Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
May 19, 2011 4:58 PM

It's A Great Icebreaker

How useful is Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media platforms when it comes to actual relationships?

Well, if Malcolm Gladwell didn't get this conversation all riled up last October (see: Small Change - why the revolution will not be tweeted), the value of Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media platforms in building true relationships is brewing up all over again. While, in this instance, it's not as important as toppling regimes, it seems like The New York Times has a slew of commentary from different writers on the depth and value that comes from our social graphs online and how it can't be compared to pressing the flesh in-person. Take these three different perspectives from the newspaper on the topic:

  1. Best Wishes Turn Middling.
  2. The Twitter Trap.
  3. Does Facebook Help or Hinder Offline Friendships?

It's not that big of a deal.

Prior to the Internet, parents spent their time complaining in newspapers and magazines and on TV and radio about how their kids were loosing touch with reality because they were spending too much time talking on the phone to their friends rather than meeting up with them in person. I'm sure there were plenty of people who figured that publishing books would make us spend too much time alone as well. The problem with all of these silly comparisons is that these statements are based on a world when these newer forms of communication and content didn't exist. Old values rarely understand newer innovations.

Social Media is an amazing icebreaker.

This is where Gladwell got it right: Social Media is an amazing enabler of weak connections. What we - as human beings - do with those connections (either strengthening them or keeping them at arm's length) is our own doing. Where Gladwell (and many of the other people who think that it's the end of humanity because we now wish our friends a Happy Birthday via Facebook instead of ringing their doorbells) got it wrong is: all strong ties begin as weak ties. Social Media is not only a great icebreaker, but it enables us to have (and manage) many more weak ties. While some people are just looking to up their numbers in a Machiavellian game of self-esteem, others focus on a small few and build tangible relationships that transcend the pixels. It's fair to say that the more people you meet, the better the opportunity may be to meet people you can really (truly and deeply) connect with.

Think about it this way...

You're a shy person and your boss tells you that you have to attend an industry conference. Not only are you a little introverted, but you don't know one single person who is attending this event. For decades, this was a common occurrence. People would register for the conference and awkwardly stand in the hallway next to the coffee machine hoping to make eye contact with another lonely soul. I've been there. You've been there, too. Now, you can hop on Twitter and tweet: "Hey, anybody going to the conference in Chicago next week? Wanna meet-up?" Not only are you now meeting a whole bunch of people who are going to the same conference as you (and if you don't have a significant following on Twitter, you can do a Twitter Search for the conference and see who else is talking about it and start following/connecting with them), but you now have new people to look forward to meeting and - if you're following and paying attention to what they're tweeting about - you'll actually know something about them too. On countless occasions, this tactic has not only made me feel more confident about attending an event, but I was actually looking forward to meeting all of these new connections to see where they could lead.

Treat it like an icebreaker but take it further.

If Twitter were nothing more than a tool to help you meet new people, it would be awesome enough. The truth is that what you do with it beyond that point is where the true value lies. When people complain that wishing someone a Happy Birthday on Facebook takes a little bit of our soul away, what they fail to focus on is that without Facebook or Twitter even the smallest "Happy Birthday" wish may never happen... and sometimes, just those nice, little pings in life can be more than enough. Most of us could all use a little more time to nurture those weaker connections. I, for one, love the fact that Social Media facilitates those special kinds of real interactions between real people. It's amazing how those real interaction can often lead to lifelong ties that have strength beyond strength.

What do you think?

By Mitch Joel