We know that social capital (relationships in our life) are complex issues. We mostly think about relationships being actual, yet with social media we can maintain virtual relationships with people, many that we may have never actually met or spent any direct time with. Through platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, we have come to know new people, or have maintained distant relationships with people in our lives that make us feel good. Still, the sweetest aspects of social capital are found in our actual relationships when we look into peoples eyes and promote a deeper sense of bonding.
This balance of virtual and actual relationships can be managed in a way that enhances the good things we find in social capital; health, happiness, self confidence and a more positive view of life. In fact, the purposeful community builder can find that using the virtual to compliment the actual can make for better outcomes. This means that anyone interested in promoting social capital for individuals who are isolated or lonely should understand the symbiotic relationship between virtual platforms and real life.
One such social media platforms that can be extremely useful to the community builder is MeetUp (www.meetup.com). This site was conceived right after 9/11 unfolded in the United States. The MeetUp founders were taken aback by the purposeful connection between people for social good and conceived the notion of a website that would allow people to find others who shared passions. Over the years the site has connected people in all kinds of ways. It has allowed newcomers to find social capital through their common interests; it has allowed organizers to put out a call for social action; and for community builders it offers a medium for linking people at risk of social isolation with others.
Recently meetup.com was sold to a company that is work-site oriented, but the early signs are that it will continue to be a place to connect like people - a virtual platform that leads to the actual. So as a community builder recognize the powerful virtual tools at your disposal in connecting socially isolated people. In the end, we all need people in our lives that can help us frame reality, and in a way frame better lives for all.
So think about ways you can balance sites like Facebook, or MeetUp to help promote people having a greater opportunity for actual relationships in their lives. Community builders must use every tool at our disposal to help build community.