I’ve been reflecting for a while on an article from MediaPost, which outlines some of the ways social media and online culture have changed the way we interact face to face. The upshot, based on a study by the British government, is that we’re making fewer in-person visits than we used to. They’re called “social visits” in the study, which is a perfect name given the subject we’re about to tackle.
First, let me say that I enjoyed the post, and it contains some great points. We can now work from home, shop from home, and socialize from home. There’s no doubt that today’s relationships are structured in all sorts of new ways, and technology is a big part of that. The difference is that I believe social media doesn’t necessarily take away from face-to-face (F2F) meetings. When done right it will enhance them, and makes it easier to connect with people you may never have reached otherwise.
Social Media Is What We Make of It
My affinity for social is no secret, but it’s about more than marketing. I enjoy meeting new people, keeping in touch with old friends and getting a peek into their lives. For me, it’s all in how you use social tools. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to use them. But by and large, I think the lack of “social visits” the article talks about can be attributed to a busier lifestyle. Working longer hours, packing too much into our days—these are the kinds of things that end up replacing dinner with the family or scheduling a visit with Aunt Rose. How many people are really so obsessed with spending every waking moment online that they pass up dinner with friends?
Using social the right way means using it for connection rather than just building audience. If you’re more concerned about connection count than looking over the details of each profile, you might have trouble facilitating F2F meetings. Taking the time to learn about your connections via social, however, can make meeting them in real life feel as natural as visiting an old friend.
One of my favorite things about social is that it eliminates so many of the old barriers to meeting new people. We can connect regardless of industry or geography, and that’s liberating. Some of the best examples come from schools, where young students have never known a world without social media. Teachers are using social to bridge cultural gaps, and provide exciting, interactive lessons.
The teachers benefit, too. By connecting with other teachers online, they’re able to share lesson plans and trade ideas. It’s a small example, but I think it does a great job of illustrating the big-picture benefits.
Porter Gale, a former VP of Marketing at Virgin America, has a fantastic example of how social facilitates F2F meetings while traveling: After landing in Budapest, Hungary, she sent a few notes seeing if anyone wanted to join her for lunch in an unfamiliar city. The next day, she was dining with an ambassador at the Budapest Four Seasons.
As Gale says in the story, that meeting never would have taken place without social media. While you might not want to count on meeting an ambassador, there are thousands of in-person meet-ups that happen every day thanks to social… they happen in my life every week. I post in advance wherever I am traveling, do my best to meet those who reach out either one-on-one when possible, or by inviting them to attend an event I am MC/Hosting or… very often John Andrews (my business partner) and I pick a day and time to tell people where we will be and anyone who likes can just show up.
In the end, social is what we make of it. Some people use technology to keep their connections at arm’s length, but there are plenty of us out there forging real, meaningful connections each day. If you see that I’ll be visiting your city, reach out to me. Maybe we’ll get a chance to talk about it face to face!