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Is Social Media Really Anti-Social?

by David Brock on October 28th, 2010

I was having a conversation with my friend, Gary Hart , no not that one—the @salesdujour one, about social media.  Both of us are kind of old war horses, but have eagerly embraced social media.  We reflected on networking as we knew it in the “good old days,” and social media today.  Both of us were thinking that social media can actually be very anti-social.

In the good old days of social networking, we had to rely on traditional means of networking—going to trade shows, conferences, picking up the phone and talking to people, and, God forbid, actually going to meet with someone.  There was a close connection with the people we were connecting to—actually meeting with them face to face, or talking to them hearing their voices.

Today, we use social media.  The tools provide great ways for us to connect.  I leverage everyone that I can.  It extends my reach, it enables me to connect with people I would have never been able to reach without these tools—in fact, Gary and I first met exchanging Tweets.

Yet, somehow I think social media really makes us anti-social.  We start hiding behind the tools, we start isolating ourselves from human interaction.  I went to the dictionary to see if I was off, here are a few of the definitions of Social:

  •  of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society <social institutions>
  • tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others of one’s kind

These definitions really resonate with me.  Social is really about human connections.  Technology enables those connections to be started, but it’s really not the fulfillment of human connections.  Sometimes, I think social media does exactly the opposite—it starts to isolate us from human connection.  It becomes too easy to hide behind our tweets, blog posts, text messages, emails.  We think we are forming relationships and connecting, but really what we are doing is exchanging bit streams.  Sometimes in hiding behind these transactions we exhibit terrible behaviors.

While I’ve been active in social media for a couple of years, I must not have read the rule book.  Early on in my social media experience, I had a number of exchanges with someone, all very pleasant, we seemed to enjoy each other.  One day, I picked up the phone to call that person.  Upon introducing myself, in a shocked voice he said, “But you’re not supposed to do this!”  I was a little surprised, “What do you mean?”  He responded, “Well we have a social media connection.” 

Since I hadn’t read the rule book, I was too dumb to stop, so I said, “Well it seems like it would be interesting to get to know each other in more than 140 characters, or through blog posts.  I just wanted to learn a little about you and get to know you better.”  We went on, had a great conversation, and have a deeper relationship.  We still interact principally through the tools—they are convenient and efficient, but we’ve learned to pick up the phone and talk every once in a while.  We still are trying to align meeting in an airport somewhere in the world.

I continue to embrace social media—but I think I want to focus more on the social part of it.  The value of these tools is in helping to connect, helping to form “interdependent relationships,”  helping to see each other as humans rather than bit streams.

Is this a big violation of the rules?  Will my Twitter ID be revoked and I’ll be kicked off Facebook and LinkedIn?  I hope not.

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  1. Dave I must say that I cracked up reading this, only because this is so true. Though I am not an old workhorse (i’m 24), I am far more comfortable & effective on the phone or in person than through social networking. I have been reading your blogs for a about a month now. There has been a lot of great information that has helped me in my young career. Thank you

    • Thanks for the nice comment and the compliments! Glad to see you get value out of the posts, pass it on, encourage others to read/subscribe 😉

      Social media and networking is a great complement to real networking. It needs to be part of every sales professional’s tool kit, but as a complement to other tools. Thanks for your insight on the issue. Regards, Dave

  2. David, thanks for breaking the rules and making calls. Maybe the phone and handshake will make a comeback. Our evocative conversation stirred my gray matter all week, which you do superlatively and with much appreciation. Are we really old warhorses?

    Your post brings to mind the story of the young boy that threw stranded starfish back into the ocean. When an old man complained that there were too many and the boy’s efforts did not matter, the boy replied, “It does to this one.”

  3. Bob Ennamorato permalink


    I couldn’t agree more with your post on the “anti-social” aspects of social media and how people hide behind their messages. Facebook encourages members to accept “friends” to share information and experiences with. It then directs you to its “privacy settings” which tell you how to block, hide, screen and filter messages from your “friends” making it easy to hide. I agree, if you want to communicate with someone, pick up the phone or at least use email. If you have to have 6 ways to hide from what you say, what is the point?

    • Bob, thanks for the comment. I think all sales professionals need to leverage social media, but just as one more tool in building and extending relationships. With every tool we find ways of “hiding,” whether it is behind email filters, voicemail, or social network settings. Great comment.

  4. David – Your posting mode me smile as in some cases social media has indeed become a barrier to actually taking with someone – Heavens forbid. I was listening to the radio several months ago and a caller asked the host to play a record because she just broke up with her boyfriend via texting. She wanted to talk to him but he wasn’t returning her text messages. The host suggested picking up the phone and actually calling him.

    The other trend I am observing is probably regional. Certain active social media individuals take ownership if Twitter hash tag signs to actually monitoring what others are Tweeting or posting on walls. This does make social media via unsocial.

  5. I totally agree with you and that is why I enjoy atttending a local business network meeting every three weeks – we see each other in person and talk face to face. Yes, social media is a valuable tool but it should never take the place of face to face interaction. Sitting down to get to know someone on a personal and professional level only enchances the relationship and one never knows what will come of it – referrals – new business and opportunities.

    • Thanks for the comment Lisa, we need to use all channels for connecting and building relationships.

  6. Mike Weinberg permalink

    Love it and agree. I have new friendships and a coach/mentor from social media connections. But relationships wouldn’t have progressed if we didn’t take it past tweeting and actually dialogue on the phone. Your post reminded me of that great old United Airlines tv spot where the bossman walked in, told his people they had just lost an important customer and then handed out paper airline tickets (remember those?) to the team and told them to get face to face with their customers.

    Thanks for all the ideas and value David. Love your blog –

    • Mike, it’s great to see you here! Thanks for contributing. Social media is just one of many tools we leverage to build deep relationships. We have to use all in balance.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, I hope to see you as a regular contributor. One of the things about people commenting on the blog, the quality of the comments and discussion is always better than the blog post. Regards, Dave

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