It seems like the topic of the month in my little online community is: be human. Discussions going on all over the place, and I wrote about it the other day when I asked you to take the road less traveled. In the comments, Shonali Burke reminded me of her post about being intentional and genuinely interested when we ask someone, “How are you?”.
Then the other morning I had time to kill while my car was being inspected, and I decided to work from a local coffee shop. I noticed the couple next to me was perusing one of those local tourist maps, plotting out their day. The old Ken would have just kept his mouth shut, but the more social Ken decided to chat them up. I asked them if they were from out of town, and got their life story (they were from Tacoma, Washington, and were taking a day trip from visiting family down on the Delmarva peninsula), and took the opportunity to recommend a few key things I thought they should see while in town for the day.
OK, maybe I talked a little too much, but I know I made them feel welcome on their first visit to my little city. And then when I got home, I found this article in my Facebook stream: Why You Should Say Hello to Strangers in Pittsburgh. This article again urges us to be intentional in reaching out to others and being friendly. The author of this article quotes a study from Atlantic Cities about this concept:
In a study cited by the Atlantic Cities last week, Wesselman explains the correlation between eye contact and feelings of recognition or happiness within a community. According to Wesselman’s study, eye contact—or the lack thereof—contributes directly to an individual’s sense of inclusion in his or her community and can affect a population’s overall happiness.
The study’s conclusion seems to echo the mission of organizations like Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit dedicated to helping people build and sustain stronger communities by improving public spaces. This includes creating easily accessible public food markets and promoting “multi-modal” transportation, like walking or biking instead of driving.
Project for Public Spaces subscribes to the idea that buildings, streets and public spaces play a key role in public health issues…
In the online world in general, and social media world in particular, we talk a lot about community. We stress the need for building and engaging in communities from a marketing or business perspective. But communities aren’t false. They aren’t easy to manufacture. They happen. And for small businesses, in most cases, they begin offline, and are then expanded online.
We can’t forget that.
In order to be “human” online, we must first be human offline.
Eye contact. Greeting others sincerely. Using their names when speaking to them. Showing interest and expecting a response.
We need to put this into practice in our business relationships, no matter what form of contact we have. Maybe you can’t make eye contact online (unless you are using Skype or some other video platform), but the way in which you engage others across social platforms can be a form of digital eye contact.
Take the time today to be more intentional about connecting with others and building community. From the time we are children, we are taught to NOT talk to strangers. But now that we’re adults, we need to change that.
Your homework assignment for this weekend, should you choose to accept it:
1) Chat up a stranger in the “real world” – Greet someone, and take an interest in them. I promise, it’s not that scary.
2) Find a new friend online – interact with someone in your Twitter stream or on some other platform. Introduce yourself and ask questions, expecting an answer. I bet you find some common ground.
I’m trying to be more intentional as I seek to build stronger relationships with those around me. I have a list of people with whom I plan to connect, either face to face or via Skype. My goal is to turn strangers into friends, and then turn those friends into important members of my community.
The fact is, you can’t build a community with strangers. But everyone is a stranger the first time they cross your path. It’s what you do with that opportunity that determines whether you remain strangers, or begin something that might just build a community. Think about the implications of that as you seek to do business both online and offline. Your customers and prospective customers are probably strangers at the onset, but if you can get to know them, you have a better chance of bringing them back.
What are you doing to build individual relationships and create community?
- Why You Should Say ‘Hello’ to Strangers on the Street (theatlanticcities.com)
- Is Technology Killing Communication? (troyclaus.com)