I wonder sometimes why I am better at “socializing” online than I am in person. I’m sure it has a great deal to do with several physical factors, such as poor hearing, being self concious about my weight, and the lack of wanting to interrupt a conversation. However, I think there are a lot of ways that we can interact online that put your presence out there in hugely different ways. Words made public on a screen have a much different meaning than words in a closed and unread notebook. Here are a few examples of a comparible action between social interaction in the real world and online using social media.
This takes much longer in social media than in person. In fact, it is a much more awkward process. One person has to put his hand out to the other, then wait. The other person may never respond. That is not something to lose sleep over. If they do respond, you have an initial contact and can go to the next step.
When meeting someone in person, we generally say our name and ask a couple of very general questions. The online world tends to expect a tagline with an intro. That’s fine, as long as the tagline is very short (I mean tiny, folks) and not a scream (screeeeaaammmm) or a shout (SHOUT!). Just something like this: Karen Kay, blogger.
Take a look at your new acquaintance. Google ‘em, look at their picture (no avatar? Shame on you – I generally lose interest if you don’t have your mug out there). Then make a comment about them. Anything nice will do. Let them know you are interested. If you are not interested, don’t waste their time or yours and move on.
Make sure they know you are listening. Repeat back something they say in different words, or ask a leading question that requires them to further clarify who they are and what they do. Do not fake this. It may seem easy to fake when hiding behind a screen, but it is still a delicate walk and spam smells even worse on the internet than it does in the can.
If you’re asking questions that have anything to do with personal information, such as “where exactly do you live” or, “what are your kids’ names”, you’re invading space. Personal information on the web is a taboo subject, unlike the general “your people may know my people” kind of thing you get into in person. Yes share your friends and contacts who may be able to help if you know someone, but ask both parties first and then don’t shove them together like a blind date. Be careful about whose information you share with whom.
This would equate to lurkers. Those who read everything you write but never reply or leave comments. There are plenty of shy people in the world. Don’t worry about it. If you can help them with your content, so be it. It’s kind of a non-issue really, but to those of you who are lurkers, just know it’s okay. You might not get a ton of folks in your network, but if that's okay with you, it's fine with me too.
The best subsitute for subtle nudges and pats on the shoulder is smiley central. I do not use them much, because I think they tend to be annoying. But they do have their place. I use them more often with good friends or people I know well. They may annoy me initially the same way someone I barely know who touches me does. I don’t mind you touching me if you know me, but when you have no idea whether I like to be touched (or smiley’d) it is rude to assume I do. That being said, I love hugs. Nearly every message to my friends ends with “Hugs, KK”. That’s okay too – as long as you are close enough friends.
I am feeling the urge to move into other territory here, such as forum personality disorders and writing under the influence – but I think I will save those for another day.