I took a break from writing my memoir yesterday to check my social media streams. As I clicked the like button and shared friend’s posts on Facebook, retweeted a few writers’ updates on Twitter and plussed a few folks’ content on the big G, the pure ease of it struck me. In most cases, one simple click allowed me to validate somebody’s content and show at the very least that I recognize that they exist.
Or did it?
When I say, “I like what you said” or “I’m going to share what you said with someone else,” what have I really said? And what does it really mean?
It used to be that it required at least minimal effort to build and maintain relationships with friends, business colleagues, other writers. It involved taking the time to let people know what it was about them that we appreciated, to go beyond the superficial, to connect with them in personal ways.
Then along came social media.
It’s easy! It’s quick! A real time saver.
But what were we giving up?
Fade to ‘office scene’
Somewhere in corporate America, the manager of the marketing department of a mid-sized firm has called a department meeting. Staff are seated around a mahogany table in the boardroom. The manager is a 40-ish woman with the annoying habit of constantly pulling a stray strand of hair behind one ear. She taps her pen on her coffee cup to call the meeting to order. The marketing intern sits quietly, eyes darting from face to face.
“We are here to brainstorm the latest ideas for the Flawless Faces campaign. I want your ideas on how best to use our media budget to get a bigger market share for Nielson Cosmetics,” Ms. Marketing Director says.
“Well, how about using real women in the fashion magazine ads?” the second year copywriter says.
“I like that,” the director’s assistant says.
“I like it, too.” says the designer.
“I like it.”
I think I like it, too.”
And around the table we go, until we reach our nervous intern. He jumps up. “I like it so much I’m going to share it!” he says.
The meeting ends with nine likes and three shares, but not much else. This would be a silly way to conduct a business, but it is what we do every day on social media. We sometimes lose sight of the very reason we are on social media: to collaborate and build stronger relationships with our colleagues, to open up dialogue.
But how do we do that?
Specific beats general every time
It starts early. With birthday letters in a first grade classroom even. What kind of birthday greeting does a six-year-old like better?
“Dear Josh, Happy Birthday. I like you.”
Or: “Dear Josh. Happy birthday. I like you because you are funny and you can make a spoon stick to your nose.”
If you were Josh, which birthday letter would make you smile more? The first one, of course, is the equivalent to clicking the like button on someone’s Facebook post, or retweeting something they said on Twitter.
The second one? Well, that one is more like sending a handwritten note to someone in the mail. Or talking about one of their blog posts on Facebook and telling what you specifically liked about it. Or just calling them out on Twitter with a reason or two why you think they are brilliant, or funny, even if it’s just because they can make a spoon stick to their nose.
I think that most of us are conflicted with social media not just because it is a time suck. We avoid it because sometimes it can feel superficial to us (especially if we are introverts). We love jumping into topics and going deep.
Most of us are fond of discussing ideas, rather then just “liking” them.
We are the kid who wrote the sticking-a-spoon-to-your-nose birthday letter. We tell stories and know everything there is to know about our characters and we want to know our friends that well, too.
“Liking and “sharing” is just the tip of the iceberg for us.
If you are a writer, do you have a love-hate relationship with social media?
Does it fit your communication style?
Or are you there just because everyone told you that you need to be?