Brand building through storytelling

Facebook friends are my portable community

The only downside of a month in Florida is missing the places and faces that give me a sense of belonging in Toronto. I cherish my routines: buying produce from my favorite vendor at St. Lawrence Market, kibbitzing with my fitness pals, urban hikes with a friend from student days. By the end of week three, which has practically arrived, I’m usually longing for the icy streets of home. This year has been different, and that difference has a lot to do with the online places and faces I find every day at Facebook.

FB friends are my virtual community.They’re a little like my Pilates class, in which the reason to show up has almost as much to do with shared stories and laughs as it does with staying fit. (Aside to any Pilates pal who might happen to see this: don’t even think of sharing this thought with the Keeper of the Abs. I’ve done a few sets of hundreds on this trip, honest.) Or maybe FB friends are like the table in the student cafeteria where I knew I could always find a lively gang to hang out with (not that cafeteria coffee compares to what I brew myself). And you also remind me of the vendors who know me at the market–the artisanal cheese people, the blueberry-bran-muffin crew, the fishmongers who’ve learned to remove the pin bones from my salmon. I do, in fact, get some pretty good food tips at Facebook–most recently a muesli recipe from Voula Halliday, which I’ll be sure to try when I get home.

What’s striking about my most active FB friendships is that very few involve people I see often, so my connections to them don’t change with my travels (or theirs, more often than not). They might keep me in touch with far-flung relatives I rarely see, with a schoolmate last seen in 1966 or with writers I knew in my editing life. Increasingly, they connect me to people I’ve never met and may never meet, but whose thoughts, witticisms, thoughts and discoveries I’ve come to find interesting. I’ve been known to look at their family photos so that I can picture who they are and what kind of world they inhabit. Not long ago one of those people introduced me, via FB, to another friend of hers, suspecting we’d enjoy each other’s virtual company. She asked if I’d mind her playing “FB matchmaker.” Mind? It’s been a pleasure.

I’ve accepted most friend requests that come my way (exceptions: the “Hello, pretty lady” types and anyone whose motivation appears to be collecting vast numbers of people to spam). You never know might have an eye-opening link to share, or a clever take on the news. I’m not sure I’ve ever unfriended anyone (although at least two people have mysteriously unfriended me). I do unfollow people who specialize in cute animals. Nothing personal–it’s just that the more puppies I have to scroll through, the harder it is to find what’s rewarding to me. Then again, if you and I have a bond and I’ve noticed you have a particularly endearing dog, I might ask you what breed he is. My husband and I are planning to adopt a dog this year, and it could be a sign of something that Teresa Toten and Laurelea Conrad, who probably don’t know each other in the real world or on FB, have the same breed. You two might have the makings of an FB friendship, or even a walk in the park with your adorable dogs. But like everything else on Facebook, that’s for you to decide.

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