Have we taken the “social” out of social media?
When you ask people why they use social media, you’ll often get a familiar response: to keep up with family and friends. That’s a core function of the big social networks. We want to know what the people close to us are doing.
But social media has become inundated with other things. You’re constantly being marketed to. Emoji are substituted for meaningful conversations. People’s political disagreements spin out of control. Carefully curated feeds make everyone look like they’re living a perfect life.
If you just want to use social media to keep up with family and friends, all of this gets in the way. It’s time to get back to basics. Here’s why you should make an effort to re-connect, plus practical tips on how to get started.
I challenge you to take all of the steps in the Where to start sections below, and share the results in the comments!
Why Make an Effort to Form Stronger Connections?
You’re probably happy with your current social media life. So why should you try to change it? There are a few reasons, and they begin — as they so often do — with research.
Findings are convoluted and sometimes difficult to interpret, but there are solid arguments for the fact that our increasingly “connected” lives are making us feel disconnected from the people around us. Shimi Cohen’s video The Innovation of Loneliness sums it up nicely:
“We’re expecting more from technology, and less from each other,” Cohen says. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, agrees. In fact, that very quote is the subtitle of her book. Her article on the flight from conversation provides a strong argument that we’re afraid of conversing with people on the level that we did before social media came to rule so many of our lives.
Of course, you may not feel like you’re afraid of conversation. Or that you’re missing out on strong social connections (a lack of which can be severely threatening to both physical and mental health). No matter how you view your social life, there’s a good chance you’ve gotten away from the core function of social media: maintaining and developing connections with people.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can use social technologies to help us forge stronger connections — not just a vastly higher number of weaker ones. And while making connections outside of social media is required for building a variety of meaningful relationships, there are a few things you can do to make your social experience less isolating.
Focus on One or Two Social Networks
Are you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly, Pinterest, and LinkedIn? If you are, you probably don’t spend a whole lot of time on any specific network (unless you’re spending way too much time on social media).
It’s time to cut back. Focus on a single network, or maybe two, so the time you spend on each can be better spent. What does it mean to better spend your time on social media? That, of course, is up to you. But engaging in conversations and posting reflective thoughts is certainly a good start.
Fear of missing out is big on social networks — but don’t worry. Just because you haven’t seen the latest Snapchat from the girl you sort of knew in high school doesn’t mean you’re missing out. It probably means you’re more connected with the people who are still important to you.
Where to start: Choose a couple networks based on your interests. For example, if you’re really into photography, Instagram is a good choice. If you have tons of family and friends on Facebook, stick with that. If you like sharing articles and ideas, Pinterest is a great way to go. Want to connect over sports? Give Strava a try.
Or try something completely different!
Forget Personal Branding
Social media is becoming an increasingly effective job-hunting tool, and it’s very tempting to craft your social media presence so you look like the perfect job candidate. Even beyond finding a job, people curate what they post to reflect as positively on themselves as possible.
It’s a natural habit: we post about our good days, the best meals we cook, and the most beautiful sunsets we see, but we rarely post about the days when we feel like our jobs are dead ends and the house is a mess.
Forget about all that. Just be yourself. If there are people in your social networks that you aren’t comfortable being yourself around, unfriend (or at least unfollow) them. Being able to be yourself around people is one of the signs of a strong social connection.
Ask for advice when you need it. Reach out to talk to someone when you’re feeling lonely. Tell people about how you’re feeling, even when you’re not feeling great. You don’t need to overshare or air every grievance. Just be honest about how you’re feeling and talk to people about it.
Where to start: Set your Facebook feed to Private. Now you don’t have to worry about potential employers seeing what you’ve been chatting about. Then, try posting a question about something you’ve been thinking about lately, and ask for honest answers.
Companies have a lot of really effective ways of getting you to follow them. They offer you special coupons, enter you in drawings, give you exclusive content, and all sorts of other things. You might think they want to have a conversation with you and be your friend.
They don’t. They want to monetize you.
And marketing in your feed is going to distract you from what you probably went there to do in the first place: see what your friends and family are up to. Yes, it’s cool to see the photos posted by your favorite brands. And getting exclusive coupons is great.
But rampant marketing gets in the way of engaging with people on social media. And if you want to get back to basics, minimizing that is going to be a big help.
It’s not just companies that can get in the way of maintaining connections over social media, either. Bands, celebrities, and groups can do the same thing. For each non-individual in your social media feed, ask yourself if you’re getting as much out of their posts as you would a friend’s posts. If not, unfollow them.
Where to start: Head to the Liked Pages screen in Facebook by clicking the Pages link in the left sidebar.
If you find pages and brands that you don’t absolutely love hearing from on Facebook, unfollow them. Continue the process in other networks as well.
Engage People in Conversation
One of the most important things you can do to build strong connections on social media is to simply make a point to converse with people. It’s easy to go through your Facebook feed and like everything that your friends post. It’s harder to read what people are sharing, really understand it, and talk to them about it. (An emoji or a comment that says “Great!” doesn’t count.)
Make a point to engage people in conversation when you’re on social media. Ask people about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Keep up with what’s going on in their lives.
Conversation is so often discussed as a marketing tool. “Authentic conversation drives engagement,” you’ll hear. Remove those sorts of phrases from your vocabulary. Stop trying to be “authentic” and just be yourself. Don’t “engage” with people — just talk to them. Show people that you care about what’s going on in their lives.
And if you discover that you don’t really care what’s going on in their lives, don’t comment — and consider unfriending (or at least unfollowing) them.
Where to start: Head to Twitter (or any other network), and post a thoughtful reply to someone else’s post. Take a few minutes to think about what they said and craft a response. They’ll appreciate it a great deal. If no posts are standing out to you, send a direct message to someone you haven’t chatted with in a while.
Get Back to Basics
If you’re like many people, the way you use social media has gotten away from what you wanted it for in the first place. Some people find that quitting it altogether is the solution. Others simply embrace the new reality of online life.
I content that we can get back to what we used social media for originally: to keep in touch with the people who matter to us, and stay present in their lives. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned. But I think that’s something worth doing.
How do you stay in touch with friends and family on social media? Do you feel like you’ve gotten away from why you started using it in the first place? Or do you enjoy how its taken on new roles in your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!