I took a break from writing a blog post yesterday to check my social media stream. Since my 21-day social media fast had ended, I thought I would reconnect. As I clicked the like button, shared friends’ posts on Facebook and retweeted a few articles on Twitter, the pure ease of it struck me. In most cases, one simple click allowed me to validate somebody’s content or to 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 said? What does it mean?
It used to be that it required at least minimal effort to build and maintain relationships with friends and business colleagues. 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 are we giving up?
Fade to office scene
Picture this. Somewhere in corporate America, a manager at a mid-sized marketing firm is calling a department meeting. Her minions—I mean, her staff—are seated around a shiny mahogany table in the boardroom. The manager is a 40-something woman with the annoying habit of constantly pushing a stray curl of her frizzy hair behind one ear. She taps her pencil on her coffee cup to call the meeting to order. The office intern sits quietly, his eyes darting from face to face, trying to read the mood.
“We are here to share our latest ideas for the Flawless Face campaign. I want your thoughts on how best to use the allotted media budget to get a bigger market share for Neilson Cosmetics,” Ms. Frizzy Hair says.
“Well, how about using real women instead of models in the fashion magazine ads?” the second year copywriter asks.
” I like that,” the manager’s assistant says.
“I like it, too,” says the designer.
“I like it.”
“I think I like this idea, too.”
And around the table we go, until we reach the nervous intern, who jumps out of his seat. “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. Now 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 there: to collaborate and build stronger relationships with our colleagues. To open up dialogue.
But how do we do that?
Specific beats general every time. Just ask a first grader.
Using details in your comments on social media can have a much greater impact than simple likes and shares.
Early on, we learn that on blogs and social media, “liking” is better, easier, faster, than taking the time to write a thoughtful comment.
In a former life (and I have had plenty of them), I was a first grade teacher.
Now just let me say that 7-year-olds are delightful little people. They are brutally honest, open and imaginative because they haven’t had it beaten out of them yet by well-meaning adults who just want them to conform so they don’t grow up to be axe murderers.
We had a tradition in our classroom. When someone had a birthday, I would ask each student to write that girl or boy a letter, complete with those surrealistic drawings—some of them a little dark—that first graders are so good at. (Those puzzling drawings of first graders. I’ll save that one for a future post.)
The birthday letters in September—some of which had to be dictated to a parent helper because my students hadn’t mastered writing yet—invariably had messages like, “I like you. You are nice.”
(Kind of reminds me of pushing the like or heart button on Facebook.)
Of course, “I like you. You are nice,” is a message with no meaning. Can you imagine the birthday kid getting 29 letters that all said that?
These little ones quickly learned that their teacher wouldn’t accept a letter like that. It’s too easy. Over time, as I worked with them (“Why are they nice? What do you like about them?), they began to write funny, engaging, heartfelt letters.
Letters the birthday kid couldn’t wait to read. Because what kind of birthday greeting does a 6-year-old like better?
“Dear Joshua, Happy birthday. I like you.”
Or, “Dear Joshua, Happy birthday. I like you because you are funny and you can make a spoon stick to your nose.”
The first one, of course, is 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 their blog post on Facebook and telling what you specifically like about it. Or just calling them out on Twitter with a reason or two you think they’re brilliant, or funny, or smart.
I think that most of us bloggers, especially if we are introverts or deep thinkers, are conflicted about social media and not just because it is a time suck. We avoid it because sometimes it can feel superficial to us. We prefer jumping into topics and going deep.
Most of us are fond of discussing ideas, not just “liking” them.
We are that kid who wrote the sticking-a-spoon-to-your-nose birthday letter. We might even love telling stories. We know everything about our characters and we want to know our friends that well, too.
Back in the classroom, we would read the birthday letters in the afternoon when we had birthday cupcakes and juice. And, yes, often the letters would spark a lively discussion.
“I didn’t know Josh could make a spoon stick to his nose!”
(No accounting for the things that will impress a first grader.)
Now I don’t know what kind of adults these kids turned out to be, what jobs they are in today, where they ended up, but I bet they are very good at commenting on blogs.
We are more like 7-year-olds than we think
By now you must be wondering, “What do first graders have to do with leaving a meaningful comment on a blog or Facebook?
If there is one takeaway, it is this:
7-year-olds had a hard time with “meaningful comments.” And so do 37-year-olds. And 57-year-olds. But over time, with a little thought, they figured out what they wanted to say—and even started having fun with it.
So how do we make comments that don’t take us half a day to construct? Just pick one thing in a blog post, tweet, or Facebook update that you agree with (and add to the conversation from your personal experience) or choose one thing you disagree with and tell why.
It’s probably good to stay on topic, though. People will appreciate that.
That means no random comments about the ability to make a spoon stick to your nose.
And no comments about how you can juggle and say “Four knives will be sufficient” in Swahili. (Which I can do, and I know, someday, they will fit into a comment somewhere.)
Do you ever get tired of shallow social media content and comments that don’t make you think?