How to Build Authentic Friendships in a Social Media World

If you’ve ever wondered whether social media might be having a negative effect on your friendships, you’re not alone. Though social media can be a great way to connect, it can also make you feel like it’s harder to build deeper bonds with close friends.

Sometimes, social media can even contribute to conflict between friends. For instance, in a recent report from the Pew Research Center, almost half the teenagers surveyed said that they sometimes feel overwhelmed by the drama on social media. [1]

If this sounds all too familiar to you, here are strategies you can use to build authentic friendships, from strengthening existing friendships, to building new ones in real life.

1. Take stock of your social media habits

First, notice just how much you’re using social media. Strengthening your friendships doesn’t have to mean avoiding Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter altogether, but it’s helpful to step back and consider usage.

Boston-based therapist Brie Shelly notes that many social media users don’t even know how much they rely on it.

Shelly advises picking a method to learn more about your own use, such as:

“All of these options allow you to see how frequently your fingers search for your phone and apps without you even realizing it,” says Brie.

Whether you decide that reduced time on social media is helpful for you, or you choose to revert back to your original habits, simply noticing your usage and having that knowledge can be an enlightening first step.

2. Be intentional about why you use social media

As you reflect on your social media use, you can also consider what you really want to get out of social media.

Some ways in which social media may be serving a role for you include:

Use this information to outline some basic rules for yourself about which apps you want to use, how you want to use them, and who you want to focus on connecting with.

For example, you might determine that you prefer other news apps for getting the news and want to focus on, say, using Facebook to keep track of events. Or, you might decide that staying close with distant loved ones on Instagram is your biggest priority, in which case you might tailor your feed to focus more closely on them.

Even setting some simple goals can go a long way toward keeping your relationship with social media positive.

3. Part with aspects of social media that aren’t serving you

You might find that certain kinds of online interactions or certain specific connections aren’t working for you—and that’s okay! It’s up to you to determine how you engage with social media, so feel free to take a step back from aspects that you find shallow, unfulfilling, or anxiety-provoking.

Ways you can be mindful in the online connections you have include:

It’s important to make social media work for you, and the kinds of friendships you want to cultivate.

4. Focus on the positive

Strengthening your friendships in online interactions can be as simple as watching your thoughts and feelings as you scroll.

If you find yourself feeling consistently judgmental of a friend you love in real life, remember that you don’t have to look at that friend’s posts — it’s fine to focus on enjoying your offline relationship.

Same goes if a certain friend’s posts make you feel envious or insecure; try looking away from the friend’s online presence and instead consider ways to build your real-life connection. Focusing on what’s working in your friendship offline — instead of what’s not working online — will likely benefit both of you.

It’s also just as important to celebrate the online connections that nourish and inspire you. Shelly notes: “Seeing others thrive or achieve goals can drum up your own internal motivation to get after your own dreams.”

5. Take online connections offline

When you find an online connection you’re interested in getting to know better, give yourself permission to reach out and say so!

Shelly notes that most people are responsive, and that it’s increasingly common to meet friends, collaborators, and even romantic partners through social media connections.

6. Cultivate offline connections

Some of the best ways to manage social media’s impact on your friendships have nothing to do with social media.

Try a few of the following ways to connect more deeply with offline friends both new and old:

7. Avoid immediately looking up new friends online

When you meet an interesting new person offline, it can be tempting to immediately look them up on social media. But Shelly recommends taking it slow.

“Try to not engage on social media with someone that you meet in person until they reach out to you,” she says.

Because it can be so tempting to judge people online and compare yourself to them, Shelly notes that “it can be very beneficial to let a relationship blossom organically versus getting lost in a new ‘friend's’ feed.”

8. Build friendship skills in therapy

If you find that you consistently have trouble deepening your friendships or managing the role of social media in your life, it might be helpful to meet with a therapist.

Therapy is a great way to practice communication skills that you can use to build bonds with friends old and new. What’s more, it also gives you a place to process any particularly difficult social situations and come up with productive responses to them.

You can search for therapists in your area using Zencare to browse therapist videos, book initial phone calls, and learn more about common mental health concerns.