Social Media Psychology

Before I start this paper I want to lead with a quote for you all to bear in mind.
“The tongue has no bones, but it is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words”.

The Psychology of Social Media

The purpose of this paper is to highlight an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent in social media circles and actually has nothing to do with people deliberately trying to sabotage a process or cause trouble, merely the way we hit publish without thinking about our words and the subsequent effect it can have on how we feel about each other.

In society of any form, when we engage in face to face meetings we have no problems communicating with each other. The verbal and immediate nature of being face to face means that we fully understand the intent and play of a persons words, any subterfuge or counter meanings are quite often discerned by visual unconscious stimulus. Making us confident in understanding what the other person is trying to get across. There are certain cultural barriers that you will, in most cases, not be prepared to cross in face to face meetings. All of this makes us sure of the intent in a meeting and very often any discrepancies will be cleared up before leaving the meeting. So all is put to bed and happy in the world.

Not so in social media, the anonymous nature and non visual communication is just bursting with misinterpretation, upset and hurt. A person can hide and be desperate to get their viewpoint across. Without the other person being present no real thought is given to the way they will receive your cold, unemotional, written words. What have we learnt? Our society these days is more than happy to be confrontational, you only have to look at the way the legal system has evolved in America and now the UK. We like to be a critic, we think our opinion is more important and worth more than someone else’s.

Further we have the 1:9:90 rule whereby 1% of the group will post regularly, 9% will engage and the other 90% will lurk not taking part. This leads to further frustration that people are either not taking part because they side with one side of the argument or are frightened into not posting. This is not the case, these are the facts, anything more than these figures is a highly engaged group and something to be strived for.

Social media has broken all barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people than ever before. Is the focus now on quantity versus quality? Superficiality versus authenticity? Social media has the potential to make us far less social; a surrogate to the real thing. For it to be truly effective communication, all parties must bear a responsibility to be genuine, accurate, and not allow it to replace human contact altogether.

At work, the use of electronic communication has overtaken face to face and voice to voice communication by a wide margin. This shift is driven by two major factors: the speed/geographic dispersion of business, and the lack of comfort with traditional communication among a growing segment of our employee population: Generation Y and the Millennials. These people would prefer to use instant messaging or other social media than stop by an office and talk with someone. This new communication preference is one of the “generational gaps” plaguing organisations as Baby Boomers try to manage a new set of expectations and norms in their younger employees, and vice versa.

With these trends at play, leaders must consider the impact on business relationships and the ability to effectively collaborate, build trust, and create engagement and loyalty.

Further, because most communication is now done via e-mails, texts, instant messaging, intranets, blogs, websites and other technology-enabled media without the body language – the potential for misinterpretation is growing. Rushed and stressed, people often do not take the time to consider the subtleties of their writing. Conflicts will explode over a tone of an e-mail, or that all-important cc: list. When someone writes a text in all capital letters, does it mean they’re yelling? Are one or two word responses a sign that the person doesn’t want to engage? On the flip side, does a smiley face or an acknowledgement of agreement really mean they are bought in and aligned? Conclusions are drawn on frighteningly little information.

Suggested Guidelines

Here are some ways to help your community work in harmony with each other, some of the points were discussed in another community in general about social media, from a question I raised.

Be careful to step back and try to look at what the original poster is trying to say. Remember two ears and one mouth, this is the ration you need to use them in face to face so use them in social media, listen to the conversation and post thoughtfully.

Do not use the word BUT, it is highly confrontational and immediately suggests your opinion is going to be far more important than anything that precedes it. Try repeating in your own words what the person is trying to communicate. Or use further inquisitors such as “I don’t get your meaning” or “did you mean this”. Try to encourage self policing of the word BUT and find a suitable punishment for the individual which anyone in the group can impose. Maybe a fine of some description or putting up a resource of offenders and take them off after a week.

If you feel particularly affronted by what someone has said, try to go offline and communicate verbally and you will find, in most cases, you misinterpreted the original intent.

Remember that most topics are not taboo, it is the way that they are discussed that causes most aggrievance. With this in mind make a special effort not to pick on the person raising the subject. Stick to the subject matter itself. It is amazing how much personal knowledge of someone’s failings tend to make their arguments less important. Everyone has an equal voice, nobody should be more important or entitled to be heard. Any instances of personal attacks or swipes will be dealt with immediately by removal of comment and discussing with the individual as to why the comment was removed.

The guidelines herewith shall be communicated to each new member, in their welcome to the community. The community itself shall be responsible for highlighting an individuals breach of these guidelines and remind them of them accordingly.

The community is there for debate and not for personal attacks of any kind, if you cannot live with those rules then think about not taking part in the debates.

There is no attempt to mute posts other than those which breach these guidelines and those of appropriateness for the community.

Tips on Better Social Communicating

Before responding to a post, step back and play your own devils advocate, think about your response, and given distance or fresh eyes you can bring a new perspective or critique to an argument. Try asking yourself the following:

  • How can my message be misconstrued
  • Can the message be misinterpreted
  • Will this message have negative responses, or impact
  • Can I rephrase it.

Try to eliminate the negative response and focus on being positive. Just doing the above and giving a positivity to your response will help with negative interpretation.

If you have your words misinterpreted make sure to publicly correct the audience on your meaning, do not allow others to think wrongly of your post. Make sure to add supporting notes and explanations.

Be sympathetic and take responsibility for your post. People will still misinterpret your words, they will be hurt, offended which can affect your credibility and reputation. Understanding this or owning up to a mistake will allow you to be forgiven and work harmoniously.

Keep the communication two-way. Just because you’ve fired off an e-mail or text, it doesn’t mean communication has taken place. It is a two-way dynamic. Pay attention to what’s coming back to you to see if your message is understood and embraced.

Make sure that you learn your lesson, there is no point apologising if you continue to make the same mistakes, the community will look upon you in a poor light if you persist in this behaviour. If you made a mistake put in your own measures to avoid it happening again. Misunderstandings can be reversed when you explain openly your situation and apologise for those confusions or offences.


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