Everything I needed to know about social networking, I learned from my mom

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When my mother died in early 2004, Friendster was the domain of the young'uns, MySpace was barely out the door and Facebook was still a month from launching.

But for someone who never saw used the word "friend" as a verb in her life, JoAnne Cottingham taught me an awful lot about social networking.

Things like being of service, and giving instead of taking. Mom volunteered on everything from the local community association to the church. (It got to the point where someone witnessed a break-in at our home - the burglar walked in through the unlocked front door - and thought nothing of it except "Poor JoAnne; people aren't even bothering to knock any more when they walk in with more work for her to do.")

Or like offering something of value when you invite people over. Mom would cook and bake for days before a party, stuffing the fridge and freezer with a parade of treats that would then reappear, tray by delicious tray, over the course of the evening.

Or like finding a niche and filling it. When they moved to a small rural community, one where news coverage was next to non-existent, Mom and Dad started a local newspaper. It was a labour of love, not profit; a month where their revenue exceeded their printing and distribution costs was a pretty good month. But they kept it going for years.

And when I'm having my greatest impact online, it's almost always when I'm doing one of those things I saw Mom do so often in the offline world.

She didn't have analytics to track their progress, or an ROI measurement strategy so she could tell if what she was doing was worthwhile, but she did have a clear reward for her efforts: a large, broad circle of friends. As Mom and Dad's kids, we were often beneficiaries of the goodwill they earned, with warmth and friendliness automatically extended to us by virtue of our parents' contributions. And toward the end of their lives, when they had to draw on that community more than they were able to give to it, those people were there for them.

What did your mother teach you about social networking?


Raul Pacheco says

May 8, 2011 - 11:33am

What a beautiful tribute to your Mom, Rob. And you're completely right: my own Mom also taught me stuff about social networking (online AND offline). My Mom taught me to be authentic and have a voice that speaks to values of truth, honesty and transparency. My Mom never sugarcoats anything, not even for her children (her 5 boys) nor her ex-husband (my parents divorced after 30 years of marriage!) nor her friends.

It sounds like your Mom rocked, Rob. And the Mom of your own children rocks too. Give Alex much love on my behalf and wish her Happy Mother's Day from me.

Tere says

May 8, 2011 - 7:18pm

To be Gracious

Nhan Truong says

July 21, 2011 - 8:05pm

It's wonderful to know that there are a lot of good Parents who have always been an good example and inspirations for their children. I also know lots unfortunate children inorphanage, who could never forgive their parents.

A really nice article. I was touched.

Swapna Raghu Sanand says

September 12, 2011 - 1:05am

The last para in particular was so touching, the way you've talked about being beneficiaries of the goodwill that your parents had earned. Connects straight to the very purpose of our social existence.


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