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Small Talk: Social Media - Fallstrick oder Chance?

Schlagwörter: Owad Business English Trainer, Social Media, Smartphone, Twitter, Facebook

Smartphones and social-media platforms could become our primary means of communication. How will this affect business communication?

The urge to stay in touch

One-third of UK adults check their phones in the middle of the night. From their beds. When I first read this tidbit of recent research from Deloitte, I thought how ridiculous. Until I realized that I’d done it my¬self. Once, when my daughter was travelling and had promised to send me a message when she arrived, at 2:00 am my time (she had, happily). Another time, I was checking if the results on the Brexit vote were finally in (they were, sadly). Two perfectly good reasons, I would argue.

At other times, my excuses are not so convincing. I admit to having a minor smartphone addiction. And I’m not the only sufferer. We’re constant¬ly invited to check a never-ending stream of push notifications, messag¬es, e-mails and social-media updates. It’s no wonder we find it hard to put our phones down.

We crave connection to others so much that we are prepared to inter¬rupt our lives and sleep to seek it out. Generally, 18 to 35-year-olds check their phones on average 85 times a day, often for less than 30 seconds at a time. Small talk via social media and mobile devices is not going away, but surely there’s a better way to keep in touch.

Interaction, not misinterpretation

Humans need to interact. Howev¬er, we really need to communicate not only with words, but also with gestures, movements and facial ex¬pressions. When we see the people we’re interacting with, we’re able to decode their true messages more easily. Nuanced facial expressions give us a better understanding of their motives and meaning.

When we interact using social media, we often lose a lot of this rich infor¬mation that we would otherwise pick up face-to-face. Although videopostsare on the increase, most people still use simple text. That’s where the tone of voice, expressions and gestures are missing, which can add to the under¬standing of a message. Interpreting this aspect of language is vital for social interaction, and even survival in our careers. I’m not exaggerating.

In the absence of such information, we often misinterpret messages - fre¬quently in a negative way. A request is perceived as an arrogant order, a helpful suggestion as negative crit¬icism, a joke as a racist rant. What exacerbates the problem is often the sender’s belief that the message they just wrote is perfectly clear and not open to (mis)interpretation at all. This is particularly true in social media.

Social-media pitfalls

Social-media platforms have aggra¬vated this problem. Twitter and Face¬book have become essential for busi¬nesses, as a way to market products, but also to interact with customers. For many people, they are also the platform of choice for interacting with friends and colleagues. They’re the favoured medium for light banter and building relationships, which is the key to, and focus of, much small talk. But these channels can backfire. The ease at which we can post status updates, photos and even videos, is partly to blame. As is our miscon¬ception that misinterpretation is impossible.

Thoughtless tweets, far-reaching results

This misconception has led to people losing their jobs. One famous example involves a thoughtless tweet posted to friends and followers by a 30-year-old just before she boarded a flight for Cape Town at Heathrow Airport.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Justine Sacco

With her phone turned off during the11-hour flight, Sacco had no idea of the furore she’d created. By the time she landed, the hashtag #hasjustine¬landed had trended and the story was being covered by the mainstream media. She was fired from her job as the senior director of corporate communications at IAC. Sacco plead¬ed it had been just a stupid joke to friends, but the fact that she was in communications meant that her position was untenable. Never mind the racist undertone.

Her experience back in 2013 demon¬strates how public and unforgiving social media is, and how nasty the trolls can be. And how far-reaching the effects are. Three years on, the top result for a Google search for her name is still the story about her tweet.

Caution and control advised

Twitter and Facebook have their uses, particularly for building and maintaining relationships. Twitter, for example, is useful before, during and after conferences, particularly in certain sectors, such as the media or tech industry.

I’ve used Twitter, for example, to get in touch with speakers at conferenc¬es to arrange a meeting, or to give positive feedback after a talk. Using the private message function, it’s a great way to contact someone with a public profile.

Facebook, in my experience, is great for family and friends. In some indus¬tries, it can be useful for connecting with business partners, too, espe¬cially in the US or the UK. However, many people, including myself, prefer to keep Facebook private. Well, at least as far as privacy is possible on this platform.

If you do use Facebook with business contacts, you should consider setting up filters to limit who can see your photos and status updates (Ideally, everything should be set to friends only for a start.) You should also be aware that sharing political posts or amusing anecdotes might change how people view you at work. You should also set your profile so that you have to approve any posts to your page or tags of you in photos and comments.

You need to be in control of your im¬age. And that means being in control of your page, posts and tags.

Professional networking sites

Instead of using Facebook or Twit¬ter, take a look at professional net¬working sites, such as LinkedIn®, InterNations and Xing, to build your networks and relationships. But pre-pare your profile as you would pre¬pare yourself for a networking event.

• Make sure your profile page looks professional. It will act as your busi¬ness card.

• Use a professional photo that is suitable for the image you want to portray in your industry.

• Keep your profile up-to-date and truthful.

• Don’t exaggerate your qualifica¬tions or work experience. This profile is public. • Join groups that support your in¬terests but don’t become a spammer to the members. Only post some¬thing if it’s relevant and reflects pos¬itively on you (without focusing too much on your own achievements).

• Build your contacts selectively. Don’t accept every request, as many will be spam. But don’t send out hun¬dreds of requests either.

• Post articles or recommend links that people will enjoy.

• Remember, these sites target the professional community. It’s not generally a place where you share personal or intimate details about your life, family or friends. Use Face-book for that.

Rest, listen and learn

While one-third of UK adults are checking their phones in the night, two-thirds say they want more rest in their lives, according to research by BBC Radio 4 and Hubbub. Most restful activities, the research found, are the things people choose to do alone, such as reading or listening to music. None of the options included smartphones or social media. I’m going to listen to my own advice and will be taking a rest — from this column. I hope you’ve enjoyed the past year and my tips on small talk. You can find me on Twitter and Linke¬dIn®, where I hope to be posting wisely, and not indiscriminately.

Schlagwörter: Owad Business English Trainer, Social Media, Smartphone, Twitter, Facebook

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