It’s no secret that I am a fan of social media. And clearly I’m not alone. With 313 million Twitter users, there are a whole lot of conversations happening in 140 characters. But I would like to refute the notion that social media is completely to blame for the death of meaningful communication. In fact, I think it has opened doors that wouldn’t be open without these networks. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are great examples of platforms connecting people. Some relationships online are shallow, some are not—kind of like real life.
When I say meaningful communication, I mean authentic, two-way conversations that involve active listening, empathy and support. In my opinion, it’s an important element of a well-rounded life. You hear a lot of speculation that communication is becoming a lost art as younger generations speak through text and chat and other media. The University of Florida published an infographic that illustrates how to effectively communicate with Millennials in the workplace. (I wish Gen Z was part of the research as they are entering into the scene and also grew up a in a digital world, but I digress.) As far as communication, their research indicates that 59% communicate via mobile apps and 14% is face-to-face. Yes, that’s different than Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, but meaningful communication is still vital to their existence.
I want to acknowledge that social media has radically changed how we communicate, but I’m also somewhat defensive that it’s not completely to blame for cultural shifts away from the development of relationships. Here are five reasons social media is a catalyst for meaningful communication.
1. You can meet people who you would have never met.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a conference like HRTech and see someone who I’ve never met in real life and we greet each other with hugs and enthusiasm. Why? Because we’ve been friends on Twitter for years and are thrilled to see each other. We’ve never worked for the same company, lived in the same state or know each other’s families, but we have a relationship. During my #WorkTrends Twitter chats, people share authentic insights week after week, dropping what I call “Wisdom Bombs” and we come to respect each other. And global relationships are a whole different dimension. I have friends around the world that I may never meet, but I consider them friends, colleagues and even mentors.
2. Relationships can develop faster.
I remember those good ol’ college days, when we were all making acquaintances left and right. It was great fun. With the exception of the person who we shared a tiny dorm room with (talk about an expedited relationship), friendships were built over time. You’d meet a cool girl one night and not see her for months until you bump into her on the quad. We’d go to and from classes, taking diligent notes and not even knowing the name of the guy who sits in front of us. Social media allows people to build a relationship at a rapid speed (if both parties are interested). There is even a Wiki for how to maintain an online relationship. And I’m not really talking about dating, but some concepts are interchangeable among varied kinds of relationships.
3. Reconnecting is easier than ever before.
We won’t go down the stalking-of-exes rabbit hole here, but there are definitely people we’ve all lost touch with over the years and Facebook brought them back into our lives. When my good friend moved away in eighth grade, I thought I’d never see her again. Well, I see her every day now (online) and I feel connected to her as an adult living on the other side of the country. I have another friend who has built amazing relationships with her step-siblings that didn’t even know about her growing up. Facebook provided a platform for slow, steady and authentic communication that lead to in-person meetings and now annual reunions. Without social media, they would likely remain strangers.
4. Communication is more concise.
While not all communication is meant to be short, Twitter has forced a cultural shift towards getting straight to the point. It’s actually changed how people think. There literally isn’t room for fluff and filler. We self-edit more than ever before and it impacts communication. Yes, sometimes it’s a little blunt. Other times it seems disjointed. However, there are meaningful conversations happening on Twitter this moment. Back and forth, discussing topics that matter. And it’s not between Kanye and T-Swift.
5. Group conversations are easy.
Have you ever had an ad hoc dinner party with people who live in New York, Florida and London? If you have, that’s awesome. But it’s not easy. But social media allows us all to get together and chat. Whether we talk about leadership, politics or fashion trends, we can all weigh in and learn from each other. Like I said, I do this every Wednesday and it’s the highlight of my week. When I see my friend in the Bay area greet and learn from my friend in Paris, it’s a social high for me.
You’ll find articles galore and research on how social media has created anti-social monsters who don’t know how to meet friends in real life. Parents are dropping kids off at college as we speak, worried that they will hide in their dorm behind their phones. But I am here to say that social media does allow for meaningful communication. Trust me.
For strategies that tap the power of social media to grow your business, see 5 Ways To Engage Your Customers On Social Media.