Social Media Is Bad for Relationships

July 10, 2015
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It’s a proposition that was very firmly put to me recently in chatting to someone of a generation that far preceded the Internet and social media; someone not dissimilar to the profile of many of the most senior board level folks working in life sciences companies today.

“Social media is bad for relationships”, they remarked, before going on to explain how it can never replace face to face engagement and, in their opinion, is actually making the younger generation less skilled in actually dealing with such real world interaction.

It’s a proposition that was very firmly put to me recently in chatting to someone of a generation that far preceded the Internet and social media; someone not dissimilar to the profile of many of the most senior board level folks working in life sciences companies today.

“Social media is bad for relationships”, they remarked, before going on to explain how it can never replace face to face engagement and, in their opinion, is actually making the younger generation less skilled in actually dealing with such real world interaction.

It’s an opinion that is not uncommon and it’s easy to dismiss it as being uninformed too, but that seems a little unfair. In reality, if all you did was spend your time on social media channels, safely tucked away from actually meeting people, then I have no doubt that a) you would never build the kind of truly strong relationships that come from physical interaction and, b) your social skills when you do get to meet people would be somewhat lacking.

But for me it’s about understanding where social media fits in – in reality it’s one component of engagement in exactly the same way as other communication channels, like email or even telephones.

Social media is a way of extending a virtual handshake to the entire world and finding out who extends a hand back. It’s a way of sharing your ideas and passions on a very broad scale and finding out who agrees or disagrees with your views. It’s a way of getting to know people with very diverse views on different issues and engaging in dialogue with them around these areas.

In other words, it’s at the very top of the ‘funnel’ of building relationships.

In my world, of building a media business, it’s proved incredibly valuable in connecting with people all over the world and, without social media, I simply would not have had the time or money to actually meet all those people within the same time period. But I have had the chance to build on that initial handshake with many of those connections, either through then chatting on the phone or actually meeting in person. There are some people I’ve got to know so well online that I almost can’t believe we have never met when we finally get the chance to do so. And part of the reason why some of these ‘online only’ relationships are so strong is that I’m applying the same communication skills I have learned from meeting people to social media conversations – why would the approach ever be different?

In this way, social media is particularly important within healthcare, especially in areas like rare diseases, where there may only be a handful of patients and specialist physicians located in disparate locations all over the world. Social media brings an efficiency of digital connectivity, which can then accelerate the process of coming together in real life, in a way that would simply not have been possible even 10 years ago.

So to come back to where I started, anyone working in healthcare (or beyond) who thinks that social media is bad for relationships is perhaps missing the point. By not using social media they are potentially missing out on connecting with people with whom they could build extremely strong and mutually beneficial relationships – ones that can only be truly formed through offline engagement, but for which the seeds have been sown online.

Ultimately, social media is not bad for relationships – not spending enough time meeting people, building deep relationships and understanding how to engage with others is bad for relationships. Social media is then a fantastic channel for applying these skills, making new connections and growing your network of real world connections.