Posted by: cherylble | on March 31, 2012
If you know me, you have probably teased me at some point about my level of engagement with social media. And, as a girl who writes for 6 blogs and has presence in about 30 different social media spheres, I’d be the first to laugh and utter the first of 12 steps of my happy addiction.
But I want to share with you what social media does for me….it allows me to get to know people before ever seeing them face to face. Through quips and conversation, I can nearly immediately tell if I will be life-long friends with someone or if I will be far too intense for where they are at in life. I can tell if we share the same values, are heading the same direction or if we will argue endlessly about whether we prefer Pepsi or Coke.
In short, before we exchange business cards, I can already admire you for the person you are and the values that you hold dear.
You see, as an emergency manager, I’m often told “exchange the business cards before you have your next disaster” and while you’ll catch me saying it, too, I find that even just exchanging cards is too limiting for me. Sure, I might call on your business or agency if I remember when or how I met you, but the reality is, for every 200 business cards, I receive, I eliminate 195 of those contacts out of my directory every year.
It’s the people that I get to know that I keep close. It’s the people we get to know behind the business card that matters. Do we trust them? Can we figure them out? Can we know that they won’t seek an opportunity to step on us to get ahead?
In the past 4 years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people online first. In some cases, I’ve spoken with people so regularly that others find it shocking that we’ve never met “in real life.” How is that possible, I am asked? “You speak with such similar voices, have worked on so many projects and your names are synonymous with so much.” I often shrug and reply, “Despite having never met, we share a respect for each other that is tangible and real.”
And while I realize I have friends online that I may never meet, it is always a joy to meet someone that I’ve previously known virtually. Prior to this past week, I had met about 90 people online first and then in real life….and in this past week alone, I had the pleasure of meeting 24 of my long-time Twitter friends. And rather than spend any time “introducing” ourselves, we easily identified each other, greeted each other with warm hugs and continued many conversations with the professional and personal excitement that we had previously shared online.
Now I am someone who generally prefers one-on-one conversation to group chats. And if you watch me work a room at a tweetup or social event, I strive to have as many one-on-one conversations as I can even when others are around. Relating to people personally that I already admire becomes magical and real.
About 15 years ago, I married my childhood sweetheart. At our wedding reception, my maid of honor gave a toast that brought me to tears about the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. After reading the following selection from the story, she shared that time and love are what make us real to each other.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Connecting with people over social media allows us to get to know each other “bit by bit.” It confirms behavior expectations, shows evidence of values and allows us to laugh and love ever before we finally meet that person in real life. If you aren’t compelled to meet those folks that you follow and already admire, may I suggest reevaluating your engagement strategy?
Now I realize that some of you may still be using social media to “watch the news” and while you may not consider developing “relationships” with your news anchors, you’ll likely begin to find yourself following other voices of those in your profession, local community or for a variety of other reasons. Consider why you follow certain voices, what your friends or followers share with you and whether you are open enough to the possibility that you could be real to someone else. Don’t miss out on those opportunities for fresh perspectives, great ideas and some amazing “new” friends!