Mar 3, 2010 Comments Off
Mar 2, 2010 Comments Off
Virtual Friendships in the Workplace
“Virtual friendship” has various meanings for users of social network sites. While many sites of the past provided pure socialization for their members, they have come to play a different role in the workplace as both LinkedIn and Facebook are used to enhance an individual’s professional development. In this setting, a virtual “friend” is not a socializing contact but rather a potential connection to a new job or a promotional tool. Consequently, the term “friend” has been stretched beyond its natural definition and brought into the corporate world where it implies “business contact”, weak or strong.
Facebook and LinkedIn have both emerged as popular sites for professionals, despite the fact that Facebook was initially developed for college students. Originally, calling one’s Facebook connection a “friend” fit the traditional meaning, as these contacts were classmates or companions. However, as the term has been applied in a business setting, it has been abstracted: distant contacts are now called “friends”. Friendship is no longer confined to personal relationships but applies to business connections of all intimacies. As an individual spends more time online he begins to accept this abstraction of the real definition of friendship (Birkerts, 1997). By morphing the definition in the virtual world, individuals lose the distinction between professional acquaintance and true friend. One third of a sample of professionals has a LinkedIn account and another thirty-six percent uses Facebook (Skeels, 2009). Consequently, this redefinition of friendship is rapidly pervading generational gaps as networking sites have flourished in the workplace. However, these profiles are created strictly for business purposes, with the hope that job recruiters or potential clients will take an interest in an individual.
For LinkedIn members, a “friend” is a connection to a future job, contrary to society’s view of friendship as personal. Profiles maintain professional character, listing information such as current position and educational background (Skeels, 2009). This concise format makes it easy for recruiters to search for individuals with the specific credentials that they seek in candidates. Additionally, members can use the search function to find jobs, past or present business partners, and clients (Olsen, 2008). This feature is important in the development of one’s professional career as members can make themselves known online to others desiring their skill set without physically meeting. Individuals have the capacity to reach out to future employees and strengthen weak contacts (DiMicco JM, 2008). This enhancing of connections increases social capital: giving a member greater recognition within his professional circle and extending his network of potential contacts (Rooksby, 2009). However, these connections lack the personal intimacy that characterizes physical friendships: LinkedIn friendships are nothing more than business connections, which forces society to reevaluate its notion of friendship, both virtual and physical.
An individual’s chances of being contacted in the future by distant members of his network increase with his ability to learn about his network members. Virtual friendship is important in improving one’s professional position as it can enhance conversation (Olsen, 2008). Before meeting face to face with a possible employer, a candidate can learn about the employer by viewing his profile, which provides personal knowledge that can be used to elevate conversation and make the candidate more memorable. Yet, as the two contacts lack personal connections, their conversation is limited by the information available on their pages. Professional networking is a representation of virtual friendship as the two “friends” lack familiarity, but has become the key to personalizing professional connections and increasing the likelihood of future work. In this case, traditional friendship has been replaced by the virtual concept of “friendship”, which now holds significant importance.
While LinkedIn members use LinkedIn to find jobs or employees, Facebook users take advantage of their site to advertise their business services. Professionals with a Facebook account will friend those with similar interests, whether within the same company or working for similar companies (Baker, 2009). These connections expedite marketing, as whenever an individual creates a link to his company or clicks on an advertisement, the friend will follow. When a network member updates his profile in any way, all of his friends receive a notification of his actions, and by clicking on the notification can be directed to the revised page (BuyBackYourLife, 2009). By repeatedly updating a page to promote his business, an individual can spread recognition of his services to network strangers. Therefore, as society becomes more technologically involved, it begins to lose the value of the personal friendship itself (Birkerts, 1997). As shown by the usage of social networking sites in business, “friends” are not seen as people but rather as a platform to advertise a company. Search functions allow corporations to mass friend groups of people with the same interests. By adding a personal message to the request noting their similar business interests, a company can expand its network (BuyBackYourLife, 2009). Despite the fact that the individual has not personally met a member of the company, he is the company’s “friend” and will likely play an important role in its business ventures.
The expansion of social network sites into the workplace has provided opportunities for professionals to expand their business connections at the cost of the traditional definition of friendship. The extended network has the potential to unite future colleagues and to advertise services, but provides no personal bond between members. The successes of networking sites in the workplace as the number of users continues to grow is erasing geographic boundaries by allowing to companies easily promote themselves overseas. Yet, this rapid acceptance of the virtual world is creating a need for society to reevaluate its definition of friendship, for while network sites define all types of contacts as “friends”, the traditional definition still holds true in the physical world. And, as Birkerts warned, individuals can only stray so far from their roots in the physical world in accepting every misnomer of technology (Birkerts, 1997). The distinction between virtual and physical “friend” will eventually have to be drawn.
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