Social Media: Building Relationships On and Offline

by Florence Broder

One of the things I’ve always loved about the General Assembly (GA) is catching up with old friends and colleagues and, of course, networking with new ones. This year was no different. The networking didn’t actually begin in Denver, but at the gate at JFK. It quickly became a “who’s who” of the Jewish communal world both on the lay and professional side. The networking and relationship building continued on the flight and even at the Denver airport. And with every “low-tech” exchange, I realized the truth behind the sentiment that the GA is the “original Jewish social network.”

But the GA was also “hi-tech” with a constant stream of tweets, Foursquare check-ins and more. What is remarkable is that the GA is one of few places where my “hi-tech” and “low-tech” worlds collide because I can actually connect in person with my “friends” on Twitter. Over the years, so many amazing people who have tweeted with me have approached me at the GA and said, “Aren’t you @IsraelGives or @Flogolightly?” (my professional and personal alter egos). The GA gives us a reason to connect in person. I am often asked, “How do you know so-and-so?” I smile and answer, “Twitter,” which is usually followed by shock or surprise, as most people believe that digital relationships are relegated to cyberspace alone.

That said, a digital relationship just isn’t enough. We still need person-to-person interactions because real human connections can never be wholly replicated. As Ami Hersh and Leor Shtull Leber write in an eJP article, “Email and social media are important and effective tools, but we must be conscious of overuse and of replacing genuine in-person relationships, both when we are distant and even when we are together in the same room, by tweeting instead of talking.”

If done correctly, however, an in-person relationship only serves to deepen and strengthen online relationships. It’s a lesson that many organizations don’t yet understand, mistakenly believing that online relationships stay online. During the GA session “Handle With Care: How to Handle Social Media,” distinguished co-panelists, Esther Kustanowitz, Naomi Stern and Shana Sisk, stressed how social media is a tool to deepen relationships. Their presentations sharply contrasted my own, which focused on acquiring the right technology tools for social media; a simple laundry list of useful online resources. Both my own presentation and theirs are vital pieces to a successful social media strategy. After the session, many attendees approached me and commented that their presentations were too basic and weren’t as practical as my presentation on social media. The audience members felt that relationship building was easy and that knowing the correct tools out there was more useful. I realized in that moment that many people fail to grasp the one essential principle: knowing what the tools are doesn’t mean you know how to use them properly to develop online relationships. Anyone can Tweet; anyone can post updates on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean you know how to use them properly to develop online relationships while doing so. Social media is as much art as it is science. An organization will simply not be successful in its communication until it accepts that. How many organizations out there have actually interacted with their online audience offline? I venture to guess not many.

At the GA opening plenary, Kathy Manning said that the GA is the original social network because Jews always like to play “Jewish Geography.” New technologies are simply a new way to play and build relationships. This will only increase as new technologies emerge. It’s important to remember this when building an organization’s social media strategy.

Florence Broder is COO of Israel Gives.