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In Defense of ‘Meaningful Social Interactions’

It’s been a month or so since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced sweeping changes to the way the platform displays items in the newsfeed. It’s not as crazy as your Aunt Suzie insinuated with the post about you only being able to see 25 people unless you commented on her post. However, it’s a big deal. Some businesses built their entire online presence on Facebook and are reeling from the news.

One phrase that stood out in his statement was the phrase “meaningful social interactions,” and this phrase chased me around for two weeks before I finally realized why that phrase would not leave my brain. It’s because “meaningful social interactions” do not occur– in their purist form– on Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Snapchat. Or even YouTube. Meaningful social interactions happen when human beings sit across the table with one another. When we get out from behind our desks and talk to customers, and when we actually listen to one another.

I’m incredibly guilty of living my social life via Facebook. I mean, I do not have time to catch up with friends in real life, right? Or do I? What if I limited the time spent on social media and used that extra time for “meaningful social interactions”? What if instead of responding with a hasty comment to a high school classmate, I… heaven forbid… picked up the telephone and talked with them? Or even better… set up a time to converse over coffee?

How often do we go to a restaurant and see people mindlessly scrolling instead of engaging with one another? What if, every time we’re out with other people, we put our phones away, look into their eyes, ask how they are doing… really?

How could this impact our small businesses? Instead of trying to engage with our customers on social media, what if we talked to them when they come in? What if we asked customers out for lunch to talk about how we can better meet their needs? What if we looked for ways to serve them instead of only extracting money from them?

I’m not saying we need to abandon an online presence. It’s impossible to think we can engage with every single client/potential client with a few in-person conversations. I am, saying however, that we should seek out opportunities for in-person interactions. Dust off those networking skills, get comfy at your local diner or coffee shop. Re-up your membership in your local Chamber of Commerce and look for volunteer opportunities in your community.

In other words, be human. Rumor is, chatbots are threatening to take over the world. That’s a grand idea. I’m fine with AI helping me resolve certain issues. However, Alexa doesn’t know when I’m in a bad mood. My husband does. An electronic device might help me find my keys, but my close friends can cheer me up with a joke about my faulty memory. A chatbot might be able to answer perfunctory questions, but a personal interaction you or one of your employees has with a customer is a chance to build a relationship.

Here are some ways to start creating meaningful social interactions:

  1. Lose your phone for an hour. Or two… or maybe the whole weekend. You may panic for a bit, but take the time to rediscover the world happening around you.

  2. Write a thank you note to a loyal customer. Yes, an actual note, with paper and pen. When’s the last time you sent anything other than a bill to your customer?

  3. Be comfortable with discomfort. That’s going to happen as you disengage from consuming copious amounts of social media. As you re-train your brain to engage with people personally, it may take time to adapt.

  4. Search for ways to serve others. Perform a random act of kindness. Smile at the sullen teenager walking down the street. Contact your local nonprofit to see how you can get involved. As you interact personally, you’ll find great rewards.

These authentic, engaging experiences can’t be measured by fancy analytic graphs, at least initially. But over time, if we treat people like PEOPLE, the way we want to be treated, the dividends will pay off in more than just increased sales. The return will be meaningful social interactions.

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