Social Media for the Socially Awkward: Online and Offline

Often it happens that job seekers land up at an interview unprepared, and get basic information about the interviewer – name, designation, or experience – wrong. That could be a huge put off, to say the least. Wouldn’t simple online research have helped in avoiding this faux pas? Social media, for instance, can throw up such information at the click of a single button.

That social media is negatively impacting our interpersonal relationships and our social behaviour is a notion articulated by several researchers and psychologists. Having said that, social media can be an effective tool to enhance interpersonal conversations at work, and off it.

Organizations are already using social media tools extensively for marketing and to create a personal connection with the end-user. There’s a reason why retailers have found a hybrid online-to-offline model to be an ideal fit to impact better user experience. However, the positives of social media for interpersonal relationships, have seldom been discussed. The potential of social media, just like technology tools, depends on how we choose to use it.

“Social media is to interpersonal relationships; what AI is to technology tools.”

Rather than being detrimental, social media can be an effective assistant in enhancing offline relationships and in projecting good first impressions, especially in a corporate context. It is an easy tool to learn about the interests and thought processes of people, making that in-person meeting or a cold call, all the more engaging.

One of the key things that we have often been taught in corporate leadership programs, is to be ready with an elevator pitch, for that rare chance when we might bump into a senior leader or any person of high importance. It can be an effective management skill to differentiate oneself and move up the corporate ladder. Imagine finding yourself alone with the CEO of your company, or any other senior leader, in an elevator. How would you capture their attention? How would you quickly explain your area of work, such that your presence lingers in the mind of the leader long after you have left? How do you strike an engaging conversation without gawkily staring at your shoes?

With a plethora of information available on social media nowadays, this should be an effortless task. At the outset, follow your senior leaders on social media channels. Their LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages can give you all the insight you require to strike an engaging conversation – like, discovering a common interest in a particular football club or for a certain music band. Read and understand what they are talking about, the content they repost, their interests and hobbies, and how they like to spend their time off work. It will give you an insight into what drives them, what motivates them, and their value systems. So, the next time you find yourself alone with a senior leader in an elevator, your conversation starter wouldn’t need to be about the weather. “The article you shared recently was intriguing…” is a better ice breaker than talking about sunny or rainy days.

“Social media can be an effective tool to enhance interpersonal conversations at work and off it.”

After all, they will not remember you for the small talk, but they will remember the common ground they discovered with you. This can also be highly impactful in helping clinch deals. Social networks can give you insights into that common ground much before you get to the meeting, enabling you to make meaningful connections and eliminating that initial awkwardness of not knowing what is the most effective thing to say. Engaging face-to-face conversations is why deals are signed off over a coffee table, as much as in the boardroom.

Using social media to supplement offline social scenarios can extend from casual get-togethers with friends, to a professional context. In personal interactions too, social media can be an effective enabler of long conversations. You are already aware of the broad contours of your friends’ lives, between various social networks. With small talk – “What’s new?”, “Where have you been?”, “How’s your family?” – out of the way, you can get down to the specifics. Social media, in this context, can be a bridge between online and offline social situations.

“Social media can be a good bridge between online and offline social situations.”

As per a popular theory, social relationships progress at a snail’s pace from shallow, to deeper, to intimate, spanning several months or years. Social networking sites have largely sped up this process in the last few years, by keeping us virtually updated about the lives of people we may not meet or talk to frequently. Social media is to interpersonal relationships; what AI is to technology tools. The elevator pitch is no longer an anxious proposition.

So, the next time you bump into your CEO, urge them to ditch the elevator and to take the stairs with you. It’s healthy for you, and your professional life.

This article was originally published in Business Insider.

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