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Stranger Expectations: What Do You Expect From Your Strangers?

Stranger Expectations
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Social Media Rules of Engagement

It’s easy to spot someone new on Twitter.

In the quick exchanges found within the 140 character limit, Twitter is not a place for depth.  A couple of times a day I scan my notifications hoping to find a nugget of pithy wit. I fire off a couple responses to those I know. Unfailingly, I encounter one or two people each week who are trying a bit too hard to join the party.  I receive invitations to coffee or, perhaps, an effusive compliment that, because it comes from a complete stranger, feels wildly out of place.

The Wrong Stranger

A new client who is also recently acquainted with Twitter called yesterday babbling about the intrusively personal outreaches he was experiencing.  “Have we had coffee together? Did we both simultaneously reach for the potato salad spoon at the last church potluck and exchange phone numbers?”

“From where is this over-reach of familiarly coming?” he ranted.

My client’s new buddy’s Twitter profile shows someone following 350 people, who has tweeted less than 100 times and is desperately trying to hang on to his 17 followers with a kung-fu death grip.

Frequently, newbies to social media expect to find a willing, engaged and completely emotive audience just waiting to “get real.” Yet, the reality is most individuals on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are, at least, if not more so, more guarded about the private details of their lives than if one were to encounter them at a farmers market. (There are plenty of exceptions at the margins of online community, to be sure)

Learning how to communicate with strangers in social media is not terribly different than meeting someone in person, except you cannot see them, hear them, or interpret any social clues found in the volumes spoken through body language.  It is this chess-in-the-dark aspect of social media that requires a more cautious approach.

The Perfect Stranger

If your intent is to be social, to meet new people and engage, follow the same rules than your Mom taught you before she dropped you off on your first day of Kindergarten.

Be nice

Everyone likes a compliment. When you have identified someone with whom you would like to communicate pay them a compliment about their work, photos, writing etc.   I have reached back out countless times to people who thought my profile description was witty.  Most people will feel a genuine need to respond when it is apparent you took the time to read something they wrote, liked a photo that they took, or thought their pins were amazing. Remember to keep it short.

Don’t smother your new friends

Don’t be a Lenny.

It is much easier to socially overstep online than it is in person.  In person you can read body language.  In person you can hear tone of voice, inflection, even detect when a comment or a joke didn’t land.  Online it’s not nearly so easy.

Take it slowly.  That person, business contact, or industry influencer will still be there in the morning.  I have found that once someone writes off an overly aggressive person online there is no recovery; no way to apologize and start over.  Tread lightly.

Don’t throw rocks

There is never a time to rant, TYPE IN ALL CAPS, swear, threaten, etc. The bleaching bones of countless dead relationships and careers litter social media sites when cooler heads did not stop, take a deep breath, turn off the computer, and walk away.

Be a good stranger and you will find good strangers

There is a robust and healthy audience for everyone. And unlike life in person tomorrow presents a new opportunity to meet scores of new people. Give it time, take it slow, be genuine and six months from now your audience will be larger and more vibrant that you thought possible.

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