Why is social media a beneficial relationship building tool?

A brief look at how social media can be utilized as a valuable tool to build and maintain professional relationships.

The three part article series How to use technology to promote, brainstorm and share professional ideas discussed six specific online tools that could be utilized to glean programming ideas, stay connected to like-minded professionals, promote activities and collaborate with youth. From Facebook to Pinterest, there are many social networking platforms saturating the time people spend today on the World Wide Web. With that in mind, it raises an important question: are virtual social networks really valuable in maintaining professional relationships? Believe it or not, research says they are (when utilized properly, of course)!

In a professional setting, relationship-building helps create opportunities for individuals to collaborate, idea share, get feedback and reduce stress through social support. In successful working relationships, it is important all parties feel valued as crucial contributors to the relationship. Actively pursuing two-way dialogue, posing thoughtful questions, and making a conscious effort to acknowledge and accept feedback from others are all keys to establishing good working relationships and as a result, trusting connections can be made.

How can social networks help with the process of building healthy working relationships? Social networks present great opportunities for professionals to publicly recognize successes of parties in the relationship. This increases that party's sense of belonging, self-worth and security, in turn, makes them more comfortable and more likely to invest in your relationship.

Another key opportunity provided by social networking is authenticity. Others can utilize your social media pages to determine more information about you as an individual. This helps to reassure others the story you are telling about yourself is genuine, and as a result, the connections you make are as meaningful as face-to-face relationships.

As human beings, we have cultivated relationships with others that have either strong or weak ties. Strong ties are those relationships that take regular investment of time and energy, and often include your family, close friends and romances. Weak ties, however, involve looser connections and parties in these relationships usually know less about one another and have infrequent contact. These weak ties, often forged through social media, can hold great benefits; such as a greater diversity of perspectives and thus more innovative collaboration and idea generation.

A great thing about social media is that it allows you access to both your strong and weak connections. Increasing the spectrum of possible connections can help individuals and organizations identify specific parties with shared interests or goals, experience solving similar challenges, or even developed tools or methods for completing a mutual task. Consider all the connections you have online through social networks and then think about the connections of your connections: the possibilities for collaboration are endless!  

If you keep an open mind and share your story honestly, social media can be a great tool for building and maintaining relationships. However as you use social media to expand your networks, remember that social media relationships are still relationships. Treat others as you would in person; with respect and consideration.

Michigan State University Extension has employees all over the state; some may even be in your county. Seek out these individuals, as there are connections to be made. Find your area office on Facebook, tweet MSU Extension or read more articles to find the individuals who are experts in one of your passions. Post a message on their wall, retweet even pose questions online and see your social network capacity grow.

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