Deepening Connections in Social Media

By Bob Bertsch, NDSU Agriculture Communication and OneOp Network Literacy

Make Emotional Connections
Photo by sorokti:Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After co-presenting the OneOp Family Transitions “Engaging Military Families with Social Media” webinar with Bruce Moody, I have received a few emails from people wanting to learn more about social capital.

I’ve been talking about social capital since I first learned about it in Tara Hunt‘s book, “The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business.” Recently I’ve begun thinking about it more deeply.Hunt describes social capital as the currency of your reputation, specifically your online reputation. In sociology, social capital refers to the “collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups” ( I like to think of social capital like monetary capital, except with valued actions replacing money.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you need someone to help you move some furniture. There are many people you could ask; from a stranger on the street to your closest friend. The likelihood of someone agreeing to help you (without paying them) increase based on how much you have helped that person in the past. It’s the favor economy.

In social media, social capital matters. If you dive into social media and begin asking for favors (e.g., like my page, share my post, come to my event), you’re making withdrawals on your social capital. If you haven’t spent any time making social capital deposits (e.g., thanking someone for their post, suggesting your followers follow another page or account, answering a question), your withdrawals will give you a negative social capital balance, which negatively effects your online reputation.

In the webinar I mentioned earlier, I talked about social capital at the ground level to begin building a relationship with people. Now I’m starting to think beyond that to building the kind of social capital needed to deepen existing relationships.

I’m currently reading John Stepper‘s book, “Working Out Loud.” Although the term “social capital” does not turn up in the book, the concept is definitely present. The book helps individuals build a network that will serve them professionally, establishing and improving their online reputation.

Stepper touches on some of the initial social capital strategies I have spoken about, but also goes beyond those initial deposits to the kind of interactions that will deepen relationships.

According to Stepper, two keys for working out loud are generosity and empathy. I think both are also key to building enough social capital to deepen online relationships. As you try to make meaningful connections with those you serve on social media, I suggest you ask yourself these 3 questions (adapted from “Working Out Loud”):

  • Who is this for?
  • Why should they care?
  • Why am I doing this?

These are critical questions to ask when making social capital deposits.

Asking “Who is this for?” helps you be intentional with your posts. Having a specific person or group of people in mind can help you create posts with value – social capital deposits.

Asking “Why would they care?” requires empathy. The answer to that question should not be  “because I say it’s important” or “because I want them to know.” You need to put yourself in the mind of the specific person the post is intended for and sincerely imagine why they would care.

Asking “Why am I doing this?” speaks to generosity. If the answer is “to get more likes/shares/comments”, STOP. Approach social media in the way you approach your work with military families, with generosity and a sincere desire to help.

These questions will help you avoid treating social media as mass media. By focusing on a specific person, putting yourself in their mind, and sharing out of generosity, you can avoid using social media as a bullhorn and begin to use it in a way that can have the most impact, to deepen connections with people and connect people with each other.

Bob Bertsch has worked in communications, education and web technology for more than 20 years. He’s currently a web technology specialist with North Dakota State University Agriculture Communication and a member of the eXtension Network Literacy community of practice, which works to engage professionals in a community built around learning in networks.  

The archived webinar “”Engaging Military Families with Social Media” can be viewed here.  Learn more about the OneOp Family Transitions.

United States Department of Defense logo, a partner of OneOp
United States Department of Agriculture logo, a partner of OneOp