The strange connections we feel to people we follow online

I got up one morning and checked my daily Medium feed and a story jumped out at me. It was called “Sex and Sorrow“. Catchy title, no? What’s the association between sex and sorrow? So, I read it and then made a comment.

Later that day, the author of the post responded to my comment. I felt a mixture of surprise and glee that my comment was getting some attention. While reading the comment, I was overcome with the sensation that I was interacting with an old friend. She was open and articulate and that is the kind of people I like to connect with. The subject matter of her story and response was very personal and you don’t typically discuss that kind of thing with random strangers. But this is the internet where strange is the new normal.

In spite of what I was feeling, I knew better than to think too much of it. The attention might have made me feel special but for her, it might have been strictly about business. Commenting on responses to her posts could just be a way of building her brand and following. After getting the response to my comment, I followed her, so it definitely works.

There are some useful insights that can be taken from this experience, I think. There is a lesson in how to connect with an audience. When you open up and make yourself vulnerable, the audience empathizes with you. It creates a sensation of intimacy and that’s really powerful. When marketing yourself as a brand this is probably the way to go.

I can think of a few other people off the top of the top my head who do a great job at this. My old Saint Vincent Community College classmate Nneka Elliott does it well with her lifestyle blog. Her use of photos is extraordinary. She’s beautiful and photogenic and her website and social media profiles are filled with stunning photography. After looking at them for a while it’s hard not to feel a connection to her.

Another person who is great at connecting with his audience is one of my favorite Kizomba dancers/instructors, Enah Lebon. I had watched his videos on YouTube but when I started to follow his public page on Facebook, I began to feel like I knew him as a person. We learned about how passionate he is about Kizomba, how tough the separation with his former dance partner Carolina was and his plans for the future. With most of the other Kizomba dancers that I follow, their profiles are more about which events they’re going to next but Enah gives a bit more about himself.

If I were to meet Enah in person, I would feel like I am meeting someone I already know whereas to him I’d be a complete stranger. That feels strange. How could you feel connected to someone who’s unaware of your existence? I guess it’s not an entirely new concept as there have been famous people and what we may call one-way relationships since the beginning of time. Religion may be a classic example of this. Millions of people follow and feel a sense of connection to entities that they’ve only heard about and who many people don’t believe exist! Maybe that’s part of what makes us unique as humans. We’re not limited to what we can touch and feel; we can also connect with things that are abstract.

The capacity for abstract thought is definitely a good thing. It may be a bit difficult to link this to feeling connected to people you follow online but that may be part of it. That may be something worth debating, but for someone else. I just thought it interesting to think about.

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