There was a question posed that asked if social media is better than personal interactions. I argue that each of them shares qualities and have specific issues to be considered. Given the growth of social media (or online interactions) over the past few years (e.g. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, YouTube), this is becoming a normal part of the way we communicate and interact with people. The standard handshake, written letters and coffee shop meeting can become “virtual” roundtable discussions across the globe. Social media does change the way we interact and we have to understand that many of the rules hold for personal interaction also apply to online interactions.
First, we should understand what happens in all interactions and meetings between people. Obviously, there is the basic greeting and introduction of each other. Whether this is a basic “Hello, how are you?” uttered between two people meeting in public or a person deciding to “add a friend” because they read something that they found mutually interesting, the greeting and introduction occur. Then, there is an exchange of ideas in order to find out more about each other’s opinions and interests. This can be of varying degree and depth of learning about each other, but this stage of interaction is important for deciding whether we continue with, and how much of, the interaction. The finale is to close the current interaction, but for social media how do we define “closing”. During the entire event, we are reading sets of cues, language, and forming opinions about what we observe. We demonstrate to people our cues, our ability to communicate or our willingness to communicate. Does online interaction lose important cues when meeting people?
With social media, there is a starting point that may not happen in personal interactions. We can learn about people by reading public profiles or displays (e.g. video presentations, photos, previous posts or various sites). In personal interactions, someone has to make an active first step to meet people with or without knowledge of those people. A personal interaction may turn into online interaction if the friendship is to be maintained, but there is something that encouraged the personal interaction (e.g. the way they dress, the event they are involved, or the desire to meet people). Mannerisms, language, opinions and ethics can become apparent with good observation, but one still has to make an effort. With social media, that first step is mixed in with knowledge about that person where mannerisms and etiquette may not be obvious to each person. The question is whether that knowledge is important with meeting people or continuing to interact with people.
The benefits of social media allow us to have instant interactions with people over great distances or reacquaint with people from our pasts. Similar to a person on a corner with a bullhorn, we can instantly broadcast to people, whether or not they are interested in receiving the message). We can instantly share with friends the stories and images that we find intriguing, funny or offending. We can show off creative (or not so creative) talents to the world and become an overnight sensation, or laughing stock, simply by posting a video. In social interactions, people can rise or fall based upon a single comment as well. We can instantly find people that share opinions and interests with our own, and thereby participate in a “virtual” community of like-minded people.
In either interaction, we have to know responsible use of the interaction. If one means to have good reputation online or in person, we have to understand proper etiquette does not end at the keyboard. We have to understand that we are measured by the people that we associate our lives. In addition, online messages have an infinite amount of places to go in social media regardless of assumed privacy settings. Thus, you want to be sure your material is appropriate for a public forum, and you are willing to take on the many different reactions people may have towards your material. Additionally, just because someone posted something does not give that value, merit or truthfulness.
People lie in personal interactions and they lie in social media spaces. Further, manipulative people can use the anonymous nature of the Internet to wage attacks upon people at all hours of the day and regardless of your presence in or acknowledgment of that attack. Responsible use of the social media means that you are careful about associating with these types of people just as you would in personal interactions. Responsible use of Internet and social media means you verify what is being said just like you do in personal interactions. With personal interactions, you can walk away from attacks or avoid bad situations (or people) by not being present near them. Similarly, if you mean to have a good online reputation, one should avoid posting derogatory or destructive material, and one should avoid associating with people who do that.
A guideline of interactions is that you cannot control what others do, but you can control what you do. Another guideline is that you should always think about what you say and do before you proceed. Even better, the golden rule applies where you should only do to others what you would have them do to you! Remember that talking trash about someone in personal interactions or relaying that online says more about your own character. As well, learning about the world and people is not limited to only our perspectives or like-minded people.
While some aspects of etiquette and protocol may get lost with online interactions, many of the things we do for responsible personal interactions apply to responsible use of online interactions. We have to think of social media as simply another method of communication or interaction, and we have to be responsible for our actions both in-person and online.