Virtual and Online Friendships: An Epiphany from The Sales Lion

by Marcus Sheridan

virtual relationships

The always elegant Gini Dietrich, hailing a taxi. ;-)

As I write this article I’m sitting in a hotel room on the 53rd floor, looking out across the city of Atlanta, and feeling quite pensive in this moment. I’m here to speak at the Optimization Summit 2011 put on by Marketing Sherpa (#SherpaLPO on twitter). I’ll be speaking tomorrow afternoon to a group of 200 or so people about SEO and content marketing, a pretty funny fact considering just over 2 years ago I honestly didn’t know what the definition of a ‘blog’ was. But if there is one thing life has taught me recently, it’s that anyone of us can undergo a complete career and life makeover if we but hold true to our passion, vision, and are willing to put in the work. Yesterday I was a pool guy. Today I’m flying around the country, speaking to people with 10 times my IQ. It’s all rather nuts and almost makes me laugh just writing this….

The Reality of Online and Virtual Friendships

But I just want to briefly touch upon a subject today that I think we’re all dealing with in one way or another, and I really hope my words here properly express my feelings on this matter.

Have you ever wondered if all these online relationships we have are actually real? Do you think it a bit odd that we have close ‘friends’ that we’ve never meet in person? And do you ever ask yourself if your online relationships really matter?

In the last year, I’ve built more online friendships than I ever imagined possible. Like many of you, I’ve spent hours reading other people’s content, sharing their stuff, connecting with emails, chatting on skype, and on and on and on. This may sound silly, but I’ve got more friends right now than I ever have in my life, and of course this all has to do with the power of the internet, and the fact that I’m in a community where the people work much harder on building up and promoting others than they do themselves. It’s a unique group, and every day I’m blown away by just how much people care about the success others.

All of this notwithstanding, I want to share with you a little story that had a profound impact on me last week, and answered the questions I posed above in a very definitive manner.

Looking for a Cab with Gini and JF in NYC

Last Wednesday night, after having gone out with the wonderful group from Livefyre to a great restaurant, I found myself walking the streets of NYC with Gini Dietrich and John Falchetto. For the previous two days, we three had spent quite a bit of time chatting, laughing, and picking on each other in person—something that was a first after having become pretty close friends, at least in the virtual sense, over the previous 5 months or so..

But now our time together was coming to a close. Gini and John had to catch flights the next morning to Chicago and France, and I would be staying through one more day for what would end up being a most fateful final keynote experience ;-)

For whatever reason, on this particular night, we couldn’t seem to find a cab to take us to our hotels. John and Gini were going to hop in one together to go further downtown, and I needed one to take me across the river to Queens. But despite the fact there were what seemed to be hundreds upon hundreds of taxis, every single one was either ‘off duty’ or already had passengers.

So we walked and walked…and laughed….and complained…and yelled at all the yellow cars…and then walked some more.

Finally, I noticed an available cab, called it, and told John and Gini to jump in. John and I quickly said our goodbyes and second later, Gini and I gave each other a big smile and hug, each wishing the other well…..and then they were off.

It’s Real

At the risk of sounding cheesy to many here (no picking allowed ;-) ), in that moment of saying goodbye to my two ‘virtual’ friends, I actually felt myself getting a little choked up. Honestly, this feeling was completely unexpected and it took me quite a bit by surprise. In fact, I can remember standing there and thinking, “My goodness, I really care about these people.”

It was also in that moment the reality of online relationships hit me. I came to understand that service to others, in all its forms, whether it be on a computer screen or in person, will forever be the tie that binds. And the relationships that we form through these acts of friendship and service can be as strong as any relationship we have in ‘real’ life.

This is what we all do each and every day folks. We invest in relationships (or at least we should be ;-) ), and it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of. And speaking of relationships, I want to close by asking readers to consider two acts of service for two of my/our online friends today:

1. Some of you, like Brad from Bigfeet Marketing, have asked me about the people I met at Blogworld. Well, my buddy Marlee Ward (who I had an absolute blast with in NY) wrote an amazing article about all the cool people she/we met there and it was so well done I had to share it with all of you(plus it’s wayyyy better than anything I could write). Full of photos and snippets on tons of people there, it will be worth a look, and I hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy it and share it as well.

2. Yesterday, a friend of the community, Frank Dickinson (@FrankDickinson)tweeted about his daughter who has been in the hospital all week and is in pain, unable to walk. He asked for our thoughts and prayers, which I hope we can all do, but if you would be so kind, I think it would be great if you would also consider dropping him a brief note of encouragement on the contact form of his website. As a parent of four myself, there is nothing worse or harder than watching one of your own suffer, and anything we can do to help Frank would be great.

Your Turn:

OK, it’s time we chat folks, and I hope if you have any thoughts,feelings, or questions about anything at all in this article, that you won’t hesitate to jump in below. Also, as to a specific question, what have you learned about building relationships online since you started blogging/networking? Do you feel like your ‘virtual’ relationships can be as strong as your normal, face to face relationships you have in everyday life? As always, I invite all readers to share their thoughts below. :-)

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