As we’ve progressed through the Information Age, nearly every aspect of life has been impacted by the Internet and all it has to offer.
Although using the Internet to make friends was initially considered taboo, the emergence of the online dating trend as well as a variety of social online games have paved the way for an entirely new category of friendships.
Now, using the Internet for social purposes – including making friends online – is a perfectly normal part of modern society. But for many people, Internet friendships are uncharted territory, running on their own set of unspoken rules and requiring a greater understanding of digital technology.
In this guide, I will give you my my best tips on how to make friends online.
Online friendships: Is it for you?
We all know that friendships are good for our health. But according to a study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, friendships formed on social networking sites can have the same emotional and psychological benefits as face-to-face friendships.1
Online friendships have been found to be particularly beneficial for people who struggle with shyness, social anxiety, or a lack of confidence in their own social skills. While these people may avoid face-to-face social settings that would provide the opportunity to make friends, the Internet provides a “safer” social setting in which alternative friendships can be formed.
In this article by Arti Patel for Global News, therapist and friendship researcher Miriam Kirmayer supports the use of the Internet to develop lasting friendships. “It can be easier to reach out, introduce yourself, and get a friendship off the ground when you know that the other person is also looking to make new friends,” she says.
According to another study, “The high sense of control and reduced social threat during online interactions have been indicated as reasons why [people] may want to find online friends.”2
But you don’t have to be shy to look to the Internet for friendship. Many people have busy schedules that prevent them from getting as much face-to-face social interaction as they would like, and others live in small towns with few people to choose from as potential friends.
“It can become increasingly difficult to make friendships as we age,” says Kirmayer. “Often times, it is a practical issue. Our schedules are busy. We are short on time. As we try to balance the various relationships and responsibilities that we have, our friendships are often the first thing to go.”
Making friends online is one way to solve the issue of time that can prevent us from developing close social relationships.
Another benefit of online friendship is the ability to make friends from different parts of the world, whom you would likely never have the opportunity to meet were it not for the Internet.
Says Ellie Larson in this blog post for A Beautiful Mess, “I think the reason [online friendships] are often MORE successful is because what’s bringing you together are common interests and passions, not proximity.”
In addition, social skills that are developed and used in the formation of online friendships (such as rapport building, making conversation, and self-disclosure) are transferable to face-to-face social settings as well.
One study found that “When using [social technologies], individuals may improve upon their self-disclosure skills, including what, how much, and when to disclose personal information, which then transfers to offline interactions with peers…[this] in turn enhances the quality of existing close friendships.” (3)
For many people, the biggest concern when it comes to attempting online friendship is the issue of whether or not online friendships are as “real” as face-to-face friendships. A study done by ethnographer Denise M. Carter over the course of three years proves that they are.
According to sociologist Anthony Giddens, whom Carter references extensively, the three components of friendship are freedom, commitment, and intimacy. Freedom refers to the concept that friendships are chosen, unlike kinship ties which are determined by birth. Commitment is the idea that your mutual bond will withstand trials throughout time, and intimacy is the bond of trust that makes people comfortable sharing personal information (such as their secrets, struggles, and hopes for the future) with one another.
While many people question whether these three components–especially intimacy– can truly be developed online, Carter’s study shows that they can be. In fact, she says, the Internet makes it easier to develop intimate friendships because people are not bound by the social and cultural norms that may influence their face-to-face friendships, such as socioeconomic status and social hierarchy. In addition, it can be easier to open up to people online because of the security in knowing they are unable to break your confidence by sharing it with mutual acquaintances.(4)
So, having taken all these things into consideration, is online friendship for you? Ask yourself these questions to find out:
- Do you struggle to form face-to-face friendships as a result of shyness, social anxiety, or a perceived lack of social skills?
- Do you live in an area where it is difficult to meet many new people?
- Are you interested in making friends who live in different parts of the world?
- Are you interested in finding people who share the same passions as you, regardless of where they may live?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then online friendship may greatly benefit your social life. Keep reading to find out exactly how to do it.
How to choose the right platform to make friends online
As the Internet has increased in popularity, the number of social media networks has increased as well. Many have been short-lived (think MySpace and Vine), while others seem to be here to stay (like Facebook and Twitter).
Believe it or not, some social media networks are more conducive to making friends online than others, and researchers have already done the work for us to determine what those networks are.
When choosing a social media platform for the purpose of making friends, you should make sure it is
- Reciprocal, and
A reciprocal social media network is one that promotes mutual friendship instead of allowing one person to have access to, or “follow”, the other person without requiring the other person to “follow” back.
Twitter and Instagram are two perfect examples of unreciprocal social media networks. Both platforms allow a user to follow a person, but the person being followed may not necessarily follow back. This is great for allowing people to keep up with celebrities and political figures, but not so great for someone who is looking to develop meaningful online friendships.
Facebook, on the other hand, is reciprocal because when someone accepts a friend request both parties instantly have access to one another’s profiles and information.
According to one study on close-knit friendships developed through social networking sites, the level of reciprocity (or the two-way, mutual friendship requirement) of the site will impact the success of the friendships formed through the site.5
The other characteristic to look for when choosing a social media platform for making friends online is the site’s interactivity.
According to Desjarlais and Joseph, “For socially interactive technologies, messages are directed to a specific person and conversing typically occurs in real time (e.g., text and instant messaging). Such online conversations resemble [face-to-face] interactions but in a text-based form.”3
In other words, the social networking sites that are most conducive to forming new friendships will allow you to communicate with people in a way that is as similar to “real life” communication as possible.
This is opposite of socially passive technologies, which promote much longer delays between responses (such as email and direct messaging) and do not mimic face-to-face interaction as closely. It was found that these types of social technologies are much less likely to be used in forming close online friendships– or, at the very least, will significantly slow down the development of the friendship.
With as many social networking sites as there are, it can be overwhelming to sort through them in order to choose the best one (or several) for your journey in making friends online. But don’t panic- we’ve compiled a list of the best social networking sites and mobile apps for making friends online:
- Facebook.com: Use the “Groups” and “Events” features to find just that–groups and events– pertaining to your interests and hobbies. Get involved by attending events or messaging with another member of the group to discuss and bond over your mutual interests.
- Meetup.com: Search for your interests or hobbies and find social events in your area created by other users. You can also create your own social events for other users to find and attend.
- Rendezwho: This app uses questions about your personality and interests to match you with one other user (who can be anywhere in the world). You cannot directly share anything about yourself with the other user (and vice versa) but instead get to know each other by sending and receiving music playlists, memes, etc. Once you figure out where your friend is located, you can travel to meet your new friend for the first time.
- Meet My Dog: According to the app, “Meet My Dog is a new location-based social app that helps you connect with other dog owners in your local area and many other locations.”
- Monarq.co: This is a social networking site for women who run companies and startups.
- Patook: “The strictly platonic friend-making app” as it calls itself, this app allows you to find people in your area who share your interests.
- Nextdoor.com: This is a social networking site that allows people to connect with others in their neighborhoods.
- Not4Dating.com: This site is very simple and shows you other people in your area who are also looking to make friends online. You can filter your search by different characteristics (age, gender, etc.) to find friends who will best meet your needs.
- We3: This app is designed to help you make not just one friend, but two, by putting users in same-gender groups of 3 (hence the name). The app advertises “no awkward silences or unwanted advances” and uses an algorithm that “considers over 150 factors when deciding who to connect.”
- Chat rooms: The Internet provides a variety of different chat rooms for you to explore, the sole purpose being (you guessed it) to chat with other users. Most chat rooms are divided into categories by interests, age, gender, and more, so you can narrow down your friend search however it best suits you. Check out this article by Rinkesh Kukreja for Stackroom to find a list of great chat rooms for making friends.
- Online Games: If you enjoy playing video games, many games offer online/computerized versions that also offer social components. You can even participate in social aspects of games used on popular gaming consoles, such as XBox and PlayStation.
Developing an interesting online profile
Once you have chosen the social media platform(s) that you will use to make friends online, it’s time to work on your profile. Your profile is an important part of the online friendship process because it is your virtual first impression– it is the first thing people will notice about you and can determine whether they have an interest in developing a friendship with you or not.
The first step to creating an interesting profile is your username. Some social media networks require you to use your real name (like Facebook), in which case you have one less thing to worry about.
But on others, such as chat rooms and many apps, your username will be your primary identifier.
A good username is unique and tells other users something about yourself. “PizzaGirl85” is not a very original username because it tells other users nothing more than 1) you probably like pizza (but who doesn’t) and 2) 1985 was probably a significant year for you for some reason.
“SciFiAdam” is an example of a more unique and interesting username because 1) it tells other users you’re interested in science fiction, which will draw other science fiction fans to you, and 2) your name is Adam, which distinguishes you from other science fiction fans/users with “sci-fi” in their usernames.
Another tip on usernames is this: If you use or plan to use multiple sites or apps, it can be a good idea to keep the same username across the different networks. Since your username is your “Internet name,” consistency between platforms will make you recognizable and can help other users who may also use multiple sites identify you more easily (which will increase your chances of being befriended by them).
Once you have chosen a username, most sites and apps will give you the opportunity to write a bio or “About Me.” Always take advantage of the “About Me” feature. On the surface, the “About Me” section is simply a place to–what else?–tell people about yourself, but in reality this section is your “sales pitch” to prospective friends.
If someone is drawn to your profile from your username or posts you’ve made in chat rooms/other online social spaces, your “About Me” will let them know if you have enough in common to make getting to know you worthwhile.
5 tips for how to write a good online profile to make friends online
- Include your hobbies and interests.
- Include any important personal information that will affect the type of friend you’d like to meet. For example, if you’re looking for friends with similar religious beliefs, share your religion in your “About Me” and state that it’s important to you. If you’d like friends the same gender, in a similar age group, or in the same geographical region, share these details about yourself.
- If you’ve had any interesting experiences/successes related to the hobbies and passions you’re listing, name them. For example, if you’re a runner, name some of the races you’ve run. If you’re an avid video game-player, share the names of any games you’ve gotten to “test play” for the company who made them. These details will spark the interest of people who have things in common with you and can provide information for you to bond over.
- Express an openness to making new friends. Ending your “About Me” with something along the lines of “I love meeting new people, so feel free to send me a message if you’d like to chat!” will make people more comfortable reaching out to you because you’ve already given them the go-ahead.
- Be honest about who you are and what you enjoy. Just like with face-to-face friendships, pretending to like things that you really don’t for the sake of “fitting in” will not attract the type of people you can truly bond over mutual interests with. In addition, the untruths will come to light eventually, which is sure to cause problems in the friendship. Click here to check out our guide on being yourself.
Here is an example of an “About Me” (using myself):
“My name is Amanda Haworth, and I’m 24 and married with two dogs and a cat. I love anything to do with words, and my passion for reading and writing, as well as my fascination with human psychological development, is what led me to be a teacher specializing in the early childhood years.
In addition to expressing myself through writing, I also love to express myself through other forms of creativity such as painting, sewing, and crocheting. I’m interested in pretty much anything your grandma likes (call me an old soul)– woolen socks, a fresh pot of coffee, card games, movies taking place in the WWII era, and really thick books.
I’m an introvert, but I enjoy having in-depth conversations with new people and would love to meet some other women in my age group to share life with! Feel free to send me a message if you want to chat :).”
Some things to take note of from my example:
- I provided my age because at the end I mentioned the desire for friendships in my own age group
- I listed many of my different interests so that I can find friends who have things in common with me
- I mentioned that I’m an introvert (so as not to attract friends who are interested in partying/other things I don’t enjoy)
- I expressed my desire to make friends and gave people an invitation to contact me
Once you have your username and your “About Me,” the next step is to reach out and find your friends!
Choosing who to contact online
Having a great social media profile will definitely help attract new people, but when it comes to making friends, you can’t just sit back and wait for them to come to you. Now it’s time to learn how to reach out and initiate contact with people you’re interested in befriending.
Most social media networks will offer some sort of “people search” that includes filters to help you narrow down your results. These filters typically consist of the general location where users reside, their approximate distance from your location, and their gender, and some networks provide the option to also filter by marital status, age, and other factors. Using these search filters to narrow your results will help you save a lot of time when looking for friends online.
In addition to searching for people to befriend, it’s also of the utmost importance that you have an active presence in the site/app you are using.
Read more: How to find friends more like you.
When you first join the group/chat room/etc., make a post introducing yourself to the others. You will likely get some welcoming comments, and this is an easy way to kickstart your search for friends.
Next, maintain your presence in the virtual social sphere. If it’s a chat room, get involved in the discussions! If you’re joining a Facebook group pertaining to one of your interests, post friendly and encouraging comments on people’s pictures and posts, and make posts of your own that share your own work related to the group’s topic.
For example, if you are a member of a Facebook group for musicians in your area, comment on a video of someone playing their guitar and say, “Great job! You’re really talented,” or “Wow! I really enjoyed that! Keep it up!”
If you strike up a good conversation with someone in the group/chat room/etc., send him or her a friend request (if the site/app you are using doesn’t offer friend requests, send a direct message to continue/expand your conversation outside of the public forum).
It’s a good idea to include a personal message when sending a friend request to someone you don’t know in real life. This will allow you to explain who you are and why you’re adding them as a friend. Your message can go something like this:
“Hey [name], I’m also a member of [name of Facebook group] and I’ve really enjoyed seeing your posts about [topic]. I also love [topic] and I’d love to chat with you some more about it!”
If it’s applicable, you could also include:
- “I think I could really learn a lot from you about [topic].”
- “I’d love for you to take a look at [my painting/my writing/this video of me playing an instrument] and give me some pointers!”
- “I would love to meet up sometime and [skateboard/play the saxophone/cook Italian food] together.” (Caution: It’s best to say this only after having previous discussions with the person about your mutual interest so you don’t come on too strong and scare them off).
When you begin having conversations about a specific topic in this way, often you will find that you and that person have other things in common as well. Your conversation will naturally branch off into other areas, and pretty soon you will find that you have a great new friend. Click here for more tips on making conversation.
Online friendships are a relatively new type of social relationship, but research shows that they can have just as much benefit on our emotional and psychological well-being as face-to-face friendships do. In fact, making friends on the Internet is actually more conducive to many modern lifestyles than more traditional means of making friends.
By choosing the best social media network for your needs, developing an interesting profile, and initiating contact with other users, you can quickly and easily meet many new people–both near and far–who share similar interests, values, opinions, and more.
Also, check out these guides on how to make friends:
Are online friendships a good option for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
- Young, M. B., Young, B., and Hyunmi, J. (2013). Social and parasocial relationships on social network sites and their differential relationships with users’ psychological well-being. Cyber Psychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(7). Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
- Van Zalk, M. H. W., Van Zalk, N., Kerr, M., and Stattin, H. (2014). Influences between online exclusive, conjoint and offline-exclusive friendship networks: The moderating role of shyness. The European Journal of Personality, 28:134-146.
- Desjarlais, M. and Joseph, J. J. (2017). Socially interactive and passive technologies enhance friendship quality: An investigation of the mediating roles of online and offline self-disclosure. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 20(5). Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
- Carter, D. M. (2004). Living in virtual communities: Making friends online. Journal Of Urban Technology, 11(3), 109-125. doi:10.1080/10630730500064448
- Ai-Xiang, C., Zi-Ke, Z., Ming, T., Pak Ming, H., & Yan, F. (2012). Emergence of Scale-Free Close-Knit Friendship Structure in Online Social Networks. Plos ONE, 7(12), 1-13. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050702