I spend way too much time online, most of it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn. While you may not spend the hours online as I do, admit it, you are online a lot. My question to you is a simple one:
How well do you really know your virtual connections?
We love our time in this fast-paced world of sharing personal updates, news, opinions and general silly banter, but do we allow the keyboard and screen to depersonalize the experience and create a false sense of intimacy? It feels like we know these people, but do we? (Spoiler alert: The answer is No.)
While there will be always be an ongoing debate about which metrics (number of followers, fans, clicks) are most important when calculating social media ROI (return on investment), I wonder if there is a downside to being a metric-holic. In our quest to connect with more people, stay abreast of new online tools, drive traffic to our websites or defend an opinion, it is all too easy to lose our way. Has become increasingly difficult to remember that there are real people on the other end of our online posts? These real people have real feelings, real families, real problems and real lives. They are not simply numbers.
With most of the essence of communication being non-verbal and only a small percentage about the actual words, we lose the context and nuance of the words when all we get is words. Without body language, facial expression, or tone of voice, misunderstandings are all too frequent. It’s just too hard to understand how my message resonates with you or what you meant when you posted that last update. The result is that, for many, the default behavior is to focus on what I have to say and not on how it might impact you. It’s easier to focus on something I know than on something I have no way of knowing. Still, isn’t it worth a try?
These questions have been rattling around in my mind for the last couple of months, but yesterday’s terribly tragic suicide of well-respected social media expert, Trey Pennington, brought them to the forefront. I only knew Trey virtually, but the pain of those who knew him well is palpable. He had been suffering from depression, something which not all of his friends knew. This, too, begs the question – How well do we know each other and are we a different version of ourselves online and off?
This led me to wonder if it is realistically possible to strengthen our connections, making them more meaningful and authentic. Obviously, there are no easy answers, but we can only start at the beginning by making some commitments to our virtual friends. With that in mind, here are three metrics no social analytics tool will measure when calculating ROI, but which I suggest are pretty damn important. (Yes, I used a curse word. I’m pretty sure we’ll all survive.) It’s time for us to stop taking these connections so lightly and focus more intentionally on each other.
Is it my imagination or are people more willing to publicly harass and insult others than ever before? I see bloggers calling out other bloggers for unsavory practices. I see people with strong political views arguing the finer points of the problems with the U.S. economy. I see people bullying others for no apparent reason (even boasting about how much fun it is). Healthy disagreements can be both interesting and productive, as long as we remember to respect the person, disagree with their perspective. When these exchanges degrade to the point that they include name-calling, bullying and labeling others, that’s where it crosses the line for me.
Sure, we think we’re right and therefore permitted to make sure everyone knows it. Tell me – who doesn’t think they’re right? What about being smarter, savvier or more right than the other person compels us to overlook the impact our words may be having on someone else?
- When you disagree, do you consider whether it’s possible that you’ve misinterpreted the message or intent?
- Do you contact the person privately to see more information?
- If you feel they’ve made a mistake and there is a lesson to be learned, do you share their content publicly without having hidden their identity?
- Is it worth your time to be mindful of respecting others online?
When we’re online, are we listening? Not the sentiment analysis kind of listening, but the real kind of listening? When we notice that someone has been uncharacteristically silent or frustrated, do we let it pass or do we take it upon ourselves to get in touch directly to see if we might be able to help? Yeah, I know it might be awkward and chances are good that someone else will probably notice, right? And, it’s not like they were asking for someone to notice them – or were they?
- Is it possible that you may get a different response to a public “Are you ok?” than a private message?
- Are you able to set aside your own agenda and be open to offering support free from judgement?
- Are you really too busy to listen?
- Are you willing to be that someone else who takes the time to say, “I hear you?”
- Is it worth your time to be a more active listener online?
I love hugs. They are a precious, brief moment in time when two people connect, literally or figuratively. Hugs can mean, “I support and care about you,” “I’m sorry,” or “I’m ridiculously happy to see you.” Hugs can mean different things to different people and come in many forms – a comforting embrace, coffee with a friend or a phone call from a loved one. The best thing about them is that they’re shared on a one-to-one basis. In the social media world, we’re always looking for ways to scale communication on a one-to-many basis. For those of you with huge networks of friends, you’re out of luck because hugs don’t scale. And that’s exactly why they are so special.
I’m pretty sure there must be a government-sponsored study around somewhere which validates the health benefits of hugs, but I’ll go out on a limb and just declare that they’re good for us. Whether given or received, you can’t be on the wrong end of a well-intended hug.
- Is there someone you know who could use a hug?
- Should we wait until we sense that something is wrong to let someone know we’re thinking of them?
- Why isn’t now the right time?
- Are there times when being willing to ask for a hug is as important as giving one?
- Is it worth your time to share a hug with someone you care about?
Great thoughts Irene.
I know most of my online contacts in real life. I have to admit that for some connections there is only a teeny tiny reason for our connection. (e.g., we were in 4th grade together before we moved away.)
Thanks for the comment – and for being one of my real life connections!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole social media thing lately–before and after Trey’s suicide. Social media really can be a superficial, lonely place. You’re right: Everyone just seems to be presenting his or her point of view, trying to make themselves look important.
What does it say about our society that so many of us think we have to “be” somebody (that is, have superior accomplishments, make a lot of money, “win” an argument, or be a guru of this-or-that) to feel worthy?
We are not out Klout score. We are not our number of followers or friends. We are not our Twitter Grader score. (And if you think you are, you’ve got it all wrong!)
We are humans. We have feelings. We are good at some things and suck at others. Sometimes we’re right; sometimes we’re wrong. We’re normal. And that’s not only okay, that’s wonderful!
I have distanced myself from social media lately for just that very reason: I’m tired of the superficiality of so many folks online. (Of course, I do NOT include you in that category! I truly value our online and offline conversations.) What really did it was when a new follower asked me, “Are you on social media for business?” When I explained that I was on for BOTH, business AND personal connections, she promptly unfriended and unfollowed me. Looking at her profile, it is clear that she is all business all the time. Nothing wrong with that, but if she isn’t interested in getting to know someone BEFORE she asks that question, she is missing the whole point of social media: connections and communications. Yesterday, after two months of not following me, she promptly followed me again. I have no idea why, but I do wonder, “What does she want?” I know that may be unfair on my part, but I’m leery.
Another guy –whom I know offline and “thought” was a friend–unfriended me. I didn’t even know it until after I retweeted one of his blog posts and received a message that he had followed me. Hmmm…I didn’t even know he had unfollowed me. Personally, I don’t care if someone follows or unfollows me. What I DO care about is people who follow you out of obligation or a sense of tit-for-tat. (I’ll follow you if I think I can get something out of you.)
One thing that I think we all need to remember from the tragic events of yesterday is that no one — no matter how great his or her life seems online — is immune from heartache, pain, and shortcomings. We are all human. I say folks should stop trying to be “gurus” and show some of their humanness and frailties. My guess is we would establish more true and lasting relationships that way.
Incredibly well said. Thank you.
Recently I’ve begun sending messages to some of my virtual connections suggesting that we meet for coffee or lunch. I am honestly amazed how many people have ignored my request. A few have responded. It’s allowed me to look more critically at some of my connections, at who might just be collecting names, and others who are only about promoting themselves, not establishing meaningful connections. And, I have started hitting the delete button, which causes me guilt as well as some joy.
I read recently that social media is particularly difficult for teenagers, who see their friends leading charmed lives with photo documentation of parties and relationships, while their perception is that they are not getting ‘liked’ enough.
I think you really raise some good points Irene. It’s always been said that you can count your real friends on one hand. I suspect that is still true today.
Hi Stefani. Thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts. Don’t worry about the guilt. Connect – or disconnect – in a way that feels right to you.