There’s certainly no shortage of debate online lately, attempting to address the question:
Is social media making us more social or less social IRL (in real life)?
It seems that for every study that’s published with one view, there is another study nipping at its heels that states the opposite. And pundits aren’t the only ones discussing this, either – it’s just as easily a discussion at family dinner tables and happy hours as it is at conferences.
For all parties involved, answering the “is” question may not be nearly as compelling as answering the “how” question. We can debate back and forth and quote study after study, but there is a richer discussion to be had about how social media is affecting our offline friendships and interactions, and with that, a lesson also for smart brands.
How social media is helping us better help our friends – online and offline – is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Two reasons for this are two services new to my radar screen:
Listly is a service which co-founder Nick Kellet described to me as, “The intersection where social networking online meets real-life networking.” It’s a crowdsourced listing tool that is very useful for pre-networking purposes before conferences, because the interactive list allows users to tag both who they already know and whom they’d like to meet before the conference.
So, Listly allows attendees to not only more easily reach out to one another beforehand, but also to help one another connect and network while at the conference.
If they see from the tags that they happen to know someone that a colleague would like to meet while attending.
It also helps old and new friends best navigate the conference in real-time offline.
This “helping friends” concept also came up quickly when I spoke with #HashtagsToHandshakes creator Mike “Ambassador” Bruny. Just as its name succinctly describes, HashtagsToHandshakes.com offers a way to prompt and facilitate interactions that begin exclusively online into an added layer of offline, in-person interactions.
Bruny pointed out the power of services such as his:
“(Although) online has the potential to make us more social…in order to leverage it….you have to do it purposefully.”
Of course, these services are not the only ways to help our friends online.
For all of its dark privacy concerns, the bright side of social media is how it has enabled us increased access to our friends’ preferences and needs so that we can be more helpful in supporting our friends’ goals and wishes.
If we see that a friend has posted updates about a newfound interest in fishing, then something as small as sharing a link to a daily deal about fishing excursions shows that friend that we heard them, that we paid attention, that we took the time to read about their new interest and respond in a thoughtful and helpful way.
It’s a much deeper kind of sharing than just mass-sharing the link to the newest viral cat video.
Social media also allows us easier access to our friends’ work passions – via their videos, blogposts, etc. – so that we can support one another in that. I know personally that when I spoke recently at the @womenleadny Women in Social Media conference (#womenlead), I was genuinely touched – and truly appreciated – when people not able to attend the live event took time out of their busy schedules to listen to the playback of the 15-minute talk that I gave and then respond to it.
Helpful sharing and support seems to fly in the face of the “anti-social” or “narcissist” arguments often found online about social media.
The act of stepping outside of yourself and whatever it is that you’re selling/promoting/doing to take a moment to note what your friend is interested in or doing – and then responding in a helpful way – is an act that’s not at all “about you”.
It’s about your friend.
And what he or she needs or wants or does.
There is a lesson to be had here in turn for smart brands:
Many of the same things that we love about helpful, supportive friends who don’t only talk about themselves also hold true for marketers/advertisers who “get it”.
No one wants to hear your pontificating all day – that endlessly-streamed broadcast of “all about me” brand messaging.
Your target audience does want and need help.
In all kinds of ways.
If you’re the brand who shows that you listen and respond in a helpful, relevant, and supportive way, it’s not just a “big win” – it’s the kind of win-win that turns brand fans into brand advocates.