Business, Life and Business Life. Real Talk.

Death and Friendship in Social Media


LossMark Schaefer had a post.

Geoff Livingston had a post.

Jay Baer had a post.

Gini Dietrich had a post.

The death of someone of Trey Pennington’s stature was bound to make waves around the internet. The circumstances of his death turned the waves into a tsunami.

Within these posts questions were raised…

Are internet “friendships” real friendships?

How well do we really know the people we “know” online?

Are online personas hiding the real person behind the blog?

I never really had any interaction with Trey. That is why I think I try and view this situation objectively. More so than those who knew Trey online, or even on a personal level.

Personas Are Necessary

Unfortunately you can’t get away from having a persona online – especially if you are present in social media for the sake of networking for a business purpose.

I’ve had days where I felt like absolute shit, everyone has. But you can’t let that come across in your writing.

You have to set that aside because, let’s face it, emotions scare people – unless they are emotions filled with sunshine and butterflies. Your potential customers want someone happy and positive handling their business processes.

Your blog isn’t just you. It’s your brand.

How Well Do We Really Know Anyone?

As evidenced by Mark Schaefer’s reaction to the tragedy, the first instinct is to think “what could I have done?” or “Why didn’t I see this coming?”.

Jay Baer reflected on the tragedy with the realization that he doesn’t know his “internet friends” as well as he knows his friends of 30 years.

But in light of what happened, what are the people that personally knew Trey, and have known him for 30 years, thinking at this moment.

Were they expecting something like this to happen? Are they questioning why they didn’t see it coming? Are they thinking to themselves that they didn’t really know Trey as well as they thought they did?

It is easy to think that you didn’t really know someone just because most, or all, of your interaction came online. But the people that were physically in Trey’s life don’t have that excuse.

Did they see it coming? Why didn’t they do anything about it? Or were they as blindsided as Trey’s “internet friends” and left thinking “I didn’t really know him…”

Are “Internet Friendships” Real?


Sure the knowledge of, or connection with, your “internet friends” isn’t equal to that of your childhood friends that you may have known for 30 years.

But that is not necessarily a function of the medium through which you interact, but rather the time frame of the interaction.

Social media hasn’t been around long enough to have made 30-year-long connections with people. But if it was, I’m sure you would know your “internet friends” pretty well. And over such a time span, you would probably have more than a few face-to-face meetings.

I haven’t been at this for that long, but I’ve already had a face-to-face meeting with Jacob Sokol.

Danny Iny offered to take me out for a beer tour when he learned that I’m a fan of the good stuff. And if I am ever in his neck of the woods, I will definitely be taking him up on that offer.

If I was still in Cleveland right now (or if Content Marketing World was a week later) I would have attempted to at least get lunch with Marcus Sheridan.

Speaking of Marcus, when he posted a video of his youngest daughter on his blog, “internet friend” John Falchetto sent a gift for her. I wonder how many “real friends” did the same.

These may not be signs of true friendship depending on how you define it, but they are signs of seeds being planted. True friendships have to start somewhere.

The Bottom Line

If the feeling of loss is real, as it clearly is in this case, then the connection with that person was real – even if it was mostly digital.


Your Two Cents:

Do you think that friendships created through the internet are real (or) can real friendships be created through social media?

41 Responses to Death and Friendship in Social Media

  1. There is no reason why internet friendships cannot be considered “real.” It boils down to the people involved and the level of trust that they establish between them.

    • Eugene says:

      Agreed. I think it is definitely easier to establish trust in-person. So it may take a bit more effort or a little more time. But it’s still possible.

  2. Hey Eugene, they’re definitely real.

    Any friendship is a function of involvement, right? And hanging out with someone for hours in person is a lot more intensive than interacting in the odd blog comment.

    That doesn’t mean that online friendships aren’t real, you just have to work at it a little more. And it’s totally worth it! :)

    Let me know when you’re in Montreal, and I’ll buy you that drink…

  3. Hi

    I do think online friendships are real.

    I met a lady threw ebay. I sold here a candy
    wrapper program she couldn’t figure it out and
    I tried helping her out and we became real good
    friends. I’ve known her for 9 years now. I’ve been
    there for her divorce and she went threw me having
    another child our 8th.

    All so there another site i was on for 4 years it just closed down and I’ve gotten phone # from friends. We have a email group on fb and i got sick
    and was off line for awhile. When I came back i had so many message and people asking where i went they thought i had moved or died. So now I’ve 1 daughter let certain people know when I’m sick.

    So yes online people can become real friends.

    I all so believe if you should be the real you
    and do tell personal things about yourself if your
    in business can be good for your business.

    • Eugene says:

      Wow, befriending someone through eBay? That’s a new one :). That’s pretty cool.

      Being personal can be good for your business, I agree. But there are limits to how personal you can get, especially if there is already an established brand that you have to uphold.

  4. Hey Eugene,

    Very well said. I think our internet friendships are real. They’re a different type of friendship. Just like our other relationships. We have a different type of friendship with our college friends than we do with our friends in the office.

    We have a different type of relationship with the kids in the neighborhood than we do with all the other kids at school.

    Same thing here, our online friendships are different that the friends we see face to face all the time.

    Then part of me thinks it not different at all. Social media helps us stay in touch with long distant friends and those who don’t spend much time on the phone or those who we can’t see when we want. Its all the same.

    You’re right when you say, if social media was around for 30 plus years this would be the norm. For me it’s no different. It is a bit wierd at first to initiate a friendship online but we all know how to foster those and keep them going.

    Great article here!

    • Eugene says:

      Hey Chelsea,

      You’re right, we do treat different “sections” of people in our lives differently – no matter whether they are online or off. I guess it’s just human nature to compartmentalize these types of things.

      The connection with people in person are deeper because you can actually experience events with them. This makes connecting a lot quicker because you can reflect on something with them. That doesn’t meant his can’t happen online, it just takes more effort and more time. It doesn’t necessarily make emotional connections any less valid though.

  5. I do think the friendships are as real as ‘real’ friendship. Do we even know our offline friends that well? I have also had readers send me gifts and that is really very much appreciated.

    PS Wanted to make sure you saw your blog on my new CommentLuv enabled blog list!

    • Eugene says:

      Hey Ana, thanks for stopping by! I’m not sure how well we really know anybody…offline friends can surprise us just as much as online friends. It’s just a matter of gaining familiarity with people, which makes them less surprising. And I think its easier (or quicker) to gain familiarity with someone in person.

      I saw the post and left a comment yesterday. Thanks for including me on the list! Always feels great to be noticed :).

  6. Of course friendships form online are real friendships. I have met some very great people, interact with them daily and feel their pain.

    It’s always sad when someone passes in their lives and events such as you describe do stir real emotion.

  7. Wow. This is absolutely sad. I must have been in a cave because I don’t think I knew of Trey before he passed. But it is truly sad to see something like this happen.

    I absolutely think that friendships online are real or can be real. Its just a matter of how much you are willing to build, put in to and foster the relationship or the friendship.

    Personally, I’ve made a commitment to myself to reach out more to the people I interact with online, to get a personal call or conversation and truly get to know more about the people that I am interacting with, on a more personal level.

    I look forward to out talk soon, Eugene and P.S, I am also a fan of beer. I’ll definitely invite you to one when you’re in my neck of the woods or when you’re in mine!

    We all have a responsibility to each other, not just from a business perspective but from a personal perspective as well. Just my thoughts..

    • Eugene says:

      Looks like all of my online relationships boil down to beer. That’s cool. I’ll take it. :)

      Sorry I didn’t make it onto Skype yesterday, kind of a hectic day. We’ll definitely have to chat sometime this week though.

  8. Theres only so much the internet can compensate for nothing quite like hanging out irl T 4 weeks ago.

    • Eugene says:

      True, real life interactions are much more intense. But I think you can nurture online relationships until they get to a true friendship level as well.

  9. Stan Faryna says:

    Good questions, Eugene.

    I see that Jack says it well:

    “There is no reason why internet friendships cannot be considered ‘real.’ It boils down to the people involved and the level of trust that they establish between them.”

    I’ll add there has to be an economics to it (any which way that two persons define the terms, goods, and value) as I think about in my blog post about the economics of friendship:

    I was a little bummed out that you didn’t mention it. [grin]

  10. I agree that you can sometimes make real friends on the internet. Even if you don’t know everything about them, like you do in real life. Friendships are built on common interests and trust, you don’t have to shake the other person’s hand for this.

    • Eugene says:

      Common interests is easy. Building trust is a bit harder online than in person I think…but it’s still doable, just takes a little more effort.

      • Stan Faryna says:

        On the one hand, I think we all are a little lazy about doing the things that build the trust. On the other hand, I think our expectations regarding what defines an online trust building event or action are a little too high.

        • Eugene says:

          Laziness and skepticism …two ingredients to being human :).

          I think the more and more the world becomes connected, the more and more skeptical we get about others. Funny…the easier it is to get access to more people, the more we start questioning people’s intentions.

  11. For them to become a true friend youd both have to want to commit by sharing more about yourselves with each other..Online Friends.The Internet has brought loads of online friends into our lives that we most likely wouldnt have met in the real world.

    • Eugene says:

      I can honestly say that I’ve talked to, and received some AMAZING advice from, people that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk to without this whole blogging thing. Becoming a true friend through the internet takes an extra bit of effort, but it is definitely possible to do.

  12. All communication with people is what life is about. Digital communication is different in some ways- but these are small differences and tweeting or posting bring new relationships that can grow into real friends or just comfort or support people in a small but important way.

    • Eugene says:

      Hey Grant, I couldn’t agree more. Digital communication is a bit less personal, of course, but it can still plant the seeds to a thriving friendship.

  13. Hi Eugene- Thanks for the reply- its an interesting subject as I have found that some of the clients I have gained via Twitter have been because we have found that we like each others comments and tweets and actually enjoy communicating. The business comes after this as we are friends and want to work with each other.

    • Eugene says:

      It’s funny, I was just at a presentation yesterday where the guy was talking about the business partnerships he makes, and his only “criteria” was that they make him smile. His whole thing is you can only keep a certain number of people actively involved at once, so you might as well make them people you like.

  14. Hey Eugene,

    Very interesting post.

    I believe that online friends are real friends, and it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be attending a virtual funeral (it has probably happened already, but I haven’t attended one). Some days I spend more time with my online friends than with my offline friends… it’s very interesting how relationships develop today compared to when I was growing up. It’s actually so different that it’s hard to compare :)

    • Eugene says:

      Virtual funeral…that’s actually really interesting. I can definitely see that happening. It seems like making connections has completely turned on its head through my lifetime. It’s very strange. For me it’s almost second nature to hop online and try to connect with people. But if I look back (not that long) to when I was younger that was never an option.

  15. I believe that real friendships can be found through social media. not only real friendship actually, even real love. It is all about communication and social media is just a way to communicate. People who share the same interests are likely to be friends online and meet and be friends forever offline.

    • Eugene says:

      Hmmm, that’s true. The whole online dating thing has really taken off. And if people can eventually get married starting on the internet, why not make friendships.

  16. I have friends,3 of them, whom I just met online and from different countries. I knew about them last year because of business matters. I haven’t seen them personally but what touches me is how they value friendships in long distance without even seeing each other. One of them always gives me advices without asking anything in return. The other asked about my address so she can send gifts this Christmas. I believe friendships online is just the same when you have a friend for 30 years. It’s how you keep your friends.

  17. People we met thru the internet can all be our real friends as for my experience. But sometimes, we can’t really be sure of how they feel. Compared to our offline friends who we can personally meet from time to time, most of the time, we can read their movements, their facial impressions, etc. for us to be able to conclude if they are happy or sad. Overall, our friends online can be for real but when they are in pain, they can easily hide it from us. They are hiding something from us not because they are not real, but because they don’t want us to worry about them. Sadly, there are some people who always been like this…

    • Eugene says:

      That’s true Maria, it’s much easier to hide things over the internet. That is the one thing that is really missing from a full-on interaction with someone. Some people don’t like to share their problems in public, or even with friends – I know I’m one of them.

      • I do understand. Actually, I’m also like that most of the time. Not really comfortable to open up especially with my real feelings about certain things. Maybe its because I’m a private person.

  18. That’s right, a connection can be made with someone even if you never met the guy. You can feel something even if it’s only a persona.
    You feel the loss and thus the pain.