Although many of the people reading this blog might think that social media is one of the most important inventions in modern history, there are millions of others who dismiss social media as a “waste of time.” Why the disparity?
Too many people falsely associate legitimate email marketing with spam. But thanks to the efforts of email service providers (like Constant Contact, Mailchimp, and Delivira) and laws like CAN-SPAM, email continues to be a thriving mechanism of communication. And although it seems like the simplicity and widespread availability of email marketing would overrun us with messages, in reality this technology is used more judiciously and selectively than ever.
As a productivity expert, I’m often called upon to make pronouncements about what is and is not an efficient use of time. So let me make this claim: social media is not a waste of time, because it’s a mechanism by which we engage in social behavior.
That’s really what sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are all about. It’s the reason we blog, Stumble Upon and comment. We’re being social. As John Donne famously noted: “No man is an island.” We’re all connected to each other and depend upon each other, and social media is yet another way to express that connection.
So why do people dismiss Facebook? Why do they scoff at Twitter? Why won’t people join sites like Quora? I believe the reason is dangerous misconception: many people think of social media as a video game.
That’s not to disparage the multi-billion dollar business of gaming, or to say that gaming doesn’t have its own complex social structures or myriad benefits. Rather, people think of gaming as merely entertaining pastime, conducted in the quiet of our own homes by the glow of a screen. If you reduce the entirety of social media to a form of electronic solitaire, it’s pretty easy to rationalize this world to a “waste of time.” If we think of social media without thinking about society, it’s just an interesting distraction.
This way of conceptualizing social media is outright destructive. It causes employers to ban social networking websites at the office, because of the thought that they necessarily prevent work. By this logic, however, we should also ban idle conversation at the water cooler and prohibit people from receiving a personal phone call. If we really don’t want people to use social media, we are asking them to not be social.
Perhaps it is more fundamental, however, to note that so many of our critical roles in our business and personal lives rely upon social dynamics. Sales and marketing comes from building rapport; research and development arises from teams that foster creativity and embrace both failure and success. Routine tasks are done with more enthusiasm when we have someone to share them with. Friendships and families are built not on procedures but on socialization. We need each other not just to grow, but to survive.
The belief that social media is a waste of time is based on a misconception of social media. Although these are services made possible through cool technology, they are powered by our fundamental propensity to connect. We need to work together. Social media merely makes doing so easier and faster than ever before.
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