Once again, the issue of social networks versus social bubbles has been on my mind since I attended the Online Newspaper Association.

While I was there, several people either asked me directly or raised the issue of diversity in online social networks during panel discussions. I think what they were really talking about is how to burst their social bubble and actually create a social network.

A network, particularly on the hyperlinked web, suggests to me a vast series of connections that naturally lead you away from your comfort zone and into the home of those you might never encounter in your
everyday life.

A social bubble, on the other hand, may still be a large place, with multiple connections, but those connections never truly take you outside of your sphere. You may, in fact, meet people you don’t know, but you won’t meet people you don’t know much about. In many ways, our online social bubbles are simply recreating our analog experience.

So, how do we break out of our sphere? Here were a couple of the problems poised and the advice given.

Trying to recruit interns of color for web based projects? Contact the local chapters of the ethnic journalism organizations and ask them to put out the word on the listserv. Ask them to not only find students, but also help you identify local blogs written by students and adults of color.

Once you are able to bring some interns of color onto your organization, listen to them. You may hear ideas that don’t make sense to you right away. Probe. Those very well may be the ideas that help you break through to new audiences.

Treat your interns well. Their experience will be your biggest selling point. Help them feel like valued contributors and they will pass the word on to their social bubble. As the two merge you will be on the verge of creating a true social network.

Need to get some ethnic or racial group with which you have no ties to contribute to a city wide blog?

First look into the community and see if there are people who are already blogging. Go out in the community not with the goal of finding people to immediately serve your goals, go out with the goal of discovering that community’s needs. Get to know people. Who are the natural leaders? Who likes to talk about the issues of the day? Find those people, develop a rapport and let them see the value of working with you to get out the word on their community.

There’s a big difference between a social bubble and a social network, but it’s not difficult to get from here to there — once we truly recognize the value of moving outside of our sphere.