easier than ever to find those who share interests with us by keywords, and birds of a feather have never flocked together more than in Facebook: where place of birth, religious affiliation, musical taste, relationship status, sport and game preferences and many others are on display to aid in this process. Add to the mix the fact that the blue social network giant gently reminds us of our friends’ birthdays and one is persuaded to believe that together with the telephone it is perhaps one of the greatest friendship technologies ever invented.
It would be shortsighted, however, to ignore the tremendous friendship potential of the chirping microblog Twitter. In Twitter we are opened to a new world of contacts not so easy to track down and classify by shared interests (although hashtags, keywords and some apps to that effect do help) and are also offered the opportunity to reach many (even celebrities!) who in all likelihood would not answer our requests were these to be carried out through any other means (like email, snail mail or the telephone). We all need friends of a different political and cultural persuasion to ours and Twitter is one of the best ways to come across those. Opposites not only do attract but at times manage to jump all the opinionated barriers we build around ourselves and reach for the core of our shared human experience. And without a doubt exposing us to the thousands of opinions and views constantly being generated in the Twittosphere helps us understand what we value and why. Incidentally, it is also invaluable in telling the wheat from the chaff and making sectarians and bigots manifest well before we waste our time and attention trying to befriend those incapable of appreciating and/or debating other views than their own. Our hope remains that being exposed to others outside their necessarily reduced circle of prejudice will make them more tolerant and (yes!) friendly.
As we become more proficient in the use of the aforementioned and many other social media, we will develop a sixth sense that will guide us to those who are opened to the possibility of friendship as opposed to those merely intent in using us as a resource to be discarded when the need is no longer there. Coming back to Twitter for a moment, it will never cease to amaze me the amount of requests for information, retweets, answer to queries and other ‘favors’ one is blatantly asked (to make matters worse, often in rather poor manners) by those who have never bothered to build a relationship and who operate from a sense of entitlement that is inimical to friendship. It pays to know when we are being used as a Kleenex and when we are entering an exchange of ideas, resources and views from which better things can grow.
Finally, it is worth reminding everyone that if you want to make friends online a friendly picture is often a first great step to achieve this worthy goal. Please do yourself a favor and don’t turn your picture into yet another barrier for people to like you and befriend you! The fact is: the social media are fuelled by friendship and the universal desire to make more friends, build lasting relationships and share the good things of life with others. Writing this post is my modest invitation for you to reflect on this reality and to assess whether your personal brand has an aura of friendliness that acts as a magnet for potential friends. There are many people who would love to meet you, if only they knew more about you and you gave them the chance. A friendly personal brand is the best starting point. What are you waiting for?
Oscar Del Santo is a lecturer, consultant, key speaker, blogger and populariser of online reputation and inbound marketing in Spain. He has been extensively featured in the Spanish and Latin American media and is included in the ‘Top Social Media Influencers’ and ‘Best Marketing Tweeters in Spanish’ lists @OscarDS. He is the author of ‘Reputacion Online para Tod@s’ and the co-author of ‘Marketing de Atraccion 2.0’.