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The Contradiction of Connectedness

It is more impossible than ever to separate our business lives from our social ones. Anywhere you go, you can look around and observe people checking email on their smartphones or tablets, most of which are connected to both their personal and professional accounts. We never stop working, no matter what time of day it is. The dawn of email ushered in an age of “dealing” with more people, but it also initiated the decline of actual face-to-face interactions. Therein lies the contradiction of this so-called connectedness and the line that becomes more blurred with each passing day.

Social and Professional Are More Intertwined Than Ever Before

Social networking, or social media, offers no substitute for meaningful relationships. Can it help people reach out to form a connection? Sure. Can it help them develop truly meaningful, and sustainable, personal relationships? Perhaps, but before I can even suggest an answer to that question, let me address another conundrum. Even though I mentioned earlier that our social and business lives have become more intertwined then ever before, our livelihood is most likely not at all dependent on the social media aspects of our lives, where the illusions of relationships exist. I often refer to social media as “social me.” And this social me often conflicts with “business you.”

Few Derive Their Livelihood from Social Media

When I spoke at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, on the topic “Who’s In Your Orbit? – Beyond Facebook, Creating Relationships That Matter,” to an audience of about 200, I asked a simple question, “How many of you derive your livelihood from your social media connections?” Only one person raised their hand. When I asked him how his livelihood depends on social media, he responded that he is a journalist writing solely on topics pertaining to social media. Perfect for him, but he was most definitely in the minority. Pretty striking conclusion, at least from that group, but I suspect it’s a standard cross-section of most business audiences.

Is social media merely a form of entertainment and relationship voyeurism or is it a driving force for purposes of one’s vital business pursuits? You decide. But if you look at it from a purely professional perspective, the side that puts food on the table and a roof over your head, then I feel confident guessing what your conclusion might be.

Meaningful business is the result of meaningful relationships. These relationships also facilitate the enjoyment of the social side of our lives. True success lies in our ability to achieve balance, establish priorities, and maintain healthy dividing lines between personal and professional pursuits. As it relates to the development of meaningful relationships, both social and business, there is a need to incorporate at least four essential components:

  1. Time

While it costs nothing, it is an extremely scarce resource. Once spent, it is gone forever. Spending time with someone demonstrates his or her importance to us. In business, it conveys the other party’s significance in a way impossible to communicate via social me(dia).

  1. Intensity

When your connection with another is emotionally intense, it is by virtue a stronger relationship.

  1. Trust

Authentic relationships can’t exist without trust. It is earned in many ways, but most often by the time and intensity elements that precede it.

  1. Reciprocity

This requires two-way effort, in contrast to the more skewed one-way effort upon which social media depends. Where this exists, greater strength and value builds over time.


Quality, Not Quantity, Matters Most

Social media does have value. It can be a wonderful community builder for any business, but it isn’t a substitute for meaningful personal relationships. As you reflect on the value of social media and its place in building meaningful relationships, consider this: If you attend a business dinner and spend an hour around a table with 10 people, does that count as an hour with each of them?

Your answer could explain why so many of us feel disconnected from others, despite the number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections we may have. Remember, it’s not about the number of contact records; it’s about the relationships.