I would like to preface the following with this: I am not an expert. Not even close. I do not claim to have any better insights than my constituents. I simply want to provide the opportunity to consider a different perspective. I may be wrong. You may think I sound pompous. Engage me.
All things considered, social media is still a relatively new concept. While our feeds are often filled with social media strategists and experts, the truth is, we are far from a holistic understanding of the true impact that social media is having on us. I don’t say this to imply that strategists and experts are anything but that–strategists and experts–I say this to encourage you to consider that we don’t know everything. Sure, we can talk about how to best use social media to reach our respective audiences, how to leverage the technology, or strategize how to spearhead a social media campaign on our campuses; these are incredibly useful insights and are invaluable to the development of our understanding of these tools. However, there are definitely some social-psychological forces at play that we don’t regularly consider. I firmly believe that there are widespread, deeply penetrating implications for many of the seemingly imprudent actions we take daily via social media. My goal is to address one of those actions.
This post was inspired by one such “action,” accompanied by a perspective with which I find myself cautious to align. I have heard and read this idea countless times over the past few years via Twitter and Facebook. To paraphrase, the idea is this: discontinuing a network connection with someone, whether it is unfollowing them on Twitter, unfriending on Facebook, removing a LinkedIn connection, etc., is merely a way of filtering people out of your network. Time and time again, I’ve seen the justification for this–often worded different, but ultimately with the same idea in mind. Like it or not, one way or another, it most often boils down to this: “you are no longer of use to me.” This comes in different forms. Some folks discontinue connections because of a disagreement on a topic, some because they can’t identify any commonalities with that individual, some just find the connection to be bothersome in some way. All of these sentiments can be summed up as “I do not value your content anymore.” Let me emphasize: there is nothing wrong with feeling this way.
Here is why this might be something you should consider with a different perspective. In my opinion, it is one thing to unfollow some obnoxious celebrity or ranting high school classmate who isn’t providing any value to your feed…it is another animal altogether to unfollow a colleague in your field that you’re probably going to interact with at some point in your career–someone who has connected with you at some point on the grounds that you share some sort of commonality. Perhaps you’re an Assistant Director, Director, Dean, or VP, and you’re confident that this person is not someone you “need” in your network or in your feed. In this case, I encourage you to expand your perception of what social media really is. To be frank (and I realize this comment will likely cause me some grief), it is a particularly self-centered approach, to create a professional network and then eliminate those who you identify as not providing value to you. What if the purpose of that connection was not for that individual to provide value to you, but for you to provide value to them. I’m sure your first thought might be “well, me unfollowing them doesn’t impact that…it doesn’t change that they’re still following me and can utilize me as a resource.” Have you considered how noticing that disconnection might impact that individual? Have you considered, particularly if you’re someone in a mid-level or senior-level position, how removing someone from your network might make that person feel?
“What did I do wrong?”
“Was it something I said?”
“Why am I no longer worth that connection with you?”
Did you have concerns with that individual? Did you address them, providing feedback and insight that might be crucial to their professional development? Or did you click “unfollow” and wipe your hands cleans? I will assure you of this, more likely than not, but particularly if you’re in a more senior position (but definitely also otherwise), that individual is going to be extremely reluctant to address you should they notice that you discontinued them from your network. Perhaps you don’t need them, but they may have needed you and may now, with heightened sensitivity, feel expendable and unvalued.
As someone who studied counseling and spent years focused specifically on how people think and feel, I find myself pondering these sorts of things. I find myself thinking about how every action you take is going to impact someone one way or another…and perhaps you will never know.