Social media treats all users the same: trusted friend or total stranger, with little or nothing in between. Relationships make social media social. Yet, different relationships play different roles. Consider the recent practice of substituting social media friends for traditional job references.(Gilbert, E., & Karahalios, K. 2009, April)
There’s no doubt social media allows us to organize our real-world relationships, and even meet new people outside the digital realm — both of which can be great, life-enhancing things.
But could social networking have an unfavourable effect on our quality of life?
Many people have missed out on enjoying special moments in person because — ironically enough — they were too busy trying to document their experiences for online sharing. Many of us have had to remind ourselves to “live in the now” — instead of worrying about composing the perfect tweet or trying to take just the right Instagram shot.
All the content you create, all the following you build, each of these is designed to create and maintain more intimate relationships with people, in some cases, people you might not have met any other way.
What’s interesting is social media is changing the foundation of the ways we relate. On another level, too, it’s important to be aware of how your social media participation may be impacting you, as this will have implications for the decisions you make and the choices you adopt for your business.
Social media is changing our relationship styles in several important ways. First, it’s allowing us to connect with more people more rapidly. Second, it’s easy to overestimate the level of intimacy of our online relationships.
Third, it makes us more susceptible to a sort of social media contagion effect, which means you may possibly start adopting behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs from those within our social network. Fourth, social media facilitates comparing ourselves with others, which may have positive or negative effects.
As we look at the first trend, we note that social media enables us to connect with many more people, from all walks of life, than we might normally meet in a normal work week.
We can connect with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company on LinkedIn. We can meet others who enjoy our love of punk music or we can share recipes for Thursday night’s dinner with people we’ve never met before.
With this increase in number of connections and frequency of contact, you’ll also see that you have access to many more ideas and resources than ever
before. You can crowdsource the best information to solve our particular business issues. Research shows that, generally speaking, more opinions create a better result.
Given the informal nature of social media, it’s easy to approach someone you’d like to meet, and this can be done more easily and fluidly. It’s easier to extend your sphere of influence and enlarge it to include people you’d like to meet, or would like to know better. This means that influence will beget more influence.
While these aspects are positive and useful to us in our businesses, we also need to be aware of the downsides of social media, at least as far as our social relationships go. One big mistake is that it’s easy to confuse digital intimacy for true intimacy.
We can become so seduced by the ease of connecting with others online that we begin to think that these relationships are more intense, more committed and more complete than they really are. We run the risk of alienating the people who populate our daily lives in pursuit of intimacy with our online friends. We each have only so much intimacy to go around, and we need to make sure we’re investing it for our own maximal benefit.
In business, this means you need to make certain that you’re investing in the right balance of online and offline relationships for your personal and professional success.
If someone in your online social network is angry, lonely, or hostile, and takes it out on you, you’re more likely to ‘transmit’ this mood yourself. This means that even though you may never have met this person or interacted with them in real life, their “bad behavior” can still influence yours.
As you become increasingly networked and involved with each other, it’s going to be more crucial to monitor your own influences and reactions. We might be more prone to social media moodiness, depending on whom we’re spending time with and paying attention to within our social networks.
You’ve probably also seen that sometimes normal courtesy and politeness—aspects we would utilize in our face-to-face interactions—are sometimes reduced (or missing altogether) in the online space. I’ve personally noted people interacting in mean and critical ways that, I imagine, they would find more difficult to do in real life. This is a problem, because any kind of negativity and bad manners has the possibility to multiply a thousandfold.
As a business owner, this is important for several reasons.
First, if you’re rude or critical, this can negatively damage your brand and how people view you. This may determine who chooses to work with you and how your business is perceived, which can impact your profitability.
Second, given that even ‘private’ online conversations are not really private, something you say off the cuff can have lasting negative impact, in even unintended ways. What started out as a thoughtless remark can spread quickly to your detriment.(Jain, Rachna)
Another downside of our social media relationships can be that our successes feel diminished and our failures amplified.
With the inrush of so much information about how other people are living their lives, or conducting their businesses, it’s easy to feel that we can’t compete. We might also feel some pressure to demonstrate a certain persona, as we know that people are always watching us. It can feel like we’ve traded a real-life rat race for an online one.
So given these factors, what strategies can you use to make sure you’re benefiting from your social media relationships instead of being dragged down?
Limit the time you spend on social networks. If you’re using social media primarily for business, make sure you’re getting a return on your time investment. I, for instance, have set times in the day to update my status and take part in the conversation. Then I close the browser and do other things. While it’s sometimes tempting to keep checking my online accounts, I know that if I do this too often, other parts of my business will suffer.
Monitor your own emotions and reactions. If you find yourself getting really aggravated, angry or distressed, and you don’t know why, back away from the computer. Go for a walk, or connect with someone in your offline life. This can help give you a perspective on your emotions and reactions.
Take care not to compare yourself too often to others. As the saying goes, ‘There will always be people greater than you, and people lesser than you.’ It’s all too easy to get caught up in vicarious experiencing of other people’s lives at the expense of experiencing your own.
Set goals or guidelines for your business relationships. Have a clear strategy or plan for why you’re cultivating various people in your networks. Remember that more can be good, but too much rarely is.
Maintain a balance between your online and offline life. We need to connect with people face to face, not just by email, phone, or social sites. Cultivate a real-life network of contacts as well.
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