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August 8, 2008

Social Media Relationships Without a Face

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Editor’s Note: It’s the last day of guestblogging week! Lisa will be back on Monday, tanned and rested from her vacation. Until then, we’ve got the hardest working woman in Social Media here. Tamar’s going to give us her expertise on the industry.

As social beings, it’s human nature for us to want to be within the presence of our peers. For the most part, that was a regular practice of each and every one of us — that is, before the Internet took over the lives of many. Now, you can be social without actually face-to-face socializing. The benefits to this new “arrangement” were immense: socializing became somewhat easier and a lot more widespread. You weren’t confined to your geographic reason to find people with the same interests as you (and how many search marketers really know that many local SEOs anyway?) It became easier to contact people all around the world and hold a multitude of conversations with several people at the same time with the help of online tools such as Twitter, Instant Messenger, forums, and email.

While communications became a lot more widespread, they also started to differ in terms of how people relate to one another. Behind a barrage of text, one rarely, if ever, understands true intention. The ability to relate to people via online communications was a little more difficult, especially because the emotional element was missing. Whereas facial expressions can mostly be understood, text is text. One can be communicating completely sarcastically and it can be construed as malicious. One can be crying out in pain and that can be construed as jovial. Is an apology really a sincere apology? Is that joke meant to insult or hurt — or was it purely not intended to have any negative connotations at all? It’s hard to realize the emotions behind statements.
On sites like Digg, the lack of compassion and empathy is almost ubiquitous. Personal attacks (or so they seem) can sometimes go very far. Active participants may insult without understanding the true consequences. They forget that they’re dealing with real people who are sitting behind computer screens just like them.

The chances are that if the same interaction were to occur in person, it simply wouldn’t happen. When dealing with people directly, you usually think twice about what you say. When dealing with people over the internet, it’s a whole different ball game.

Recent events in the industry also are related to such impersonal interactions. On social news sites, blog posts, and even personal correspondence, many of us are forgetting that we’re dealing with our friends, our comrades, our colleagues, and people we’ve grown to trust. Without a face-to-face interaction, nobody understands or recognizes true intent. Perhaps it’s also true that we’re not realizing how our words are coming across.

some people may be friends with everyone on the internet (or so they think). In “real life,” it’s hard to be liked by everyone. Interestingly, this is why relationships themselves cannot thrive alone on the internet. We can all be a happy family online, but would we ever survive together in the same room in real life? Would we have anything to say to each other at all? Maybe not.

This actually ties into a lot of issues relating to social media. One of the more notable issues is online dating. How many people here have looked at a listing online, had a few IM chats, and realized that s/he wasn’t the one for you? If I did the same thing with my husband, we probably wouldn’t be married. (For the record, I didn’t meet my husband online, but I realize that so many people focus primarily on the conversation (or lack thereof) and forget that there are a lot of facets to individuals that are yet to be explored. Don’t give up that easily–with any sort of relationship.

There’s more to relationships than just online chatter. If you are involved in the social media world and you genuinely enjoy the community, reach out and network beyond those single communications. If you slip up online with a close friend, take a real-life opportunity to tell them in person what you really mean. Unfortunately, this new single method of communication may be incredibly technologically innovative, but it defies human nature and lacks the emotional cues that we humans need. Thinking twice–and following up in person–may be ways to show how genuine your intentions really are.

Tamar Weinberg is passionate about social media and writes for about 28482384 blogs. Her social media consultancy focuses on promotion, outreach, and strategy. You can find her on just about any social network.

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One response to “Social Media Relationships Without a Face”

  1. Craig Tomlin writes:

    Nice post! It’s a good reminder that much of human communication/interaction relies on non-verbal signals. A former boss of mine once said that of all communication channels, email is the absolute worst, for all the reasons you described. Phone was slightly better, at least a person can use audio cues to signal intent of messages. But the best communication channel was (is) face to face, and so he used to say, especially for communications with others in our building at work “don’t send an email, either get up out of your chair and go talk to the person, or call them on the phone.” Good advice!



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