Julien Smith posted last week on what makes for an effective social network. In a nutshell, Julien expresses that the most successful social networks are based on extensions of pre-existing human actions. He uses social recommendation sites like Digg and StumbleUpon as examples. Recommending sites is something humans have been doing for a while, these tools just made that natural action easier. I agree with Julien on all of this. Social media is called social media for a reason. All of these social networks took off-line practices like conversations, recommendations and sharing and digitized them. I want to take things a step further. With so much of our lives (mine especially) shifting online, the defining line between the real brick and mortar world and the digital one becomes fuzzier every day. We don't want to risk "unplugging ourselves from the Matrix" because there is a risk of falling behind, missing something new or *gasp* becoming irrelevant. It's an easy trap for us geeks to fall into, one I have to consciously avoid often. Social media is - IMHO - an area with nearly unlimited potential for both marketing and personal reasons. However, it shouldn't replace real life; it should only be an extension of reality.
It's okay to put away the smartphone once in a while and talk to people. Mashable will be there when you get back. The Library of Congress is archiving tweets for pete's sake, so you know those aren't going anywhere. You're real life shouldn't be cast aside for being "virtually" popular on Twitter, Facebook, your blog (or whatever you choose). Social networking tools should be a catalyst or a firestarter for real-live relationships with people. Twitter followers in themselves are shallow connections. What you do with that following measures your authenticity online.
I've mentioned before on this site how I've met real people and genuine connections using social media as a starting point. I've met an improv comedian from Austin, an industry thought leader in South Carolina and others through Twitter. I plan on actually meeting other connections face-to-face at the Mashable event here in Chicago on Wednesday night. Genuine connections don't always have to be who you meet in the flesh but should go beyond the general retweet. Social media should be a conversation, an exchange of ideas and the occasional debate. A way to genuinely connect with people that you may not have otherwise.
The world is bigger than what can fit on the screen of your laptop. It's important to not let the time-suck of the internet consume you into missing out on some cool things. Ferris Bueller said it best:
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Who you are on social networks does not define who you are. Who you are in real-life, away from the computer and PDA does.
Have you missed anything?