How Social Media Can Help Sustain Your Friendships
Establish one absolutely permanent e-mail address, ideally by registering your own domain name.
Create Online Groups for Your Valued Circles of Friends or Family
My dad was married four times and had nine kids in two countries—if social networking didn't exist, we would have had to invent it just to keep everybody in touch. Sadly, my dad went his entire life without ever once having all his kids in the same room. We got close for his 75th birthday: seven out of nine kids, and eight out of nine grandchildren all got together for a big party at his farm. After the party, my sister Debbie set up a Facebook group that helped us all stay in loose, regular contact for the first time. Once Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we had the additional complexity of figuring out how to share updates on his health status. Because we kids were raised in three different batches, we didn't all know each other well enough to share emotionally sensitive news on his illness. So we set up a Google spreadsheet with everybody's contact information; that way any one of us would know how to to contact someone in each of the other two batches to pass on the latest news.
I'll admit my family is probably more complicated than most circles in which you need to share news or information, but the same principle applies: For any circle you want to maintain or stay in touch with, set up a group using Facebook, Yahoo! groups or some other standard group-messaging tool. And set up a contact list that everyone can keep up to date.
Hail All Channels
Even apparently similar tools have very different dynamics, depending on how you and your friends use them; using a range of communications tools will support a range of relationships. I'm on Twitter constantly, but because people tend to tweet publicly, it works best for friendships that consist of casual and frequent exchanges. I connect with relatively few people through instant messaging, so my messaging buddies are people I'm happy to have extended conversations with while we're working away on other things. A Skype video chat is a nice step up from phone calls with friends I connect with a few times a year, or for phone conversations with long-distant buddies. E-mail works well for exchanging long catch-ups with friends I can't talk with in real time due to time zones. And Facebook is nice for reconnecting with people I wouldn't otherwise catch up with—we float into each other's views thanks to status updates.
I recently made a shocking discovery about two of my friends. These are women I thought I knew well. Women who are friends, not despite my geekiness, but because of it. They carry iPhones, update their Facebook pages daily and check their e-mail every hour. And yet, both of them still regularly exchange actual pen-on-paper letters with a number of their friends. Even if you're not prepared to do something as retro and extreme as picking up a ballpoint—I personally resort to paper only in the case of birthday cards, thank-yous and condolence notes—you can still stay in touch with your less-wired friends. Take excerpts from your family blog and turn them into a paper newsletter you send out with your holiday greeting cards. Burn your favorite videos onto a DVD and pop it in the mail. Buy a Wi-Fi-enabled digital picture frame for your parents and keep it automatically updated with photos of the grandkids that you load onto Flickr or Facebook.
What's important about using social media