One of the main reasons drawing people of all ages online is the prospect of connecting and communicating with others. This need for connecting online is the impetus behind the immense popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, and countless others.

In the realm of online vs offline social networking, an interesting question often arises: As one’s online social networks grow, does that person also become more popular offline?

There are generally two schools of thought on this issue, broadly promoted by the cyberpessimists and the cyberoptimists.

You can almost guess what I’m about to write next, right?

Cyberpessimists believe that being social online results in being anti-social offline. The premise makes sense; we only have so much time to dedicate to socializing online or off. Thus, as the time socializing online increases, our face-to-face exposure with contacts may diminish.

The cyberoptimists assert the opposite: online social networking actually supplements rather than displaces offline social networking.

So who’s got the right idea?

Maybe neither according to a recent study by Pollet and colleagues in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

In the study, they investigated the relationship between use of social media and instant messaging with the size and quality of offline social networks among 117 individuals aged 18 to 63 years old.

First, the authors found that time spent online is associated with a greater online social network.

No surprise there.

On the other hand, the amount of time spent instant messaging or on social networking sites was not associated with the size of one’s offline network.

Additionally, the size of the online social network did not correlate with the size of the offline social network.

In other words, being popular online in no way guarantees being popular offline. Nor does being a Twitter-fiend imply having no offline social life.

And finally, the time spent socializing online had no relation to the quality of offline social bonds, or the emotional closeness to offline contacts.

From my perspective, social media has certainly expanded my professional social network beyond what I could have accomplished by simply attending scientific conferences. I now know scientists from all parts of the world, many of whom are not in the same field as mine. If it wasn’t for Twitter, our paths would have never crossed. Blogging has also introduced me to a tremendous number of science writers and bloggers, journalists, and beyond. These people run in completely separate professional networks from mine, and yet we are now connected.

Has it done much for my offline social network?

Probably not. Most of my close offline friends remain close friends, and the vast majority of my offline friends are not active online. Thus, despite little online connection with the people closest to me, these relationships have not been negatively affected.

What do you think?

Has growing your online social network had a positive, negative or negligible impact on your offline social life?

Peter