Hannah Bunker »

Why social media should never substitute for “real-life” relationships.

I have a personal rule for myself.

If I friend anyone on Facebook, or follow them on Instagram, or read their blog, and I see them and recognize them “in real life,” my rule is to approach that person and introduce myself.

That might be weird for a lot of people but what’s more weird to me is to know so much about a person from a distance because of social media and then never acknowledge them in the real world.

It can be awkward because not everyone appreciates my approach. And not everyone understands following people on social media that you don’t know in real life. It can be weird walking up to someone, shaking their hand, and saying, “Hi, I’m Hannah. You don’t know me. Here’s how I know you. We’re friends on Facebook. I thought I would introduce myself in real life because I have this personal rule.” I have received a few weird responses. I’ve received appreciative responses. I’ve also been on the other end and have been the one that was ignored. And I’ve been the recipient of an introduction and I have appreciated the acknowledgment VERY much.

I just think it’s polite. Especially if I actually had interaction with that person online. I can’t imagine building an acquaintanceship on social media, seeing them in real life, and not acknowledging them. That doesn’t sit right with me.

Now I’m not talking about celebrities or high-profile individuals. That would be weird to walk up to Dana Delany or Paula Pell and be like, “Hey, I follow you on Twitter.” Me and 500,000 other people. That’s different.

What I’m talking about are people or acquaintances with one or a few degrees of separation. Maybe they know a friend of mine. Maybe we’re in the same setting or organization and we’ve just never met. Maybe we have mutual friends. Or maybe they’re a blogger and I just tell them how much I like their blog.

I’m weird like that. I’m quiet and introverted but I’m not too shy to ask a stranger to coffee to get to know them better.

So I keep this personal rule for myself to keep the line between online relationships and in-person relationships blurred. That’s not to say you should be best friends with everyone you interact with online, but at least don’t ignore them but rather, acknowledge their actual existence by saying hello.

Now that I’ve explained my feelings, I now have to confess…I have broken my own rule a few times for various reasons. And I always feel guilty. One recently.

I’ve started following a few people on social media as a way to meet new people at our new church. I’m not shy to try and make new friends and build relationships. I was waiting in line at Starbucks when she walked in (FYI, not talking about Darlene Zschech in the photo above; another stranger). I recognized her from the photos on her Instagram feed. I’ve seen her from across a sea of people. We had never met but I knew who she was. She sat down at a table across from a friend. As I stood in line waiting to order my tall vanilla latte, a debate waged in my mind.

“Just go say hi. Say, ‘I followed you on Instagram because I saw you know that person that knows this person that knows this person that I’ve met once.’ I’m new here and thought it would be a great way to meet new people. So here I am coming off really weird and introducing myself in real life.”

“Address the awkwardness of the situation” is usually one of my life mottos. It makes life not so uncomfortable sometimes.

“But she’s with her friend. She’s probably very sweet but she’s still very intimidating. She has absolutely NO idea who you are. What if she thinks you’re a stalker? What if they think you’re weird for introducing yourself? But is that as weird as following someone on social media and never saying anything if you see them in real life? What if she DOES know who I am and is just waiting on me to make the move? She never answered the question you asked her on that photo so she probably doesn’t care who you are. What if every time she sees you from now on she avoids you because you are ‘that weird girl that approached her at Starbucks?’ and tells all of her friends about it and then they think you’re weird and avoid you and you’re never able to make any new friends and you’ll have to leave because of sheer embarrassment?!”

My thoughts happen in run-on sentences.

I ordered my latte. The debate continued until the barista called my drink. I gathered my cup and a few napkins. My heart started pounding as I walked past her table. It was the moment of truth. Would I stop and introduce myself or keep walking? Would I be a hypocrite or would I suck it up and follow my rule?

I passed her table and didn’t say a word.

I got in my car and immediately regretted my decision. I’m still regretting that decision. I’m usually brave to not care what people think, but what was it about this one situation, one person, that intimidated me so? What if that was the Holy Spirit nudging me and I missed out on something great because I was too scared? There’s a lesson to be learned from this.

That’s where grace comes in. I need to allot myself grace and pray for the next opportunity that comes my way to say hello. Because I’m sure I’ll run into this person again.

Social media is a great way to get connected, meet new people, and build relationships…especially if you’re in a new setting like we are at a new church. But, for me, online relationships should not substitute for real-life in person ones. I want to take every opportunity I can to build new, meaningful relationships, to show others that they are valued, and to flourish where I’m planted.

Sometimes the social media relationship is all you have because of whatever reason, but if you have the opportunity to acknowledge them and to maybe even build an in-person relationship, no matter how big or small that relationship is, shouldn’t it be taken? If you value that person’s social media presence, don’t they deserve to be acknowledged and valued in real life?

What do you think? Have you ever had this situation come up in your own life? I’m interested to hear others’ stories and point of view so let me know in the comments!

P.s. If you follow me on any form of social media I would LOVE for you to introduce yourself if you see me in real life!! Or even say hi on social media!


  • Lesli - Interesting. Your thoughts run deep, but give away a characteristic about you. 🙂 Social media seems to be a way interact but not connect. As you see yourself, a big difference.ReplyCancel

  • Megan White - Ha. Awesome. Funny and true.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - I love this! 🙂 It’s so funny and very true. So, here is my resolve – next time I’m in your neck of the woods and we bump into each other, I’m introducing myself! Coffee on me!ReplyCancel

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