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Katie Pinke with Nancy Grossi on Grossi's northern California dairy farm in 2011. (Katie Pinke/Agweek)

How social media can build real friendships that last

This past week provided a stark reminder of the importance of social media and how it can be used as a tool for positivity and to build lasting relationships.

More than 10 years ago, I started a blog from our rural area on the North Dakota prairie. I remember distinctly when a person who I didn't know commented on my blog. It opened me up to the World Wide Web awareness that not only my mom, grandma, sister and a few friends were reading my little blog.

The blog comment was from someone named Nancy and her blog was (and still is) The Wife of a Dairyman. She lived in a faraway land from my rural North Dakota location, all the way in ... California. Nancy and I commented back and forth on one another's blogs and built a relationship through social media, based on shared values.

Fast forward a couple of years. Through my past work with AdFarm, I was working with agriculture clients in California, and Nancy came to a northern California town, Yuba City, to a training I was a part of. I distinctly remember meeting Nancy. I felt like we already were friends and jumped right into what I think is critical in all relationships, offline conversation and time together.

Social media is a tool to connect us to like-minded and different thinkers than us, whatever we choose. We choose to make social media the experience what we want it to be.

All of us connect on many levels and on different platforms, but my years working in digital strategy have taught me to sniff out a fake a few times. I've learned a social media connection is not a true friend until you've spent offline, in-real-life time together.

Through work and blogging, Nancy and I spent in-person time together for a number of years. We went to the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif., together, to a couple of Blogher conferences in New York City and Chicago, and we were part of a California blogger tour together. I met her family when I stayed at their dairy farm once.

My career path changed and my interactions and connections over the past five years with Nancy have been solely online and exchanging Christmas cards. Friendships can fade without in-person time but social media has the ability to keep connections that may otherwise be lost.

This past week, my family and I have been traveling together for a family wedding in California. My mother-in-law's favorite pastime is watching baseball. We attended a San Francisco Giants game for a family fun activity. Not only did Nancy, her husband and kids attend the same game, they had tickets in the row right ahead of us and drove in hours of traffic — on a school night for their kids, nonetheless — to make it happen.

Far more than the outcome of the game or how tasty the two-for-one Giant hot dogs were, having Nancy and her family meet my family was rewarding to me. Nancy and I picked up right where we left off, and I was reminded how much we enjoy one another's company. Despite differences in our lives, we have deep shared connections around our families, parenting and agriculture.

Using social media for good is possible. It is up to you how you foster relationships utilizing social media or not. Real relationships and friendships are not solely rooted in the immediate people around you in the community or area you live and work. Find your people, your "tribe," your network or community — whatever term you want to give them. They might not share your zip code, but they can have shared interests, values and provide mutual support as friends, online and offline.

Seeing Nancy reminded how genuinely grateful I am for the positives of social media, for its ability to connect and build lasting real relationships and friendships. Social media is the connector for relationships, but offline time cements the friendship.