Social bridgebuilding is about real world connections

It’s all about the groundwork

It was James Governor who coined the term “social bridgebuilder”, in response to my musings about what it is I do with all this social media. Here’s a good example of what I like to do: I enjoy connecting people.

One of the things about blogging is that good bloggers take the time to engage in conversations, explore the blogosphere, and make new connections. Read widely, read outside of your “subject area”, comment and establish new acquaintances. Sometimes, just click through to that linked article for the sake of broadening your interest. If it does strike a chord, comment and let the author know you liked it.

Probably about 18 months ago I randomly connected with Heidi Hansen… I’m fairly sure it was via Plazes, now I think about it, but I can’t really remember the reason… I started reading her blog, commenting on posts that I found interesting, and we’ve subsequently become friends through a multitude of different connections in social networks. We’re in very different spheres, both professionally and geographically, but it is one of those connections that I’m glad I’ve been able to make.

The scenario

A couple of weeks ago, Heidi contacted me to ask whether I had any ideas about areas of possible research into social networking and social software. As it happens, I have been involved in a number of research studies over the past couple of years, both inside and outside of IBM, so we got to talking about things that might be worth exploring. I was also able to recommend a number of good folks that I thought it would be worth her following, such as my colleagues Jasmin Tragas and Sacha Chua (sidenote: if I ever get around to updating my blogroll, I’m sure Heidi would find a bunch of others!).

At the same time, I realised that Sacha and Heidi would probably have a whole lot in common. I know Sacha through blogs, both internally and externally at IBM… Sacha is one of those people who is impossible to ignore, and a lot of IBMers will have encountered her infectious enthusiasm, particularly inside our firewall 🙂 I also knew she had recently finished studying herself, so it seemed like a natural connection to make. I pinged Sacha on Sametime and dropped her an email to follow-up.

Without realising it, I’d pointed Heidi at Sacha only days before she was due to travel to Toronto, where Sacha is based.

Result? I was able to connect two friends I’ve never met, for a real-world meeting in Toronto last week… and it sounds like it was a successful encounter. With a couple of emails, Twitters and IMs, a new connection was made.

Why is social software valuable?

This isn’t about the “dollar value of a transaction”. A lot of folks seem to want to know what financial benefit they can gain from engaging in these new social media.

Forget that.

I’ve no idea whether Heidi will buy IBM software in the future as a result of knowing me (actually, I’m pretty certain she won’t, but who knows where the world will take her!). The point is that I’m enriching my own network by knowing her, and by knowing Sacha, and tapping into their skills and expertise; and of course my own network and knowledge is completely open to either of them. I don’t know what dollar value to place on that; but I know that to me, the personal connections and friendships I build using these social tools are invaluable.

8 thoughts on “Social bridgebuilding is about real world connections”

  1. Incredibly well said Andy! If you think about it though, it’s the one random click or comment that really makes a difference. I try to think about all of the blogs I read, and there’s even a bunch I know I should be reading that aren’t even on my list. Sometimes you don’t have the time to comment and the blog gets lost in a sea of other things you have on your growing to do list. Our backgrounds and geography are different but backgrounds and geography don’t seem to matter anymore given the new ways of communication. We have a lot in common despite that!

    Earlier this week as I was trying to ponder my research question (which I should actually be doing now instead of this), I realized that our circle of friends were often limited to where we live, work, or go to school. That’s completely changed, and for the better! Now we can connect with people outside of those circles and it’s actually not as random as we might believe it is. We’re able to form more meaningful relationships because we’re looking for the things in people that are truly related to our interests or our personalities. I like the way Sacha described it when she said that, “we’re skipping the small talk.” Which is always the part I hate anyway. 🙂

    I’m not saying I don’t value the relationships I’ve made at home, work, or school, I know wonderful people that I’ve met all over the place. I think we often overlook that we can make connections in other places and only use geography as an excuse to connect with others.

    If people are thinking about the “dollar value” of these networks I think they’re truly missing the point. You can’t put a price tag on human relationships. The benefits come in the form of knowledge and information sharing, even personal happiness.

  2. when the virtual world meets the the real world and yes the bridge is all the the social tools we can find online (IM, facebook, twitter). I think theses tools should serve to that. Two months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco (to visit some silicon valley startups) with almost 20 guys I didn’t know before, just because as a reader of a blog I love explore, I read from the guy behind that he was about to organize a group travel (limited to 20) to visit SF( I spent a very interesting and rich time with all the guys and I am very happy to have been able to make it.

  3. In a way, social networking through the use of computers and the Internet is like old-style networking on steroids. In the old days, we relied on face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and mail. That limited the scope of where we could meet and interact with people. But with computer and Internet-based social networking, our worlds have grown much larger. We can meet people who live anywhere in the world and interact with them instantly anytime we like for very little cost. It makes sense that we should use this tool to introduce our new friends to other friends. Social networking is networking, when it’s done right. You can’t put a dollar value on that.

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