Your best friend (online): how many social networking relationships make love?

You’re a member of a dozen or more social networking sites. Same goes for someone you’ve never met but know online, professionally or otherwise. When does that online relationship get weird?

I’ve never met Greg Linch.

He’s the editor at large for online and multimedia at The Miami Hurricane, the student newspaper pf the University of Miami. On my side of things, I’m fresh out of the setting of another large, celebrated college newspaper with a recent flurry of multimedia interest: The Temple News, of Temple University in big, beautiful Philadelphia.

So, in the small circles of young, Web interested journalists, Linch and I have professionally crossed paths. Things went and got serious when we started following each other on Twitter.

And why the Hell not. We have similar interests. Jees, that’s a lot more reason than folks who follow thousands, I’d say.

I’d seen posts on his blog, so I figured why not go ahead and finally subscribe to it. There I saw I link to his Facebook page; I’m new to the Facebook behemoth, so I’m always excited to connect with someone whom I’m actually interested in following. Because it’s a professional relationship, I thought’d make sense to connect with him on LinkedIn, so I did that, too. There I got to his Flickr account and saw some great shots. Why not connect with his photostream?

Yeah. K.

It was about then that I decided this was the equivalent of asking my girlfriend to move in with me on the first date.

Things could have gotten downright awkward, too.

Last summer I posted about my seeing real vehicular purpose in a journalist having a MySpace page – even though it is admittedly lame – if only to take control of another Web search yield of your byline. So, I could have requested to be his MySpace friend after he tweeted about the most embarrassing of social utilities.

Wow, now we all know there are marriages that aren’t that close.

So where’s the line?

There are a dozen pet Web 2.0 journalism projects and sites and pages on which I could connect with Linch and a handful of other reporters of varying ages and experiences – all of whom I have never actually met. For a guy like me – who thinks a handshake is truly as good an indicator of a person’s character as any – this is truly bizarre.

Since joining Facebook, I found it a useful tool for collecting, organizing and maintaining sources. But some people, I have found only after getting more used to the culture of that particular social utility, consider their Facebook private and personal.

After lunching with a new media executive whom I respected, I promptly requested a connection through LinkedIn and Facebook, as I personally use the latter just as professionally as the former. Of course, most do not. I got a LinkedIn acceptance, and, I assume, my Facebook request was ignored.

Rules are different online in the way that I can have a *friendship with someone I’ve never met, but the social contract is still upheld. If social networking sites are to develop new forums and conversations, you don’t (normally) hurl a handful of conversations (social networking invites) of (professional) meaning at someone you just met (online).

In the past I saw it as being efficient. Linch or the Web media exec were on my mind at that moment, so I take the often laborious and repetitive steps to firm a professional relationship – with a source, a contact or even a new friend – straight away, before I forget. Or time passes enough that you have that awkward conversation I’ve seen play out: “Oh, we’ve known each other for three years and are not Facebook friends.”

But, while meeting someone in person first, allows that person to get a sense of who you are, meeting online doesn’t. Those conversations – or social utility connection requests – pile up, and your first, more memorable impression is, well, off.

So, roll things out slowly.

With the younger folks, Facebook is a normal ritual at the beginning of any relationship, but I find people even in their late 20s taking that particular site as an innersanctum. So, leave it, until you share more correspondence. Conversely, I have never had anyone I’ve met even briefly in a professional manner turn me down on LinkedIn – though months of delay have come.

The dozen other industry-related social networking sites? I say forget about it until you actually sign back in. Oh, and you probably shouldn’t admit you have a MySpace page.

Any thoughts? Additions? How do you handle the professional/personal/online relationship split with social utilities? Throw me a comment below.

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Image courtesy of EcoFriendlyInternship.

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