Social media is wonderful for so many reasons. Not only does it have the ability to bring the masses together, but it's an excellent tool for advanced marketing and branding. But at some point, we have to consider the long-term ramifications of growing up in a world where much of our interpersonal communication occurs via the internet.
Social Media and the State of Interpersonal Skills
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube...the list of billion-dollar social media platforms continues to grow. And the reason these networks are able to scale so efficiently is that millions of people log onto their platforms every day in an effort to engage and communicate with other people from around the world.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with social networking, the idea that these platforms are somehow enhancing our collective social skillsets simply isn't true. Young entrepreneurs who have grown up with social media during their formative years face an uphill battle when it comes to understanding what genuine face-to-face networking looks like.
According to a study out of the UK, one in four people spend more time socializing online than they do in person - and that study was conducted way back in 2010 when social networking wasn't nearly as popular as it is today.
"As more generations are born into the social age, social media will continue to be the favored communication form among young people," Jasmine Fowlkes writes for USA Today. "However, this shift may begin to affect their ability to properly communicate in person with peers."
Social networking can play a role in professional networking, but it's ultimately more of a hindrance than a help. Whereas real professional networking requires people to take risks, interpret body language, recognize social cues, and build relationships, social networking bypasses all of these aspects and teaches young entrepreneurs that a touchscreen keyboard is all you need.
"The idea of doing business on the golf course seems anachronistic these days, but the reason why the concept became so iconic is because it proved that when colleagues spend personal time together - face to face - more progress can be made, deals can get done and relationships can deepen, allowing the colleagues to function more effectively off the course," Forbes contributor Susan Tardanico notes.
Nobody is saying that social networking is useless or doesn't have the potential to be leveraged as a powerful mode of communication, but it's hard to imagine that replacing in-person conversations with keyboard conversations is doing young entrepreneurs any good. Once they get into the business world and have to fundraise, pitch investors, grab lunch with clients, and lead employees, is this social media upbringing going to damage their ability to effectively communicate with people?
The biggest risk, perhaps, is the fact that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. This means social media conversations only involve 7 percent of genuine communication. Anybody can look at this and see what's wrong.
Professional Networking is About Balance
Social media definitely provides young entrepreneurs with resources and access that their predecessors didn't have, but there must be some balance. People need to recognize when to curb their digital tendencies and spend more time engaging in a face-to-face manner.
There's no denying that it's easier to network online. There's less perceived risk, fewer barriers, and easier access. But you're ultimately sacrificing long-term benefits for upfront convenience when you rely on social media as your primary networking channel.
If the goal is to develop social skills, build relationships, and grow your career, social media can only be a small part of the picture. You need to get out, mingle, fight through the awkwardness, and network in person.