Dec 17

The Rules of Virtual Engagement

New York City is one of the worlds most crowded cities with the worlds most crowded streets. We walk those streets together engaging in certain social norms. Some make eye contact with each other or pass a quick semi-smile to acknowledge the presence of the other. Some completely ignore each other. Some may act like they own the street, and some take things a step further by making sure you know they are in a rush and to stay clear of their way. Others may show interest in you in some way and then poof; suddenly two strangers are in the middle of a conversation. At this point both of you make a decision whether you like one another and feel the need to continue talking or go on your merry way. Maybe you'll become life long friends and paradoxically maybe you'll never see each other again. Either way there is a social process already established that we intuitively know to practice while engaging each other and if we deviate we're flustered and taken back. The World Wide Web, more specifically the land of Twitter is a fun and interesting place to virtually walk the crowded streets. So what are the virtual social norms we should and should not follow? Is the process of social engagement any different from the rules we practice in person? We chose the people we want to engage with on Twitter in a number of ways. Here are a few:

  1. Profile scan - We look at their profile and are either interested or not in what they have to say.
  2. Referral - We look to see who our friends are following because if they're following someone, then I must want to follow that individual.
  3. Work - They'll provide some connections you wouldn't otherwise be privileged to and vice versa.
  4. Popularity - You are indifferent about someone and just want to increase the number of followers you have.
  5. Promote - Essentially you believe it's a good way to advertise yourself.
Essentially we are making virtual friends and connections the same way we do in person. So why would the social process be any different? Would you barge into a stranger's home because you have something brilliant (at least you think so), to share with them? No, hopefully you would knock at the door. They either let you in or not. The way we engage one another on Twitter, feels like we are answering a knock at the door or trying to deal with people who are barging in.  When someone comments on a random thought you wrote about, it feels pretty good because you feel that person is showing interest in you. Inevitably you show interest back by commenting on something they've written. So not only have you answered the door and let them in, now you probably would like them to stay for dinner, so to speak. What I've learned so far with my experience on Twitter, and feel to be true overall, is that people like to be engaged by others who have a genuine interest in them.  For myself I can say that I love connecting with others, meeting new people and learning from them.  Twitter is a great place to do that, but when others trying to connect with you are doing so only to promote themselves (and it's obvious when they are), the concept of establishing a relationship loses it's value. I just recently got a direct message that said  "thanks for following me, how can I help you?", with a link to her blog. This person has no interest in me. That is obvious. She was more interested in promoting herself. I feel that If you try to spend the time getting to know someone, they'll know it, appreciate it and a real connection will be established. Knock on some doors, start a conversation, and don't barge in. You can find me on Twitter here: @erinlevenson