Are We Defined by Our Digital Friends?

Michael  Olguin

Being in my 40s, the digital age crept up on me like a hammer to the head. Before I even had a chance to understand that Friendster and MySpace were no longer cool, I needed to have a significant presence on all of the social media platforms that really meant something. But the question I keep coming back to is, “Mean something to whom?”
I completely understand the opportunity that exists for brands that are selling a product or service to create a two-way dialogue with consumers. This provides the brand with a clear, direct and unedited opportunity to conduct a real-life research study in which consumers can suggest, dictate or manipulate what a brand does, thinks or acts. But is it the same for individuals?
Some might argue that people are brands; we are selling ourselves every day at work, at home, with our friends and acquaintances. However, as businesspeople (or, more specifically, people in business) does it really matter how many “likes” we have on Facebook, or how many followers we have on Twitter or how many connections we have on LinkedIn? Is that really an accurate measurement of who we are as individuals, businesspeople, creatives or PR practitioners?
I maintain that it is not.
The practice of public relations is based upon the understanding of two-way communication in which a goal is agreed upon and tactics are built against. Digital, two-way communication, though valuable, should not be relegated to sheer numbers as a means for conveying professional stature or personal success. For example, having nearly 1,000 connections on LinkedIn does not mean I am a better person, practitioner or thinker than somebody who only has 100. It only validates that I have been actively networking. Being linked just for the sake of being linked is selling the full-circle communications process short.
Think of that guy who walks into a party and is immediately greeted by the hundreds of guests there. Do you take that to mean that he’s an upstanding, professional and reliable individual? Not necessarily. He could simply be a social butterfly with no solid connections to any of the other guests.
Many believe you can learn a lot about a person by the company they keep. As true as this may be in the real world, making the same assessment based on how many digital “friends” one has can be a big mistake. I like to believe that the online Michael Olguin isn’t nearly as connected, interesting, smart, compelling or creative as the real one. But you’ll have to be the judge of that.

Michael Olguin is founder of the PR boutique agency Formula. He can be reached at