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Social Media Hypocrites: How genuine is this platform?

July 31, 2009

LAF note: Thanks to Alex T. and Amy Mengel for discussions we had to spark this post.

Question. Are we all social media hypocrites? Ok, not all of us, but definitely a few. How genuine is social media? I read blog posts of a stance someone holds, then they speak a different opinion if someone disagrees. They network with people based solely off their profession, not off what they stand for, like, etc. They tell me one thing to try to “build” or “connect” with me, but tell my friend Bob something else. Guess what? Bob and I talk.

Workgroup meetingIs this a medium that provides us with too much leeway for hypocrisy? Can we get away with saying one thing but believing another? Are we making false connections – or are you the type to connect in old fashion ways?

Don’t get me wrong. Social media has provided me with connections to some wonderful people, including but not limited to the likes of David Mullen, Amy Mengel, Jen Wilbur, Rachel Kay, Arik Hanson, Kasey Skala and Jason Sprenger.

I also think that social media, because you can’t tell a tone, give someone almost too much confidence in their abilities or their right to connect with you. I’m not just talking about the “experts” (Ok, seriously, no one is.) I’m talking about the folks who believe their questions should be answered, they should get help, without even trying to network/build.

As PR professionals, we are constantly communicating, networking and building relationships. Do we abuse social media, though?

So, I guess I want to discuss two things:Β  Are there social media hypocrites? How do we understand the genuine-ness (a made up word, yes) of people?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2009 9:20 am

    Interesting thought. I am not sure it is hypocrite-ness (a made up word, yes) you are necessarily talking about as much as it is people boasting and being people.

    It seems to me at least in the social media realm that the person with the most time on their hands generally wins. In other words, the person that can spend time networking, communicating and building relationships usually looks like the expert.

    I think it begins to look like abuse when we run out of time and get sloppy. I certainly know that I am a victim of that. Agree? Maybe I missed the point?

  2. July 31, 2009 9:28 am

    Hey Ryan – thanks for reading and commenting. You definitely got the point – and broadened what I was thinking.

    I really was trying to drive home the fact that social media can make us change our personality and stances based off who we are talking to. The abuse comes in when we are constantly pushing an agenda, without taking time to build the relationship.

    Building takes time, but people aren’t patient. SM makes everything at warped speed – but how do we slow down?

  3. jaykeith permalink
    July 31, 2009 9:50 am

    I’ll throw another issue out there along these lines. Maybe people aren’t even social media hypocrites, but just “followers.” I would say that in my experience on Twitter, I’ve seen much more activity in terms of agreeing and fawning than real discussion and discourse/debate. Of course I see a lot of back and forth on blogs, where I think people can be free to express themselves, but I think that even there sometimes people hold back a little bit in the interests of not ticking the entire string of commenters off. The more comfortable you are with your community, the more you trust them, and the more open you can be.

    I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s the fear of being ostracized by the community that they are working so hard to be a part of that causes people to not be entirely truthful? Like I’ve said in the past, I think Twitter especially can be a bit “cliquey” and maybe that’s not a totally bad thing, but it also means that those on the outside trying to get in might just agree to agree, gain some followers, and get entrance into the “club.” It’s almost like the kid in high school who gives away their lunch and candy and all kinds of stuff just to gain acceptance. So while they might have a totally different opinion on something that everyone else is talking about, they don’t want to voice it because they’re afraid of losing the group. But when they’re more comfortable and with people they aren’t trying to impress, they can say whatever they want. But of course, Lauren’s right that “Bob and I talk” usually applies, because as big as Twitter in, the communities most of us run in aren’t.

    I sometimes see social media communities like high school in a lot of ways. First impressions are always the ones that are remembered, and most of the time, agreeing with someone will open more doors and gain you more social acceptance than disagreeing. Start off on the wrong foot, and you’ll be trying to force that door open for a long, long time.

    Just a thought.


  4. Kristen Turley, APR permalink
    July 31, 2009 11:38 am

    Great post, Lauren.

    I agree with Jay, social media is much like high school where there tended to be far more followers than leaders. High school “leaders” were created because of perceived power versus reality, much like has been done in some social media circles. People are trying to be “popular” with particular groups using social media instead of creating his or her own voice and sticking with it. I believe social media has brought out insecurities in some that require them to develop multiple personalities or perceived importance.

  5. July 31, 2009 11:51 am

    I think what you’re saying, on both counts, is that some people in social media are fake. It is a sad and true fact that — beyond those people who are obvious in their self-serving use of social media — there is a percentage that is not obvious at all. It was very disillusioning to me to realize that some well-known preachers of the “sharing” and “transparency” gospel are not what they appear to be. As Jay says, this is not unique to social media, but perhaps it feels more jarring because of the utopian nature of some of the rhetoric.

    As you note, the truth about these people is bubbling under the surface. Multiple times I’ve heard someone express my sentiments about a fake person, without me ever saying a word. I agree with you that connecting in person is the best way to find out who is misrepresenting themselves, and who’s actually got the goods.

    Some people will no doubt get ahead by being hypocritical, but (as in real life) most of us prefer to hang with those who keep it real!

  6. July 31, 2009 12:07 pm

    Lauren – I think you’re getting at two issues here. The first is whether or not people “act fake” on social media sites in order to curry favor with people whom they deem to be influencers. I see this a lot with people never challenging others’ ideas and merely head-bobbing and agreeing with everything that’s said (I actually wrote a post about this a few weeks ago in regard to blog comments People who want to be liked tend to be agreeable and while it’s “nice” of them, I don’t think that it does a whole lot to push ideas further and spur innovation or new ways of thinking. Jay Keith really hit it on the head with his comment above.

    Your second issue I think is one of people feeling entitled to connections, help, support, etc. because they have easier access to people via social media. PR students might see that you write a lot about entry level career topics and because they read your blog and follow you on Twitter they feel like they can reach out to you and ask you for help, resume critiques, job advice, and more. But following someone on Twitter or reading their blog, without really building a relationship or interacting with them, doesn’t necessarily give you the right to bug them constantly for advice, knowledge, expertise or assessment. You still have to build a relationship first before you can reach out and start asking for favors.

    Moreover, it’s easy to fall victim to relationship asymmetry – where you may follow someone on social media religiously and know all about them but they don’t necessarily follow you back actively. So you might *think* you have a good relationship with them when you actually don’t. You can’t build a relationship by simply being a passive follower, like Jay said. You need to reach out, baby steps at first, and foster interaction. Then later, when you do need to reach out to someone for help, the relationship is there and it will feel genuine.

  7. July 31, 2009 2:12 pm

    Amy – You’re right! There are two issues here, both which spawned off our chat yesterday. (Again, thanks for taking the time to have a call – you rock!) I think you hit the nail on the head – some view social media as networking without building first. That that blog, or Tweet, or whatever gives them the go signal to chat to whoever they want…. without doing much legwork.

    I think a lot of people are passive because they don’t really understand the platform or channel. They don’t realize it takes time, and patience is a virtue many don’t have.

  8. July 31, 2009 2:15 pm

    Per usual, Lauren, you raise a thought-provoking issue. I agree with everyone’s input so far (does that make me a follower? ;), especially Kristen’s point about perceived power (high school is a perfect analogy).

    I guess my only addition (I’m tired and doing 80 things right now, sorry) is that I’m not so sure SM is any different than IRL. Some people are masters of being what they want others to see them as. I guess SM just makes it easier.

  9. July 31, 2009 2:19 pm

    Very true, Jen. Some people just act like that. Shannon Paul just said something great: “Just because they’re nice to us doesn’t mean they like us.”

  10. July 31, 2009 2:21 pm

    Kelly – I’ve found that some of the most “transparent” people are like Casper – fake and non-existent in real life. Maybe some feel that being a personality is better than being themselves – I’d rather, at the end of the day, like myself. I don’t want to conform to someone else’s opinion to win favor, I have a brain for a reason.

  11. July 31, 2009 2:29 pm

    Interest question(s), Lauren.

    I think there are a people out there that talk/act different around people who are thought of as leaders in the social media realm. How does one act around a Chris Brogan compared to how that person would act around me? I think a lot of folks try to interact with some of the major players and want to push up their own ego – we all want to be accepted and thought of as part of “the group”.

    Also, I think people get a false sense of their actual relationship with people. They think because they’ve sent a tweet to someone or because someone is following them, they have a relationship. Like you mentioned, it takes time and takes more than simply following someone to have a relationship.

  12. teresabasich permalink
    July 31, 2009 2:33 pm

    To your questions, yes, there are social media hypocrites, and I think genuine-ness (I dig made-up words) is something that will appear more apparent over time.

    These platforms just highlight the behavior of people in life — everyone has their idea of how they should be and actually are connecting with others, and there will always be those who abuse their relationships or behave falsely to make their own ends meet.

    I think the hypocrisy or bad behavior is more apparent online because people feel safe behind their computer screens. Until you put a face and a physical presence to the name, some people will never get (or care) that they’re talking to another person, who deserves a certain amount of appreciation and respect. In the end, the abusers don’t understand that there are just as many repercussions for misusing relationships online as there are for misusing relationships in the real world. Maybe they haven’t felt those just yet.

    Anyway, great conversation, Lauren. πŸ™‚

  13. July 31, 2009 2:37 pm

    Thanks, T!

    And you’re right about feeling safer behind a screen – I know I get snarky e-mails from people who would never talk like that to me over the phone. It makes them braver.

    Some just do not adapt well to respect and communicating with others.

    Thanks for reading. πŸ™‚

  14. communikaytrix permalink
    July 31, 2009 6:40 pm

    Lauren – Great post. I think social media and tools like Twitter do change the cycle of a relationship in a lot of ways. I feel like there are some specific examples that bugged you enough to write about them – and I wish I knew what they were.

    There are a handful of people I’ve met through social media that I enjoy bouncing ideas off of, asking for professional opinions or help or even just talking shop – you mentioned a lot of them above. But sometimes I’ll have someone contact me asking me to provide counsel or materials (beyond just a simple question) and I feel a little put out. I want to send them my hourly rate.

    There is an exception – when someone asks me question related to PR strategy (as opposed to asking me to send them my media contacts) I tend to feel flattered rather than irritated. Perhaps we haven’t yet connected but they’ve clearly been paying attention to what I’m saying enough to value my opinion and that means I’m doing something right.

    I remind myself frequently that people like Arik and Kasey and the rest of the people you mentioned above are highly sophisticated when it comes to social media, which means they may not yet have the very basics of relationship building down yet.

  15. August 4, 2009 6:27 pm

    Lauren – excellent post. In reflecting on your post for a few days, I kept thinking back to something that bothered me a few months ago when I watched a panel at SXSW about friendship. Are we creating a separate standard for evaluating people when they interact online, as compared to offline? Online tools – like Twitter, Facebook and blogs do impact how people interact – and maybe even amplify our ability to measure/evaluate people. Your questions inspired me to write a post to extend this discussion a bit further – Do We Hold Social Media To A Different Standard? –

  16. Melissa permalink
    August 27, 2009 10:01 pm

    Hey Lauren & others: Great post and comments.

    If I’m being completely honest with myself, I’ll admit that I’ve been on both sides of the equation.

    Or, I should clarify. I’ve both wanted to build relationships and I’ve had people want to build relationships with me.

    Without trying to sound like an expert basher, I still find it troubling when I *have* put in the legwork and people who I respect/admire do not give me the time of day.

    For example, on Twitter, I’m always saddened if I’ve tried to engage with someone politely and professionally – have been careful not to interfere or annoy – and I receive no response from their end. (Especially if they have a relatively small number of followers – e.g. <5,000.)

    I'm not even asking for a follow. Maybe an @reply? Even Shaq responds to his @replies!

    Like communikaytrix points out, I tend to think it's a great compliment when someone reaches out to me and respects my opinion. On the other hand, when people who I respect could care less about my opinion, it does bring up the insecurities of high school.

    I'd love to hear your experiences on genuine social media networking that worked and/or advice for someone who would like to build relationships but can't find a seat at the popular table.



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