We have a family joke.

It’s about my mom, and how she will talk to anyone. She’ll chat up a sales clerk, sharing details about her life; she’ll introduce everyone at the table to a server at a restaurant; she’ll make friends in waiting rooms or invite people home that she just met.

Growing up, I cringed, walked away. I wanted to get on with our shopping; I didn’t want the server to know my name or the details of the event we were celebrating. I especially didn’t want my mom to share that. That was embarassing!

As my dad likes to say, she would talk to a snake, if it talked back.

I do the same thing, now.

My mother turns strangers into friends everywhere she goes. She compliments others, and shares words of kindness. She asks questions… and she shares about herself.

Social media has given me a much wider sphere of influence. My mom may have told the cashier at Wendy’s about my latest accomplishment; with one tweet, I can broadcast my daughters’ exploits to a potential audience of millions, to be archived and catalogued in the Library of Congress. I can not only tell, I can show my pride in my kids: with picture and video, on Facebook or YouTube, Flickr or posterous.

I can — and I do — make connections with people I don’t know, everyday, sometimes in person but more often online.

Online relationships and connections give me an opportunity to have influence far beyond my home or community.

It’s becoming a new family joke. My husband will look at my growing list of Facebook friends, pick out someone he doesn’t know, and say, “How do you know her? Oh, right. She’s your best friend.” It’s the 2010 version of “She would talk to a snake,” and I own it proudly.

Tell me something! How do you use your online presence to make a difference? What can you do, today, to make a friend out of a stranger?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like With Only A Few Key Strokes or Making Strangers Into Friends.