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Is social media making you anti-social?

David Grossman
Is social media making you anti-social? David Grossman

Social media is turning me into a curmudgeon. Don't get me wrong: I love blogging and I love Twitter, but the bad behavior and all around lack of sociability that abound in social media are starting to turn me into the anti-social media guy. Truthfully, the real issue here isn't the medium; it's the people using the medium. For all the emphasis people are putting on their social interactions, they're too often losing sight of the core values of true relationships. 

As someone who spends every day working to help corporate leaders improve their connections with their peers, employees, and customers, I know that no matter how distant an audience might seem or how removed a relationship might be, all interactions depend on the same fundamentals. And the fact is that among the most important elements of any relationship and of its social interactions -- whether face-to-face, over the phone, via email, or through social media -- is trust. 

In personal interactions, trust inspires confidence, respect, and a willingness to listen and engage. In business, trust inspires people to work harder, be smarter, and be engaged and active. With trust comes acceptance into lives and communities; people pay attention, hear what you have to say, and are inspired to connection and action.

All of which might help explain why the burning question I most often get from senior leaders is, How can I get people to trust me? They mean in a way that creates a deep bond of believability that is not about reputation and saving face -- a trust that makes people feel committed to them and their organization.

I know from firsthand experience that the best leaders are socially connected people who understand the importance of meaningful relationships in the context of business as a whole.

People sometimes confuse the appearance of sociability -- being charming, funny, or just plain talking a lot -- with actual sociability -- having a sense of responsibility for and commitment to community and others, negotiating the delicate balance between giving and taking, being willing to listen and actively respond to needs and criticism, and similar other-driven behaviors. Don't get me wrong, I love a good story -- but think about the foundations of the truly meaningful relationships in your life.

All that said, what's up with all the businesses on social media that aren't doing anything to build trusted relationships? You want people to listen to what you have to say? To connect with your brand? To be inspired to buy your products and become loyalists? Well, you'd better start thinking about trust.

Let's start with the basics: Trust is built on follow through and delivery. Say anything you want, but if you don't back up your words with action and results, your audience will get the message that you are not a company on which they can depend.  Fail to follow through, listen, or show you care even just a few times, and you've all but squandered the chance to build the trusted relationships that are at the heart of lasting brand loyalty.

So how do you master social interactions to build trusted relationships online?

Be approachable and friendly (people trust brands they like). This doesn't mean you have to affect a personality you don't have -- obviously someone who represents a bank is going to interact differently than someone who works for a surf shop -- but show that you've got real, live, listening people engaging in social media rather than automated robots. Robots do not inspire trust.

Balance the need for results with being considerate of individuals and their communities. Sure, you want to show ROI on your social media program, you want to sell more, you want to get people to your website, but remember you are a visitor in other people's lives and homes. Respect established codes of behavior, do your best to understand where people are coming from and what their interests are, and be sensitive to existing dynamics. 

Instead of dominating with flashy tactics or heavy-handed brand promotions, work hard to win people over by being respectful of their ideas and perspectives. OK, I'm not saying that everyone doesn't love a good brand promotion, but remember that's not everything in social media. Listen to what people need, and either respond in a way that is helpful or clearly shows your relevance to them and their lives.

Ensure that your words and actions match all of the time. Does your brand like to promote itself as a "people company," but you don't respond to criticism on Twitter or thank a blogger for writing nice things? Yeah, well, you're not really a people company then, are you? Your social media presence should clearly and consistently align with your company values.

Actively listen. Are you really hearing and understanding concerns and issues? You should be. Let people know by thanking followers, responding to an online campaign, or if you make a product adjustment based on feedback, let people know you've heard them and thank them for their input. 

Be honest and tell the truth. Telling people what you think they want to hear erodes trust. The rule of the day in social media is authenticity. People trust individuals and brands whose words and actions align, who can own up to mistakes, and who are willing to be honest and transparent.

As I always tell leaders, whether they're in charge of an entire company or of a small team, never underestimate the power of the shadow we cast and our ability to influence behaviors and drive results. And we can only drive the results we want by modeling them.

How are you going to model trust and truly social interaction the next time you're online?

David Grossman is the president, founder, and CEO of The Grossman Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.



to leave comments.

Commenter: Victor Dlamini

2010, September 25

I agree that social interaction is what makes social media so powerful. That's why David's point that companies need to actively listen is so important. Those that hear and respond to social media channels will better harness the power of this new media. Listening is often under estimated by many companies that forget that you can't really be social unless you act in a social way whilst pursuing your business goals