Social Media – For Good or Ill?

It’s been three months now since I committed to launching myself fully into the social media world. I am blogging, tweeting, posting, and linking like a good ‘un and making some great connections ….. or am I?

While I am totally convinced of the potential value of social networking, I have started to get some uncomfortable feelings about its potential for harm and the damage it can do at an individual and global level. Only this week Stephen Fry had a moment of doubt about how good twittering is for his mental health.

I know by posting this to a blog I am likely to be talking to people who are sold on social media so I am interested to hear your responses to my following musings.

1. My social media company kept re-iterating to me that “it’s about being social” and that if I don’t keep posting to facebook regularly, “friends” will assume I am not interested in them and stop following me. All the posts I am seeing on Facebook are upbeat, chirpy and superficial. Great! I am all for demonstrating a positive attitude. What happens when people aren’t feeling positive, and can’t tell anyone because that isn’t what it’s about?

2. I watch people who are apparently spending their time pootling off to Paris, bungy jumping in Brisbane, and living it up in Las Vegas! and that’s all on a Wednesday afternoon. How does this affect people who are lonely or isolated and how real is it anyway?

3. I am using Tweetadder to find hundreds of people who are interested in leadership and management and following people who are following me. I thought I wanted to learn from thought leaders in my field and provide free, practical resources to people that follow me.

What is the motivation of twitter users? Are we genuinely wanting to learn from or connect with everyone we follow or is it more like a cacophony of monologues? Are we on an ego trip to show how popular, or credible we are? or are we really just looking to sell our products and services?

4. When I am out and about and seeing people in social groups, or even in team meetings overtly or covertly sending text messages, emailing and twittering I am just willing them to be present where they are, enjoying the people they are with, fully involved in the conversation. Making eye contact for goodness sake!

In summary my concern is that while we are all so hooked on making as many connections and sharing as much information as possible what is happening to real relationships? Are we linking with people but not getting to know people. Are we “friends” with people but not there for them when they need help? I would love to know that social media is being used as an additional resource and not as a replacement for the deep, trusting, confiding relationships that we all need.

What do you think?

4 Responses to Social Media – For Good or Ill?

  • Hi Angela. Thanks for your comments which I really enjoyed and made so much sense. I also appreciate your feedback on my George Bernard Shaw quote. Just finding my feet with Twitter and wasn't sure whether followers would purely want free leadership and management tools. In fact that could be my next question to twitter.

    Thanks again

  • Hello Julie, well since I blog, tweet, facebook and have face to face friends this is my contribution –

    1. Some of my facebook real friends (that I know personally) have a bad time, they say so and sometimes, I send personal messages rather than everything being out "on the wall" so to speak. The chirpy superficial stuff is nice too, sort of like whe you sit in a room with someone you know well reading the paper – and you don't actually have to say anything much but pick out the odd headline and share the odd (sometimes very odd )- photo. Perhaps if you are looking at the social media angle it is different and harder to maintain contact with friends that you don't really know much about anyway.

    2. I am a virtual traveller on occasions and get a real kick from seeing what people are up to, it gives me ideas and makes me feel connected even if I am stuck in rainy north London. Again, if you really know those people, I think that it is like getting a postcard and perhaps even lonely, isolated people might not feel worse for that. People that I don't really know, well I probably hide them and don't pay too much attention anyway but wouldn't stop following them – for instance they might be better at recommending music – different facebook friends for different things.

    3. Agree with Amanda that manual following does produce the best results and now that there are the twitter lists, it is easy to sort the people / organisations you are following into something more manageable than a stream of consciousness. Unlike facebook, I find there are many more people that I don't know but it can be quite impersonal so there is no hesitation to add and drop people without it seeming like the end of the world.

    I can see what you are getting at with respect to more vulnerable people, I think that Twitter does need using with caution since what is put there gets seen by potentially anyone and there is no personal connection in most cases which makes it easier for people to be harsh or unkind – although I find it much friendlier than most traditional message boards.

    Maybe the thought leaders are not the people that are making the most noise?

    What is the motivation? There is an interesting hashtag at the moment #bcadvice after someone asked what makes a person consider following someone back, it does cover some of the motivations I think and the results were rather heartening. Another motivation for me is when something is happening, for instance motorcycle GP racing (yes, sorry) to just open up that hashtag and join a load of other people watching the same thing – strange but compelling. Have to say I usually block people selling products and services if they are not adding a human element to their utterances (Like your George Bernard Shaw quote by the way)

    4. There does need to be a social etiquette I will agree and like the mobile phone call, it doesn't need to be answered or made in a restaurant on a social evening out (unless the caller is lost!). There was a mention of this after prime ministers question time today where the practice of tapping out messages rather than being in on the real life event was considered both bad mannered and distracting. There is a time and a place and like all the rules that my Mum brought me up with such as don't leave the table until everyone is finished – why some people's gadget / social networking manners are better than others or who even defines such manners and whether they bother everyone could be the basis of a whole piece of research.

    Thanks for your posting, it certainly made me think about why some people may put themselves in a vulnerable position by using this media and the motivations behind it.


  • Hi Amanda

    Thanks for your comments. I totally agree with your sound advice regarding how to use social media and I certainly don't hold social media sites responsible for how people could use or abuse them. That would be like blaming guns for killing! My concern remains the impact on more vulnerable people such as bipolar sufferers and young people with eating disorders whose "support" through social media is well documented.

    As an emotional intelligence and leadership practitioner I was interested to see Daniel Goleman's take on a related issue so I've also posted this on the blog.

    Would love to know what you think.

  • Hi Julie,

    Following your musings, .. my penny's worth on keeping it real (my own musings, tee hee)..

    1. That's what friends are for.. make a few new friends if the old ones don't want to hear ANY real feelings from time to time. Let's face it, how many down days does anyone worth their salt really want to talk about? You will find someone to share the real stuff with when you need to, and to pick you up again! Just don't wallow or become part of what I call the put down club!

    2. Live and let live. The sad & lonely (we've all been THERE!) may find their hope enlivened by people LIVING their lives. If not real, the portrayer will at some point have to face their own lie. Watch people who are doing things you want to do, focus on those you care about? Research behind the scenes to see if you can find out if those you're interested in are real.. Google, etc! It's worked for me!

    3. Avoid auto-following if possible (and it's always possible!). Rather manually follow after using search tools (there are some great ones) to find those individuals whose activities you'd like to be updated on regularly. – The tortoise outran the hare. I'm a self-confessed tortoise – Twitter lists are useful (for lots of reasons).. especially as you can choose to follow a list of like-minded, like-activitied people, seek out those in a list that you may find affinity with and wish to follow, and follow just those individuals separately under your main twitter account, beginning real conversations to form lasting relationships..

    Someone once said twitter is the party, enjoy the conversation, don't sell anything! Make connections, point to your blog or company brochure site, sell from there if you must! The future of business is social.. It's been like this for AGES, only now there are digital tools activated at almost the speed of thought..

    4. We can't control how everyone behaves, only how we do! Communication tools may be abused by some, but for most are a useful way to stay close to the ones we care about and in touch with our work obligations without being tied down to a desk .. it's always going to be a trade-off! Some of those you see at events and meetings wouldn't have the opportunity to be there without these devices.. I do draw the line at team meetings.. there's always time to switch mobiles off!

    At the end of the day, it's all about real relationships, getting to know people, offering something of value.. thanks for your thoughtful musings.. Today your post helped me to write more than read!

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