The good ol’ fashioned social network – maintaining a personal touch in a digital world

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A recent post in the Wellness section of Time.com got me thinking about the old chicken or the egg debate. While I was learning Why City Life Adds to Your [my] Risk of Psychosis, I drew a parallel to my everyday life.  (Hold please. Say that again?)

In the article, Alice Park essentially asks the question of which came first – the chicken, or the egg? Only in this particular case, it’s “are we psychotic because we live in the city, or are we living in the city because we’re psychotic?”  Psychiatry Professor Stanley Zammitt has her answer: his research study found that “the isolation and social fragmentation common to urban life added to people’s risk of developing psychotic disorders” – isolation and social fragmentation which he attributed to urban disconnectedness and a lack of adequate social networks.

I was outraged. Urban disconnectedness?!  We city dwellers are the most connected people on the planet, and proud of it! A lack of adequate social networks?! We urbanites are the kings and queens of social networking – the online elite! We eat Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare and Myspace for our low-calorie triple shot latte accompanied breakfast!

But as the tech-savvy tools of these digital sites slowly replace the tenets of traditional networking and communication, I see a point worthy of reflection. In a personal sense, in lieu of availing ourselves to meet someone or strike up a relationship, we can simply “poke” them, message them and browse their information online without ever engaging in a person-to-person conversation. Essentially, we’re getting to know about someone without ever getting to know them. Professionally, many of these sites have offered avenues to replace traditional professional groups, meetings and events. Young professionals groups are common to urban landscapes, but in recent years many have “gone online,” choosing to communicate primarily with a virtual membership base (albeit, thanks to these sites, a larger one.)

Could the social networking sites which were designed to bring us together, actually be drawing us apart? As modern social networks replace traditional communication practices in personal and professional relationships, are we losing touch? Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the profound impact and opportunities these social networking sites have afforded brand management and marketing strategies in recent years. But there are additional and possibly negative implications associated with the shift to virtual social networks – and they are quite worthy of a PR Professional’s consideration.

Nowadays it seems the PR biz is dancing the delicate line between the growth of modern marketing strategies and the loss of an old-fashioned personal touch. I, for one, maintain that it’s the personal approach that gives a client a real feeling of connectedness. Whether in personal relationships or client services, “getting personal” lends itself to a shared sense of security, comfort and a genuine feeling of care.

True, clients and PR firms alike may not yet have been found wandering the streets muttering nonsensical ravings in isolation and defeat as Park’s account of urban life psychosis might suggest we would be. But in an industry so often tainted by cynicism and suspicion, genuine firms who pride themselves on maintaining authentic client relationships need a way to differentiate themselves among the skeptics. Overall, how we manage our personal relationships in an age of virtual social networking has a direct parallel to how we manage brands and client services. In the end, I subscribe to one philosophy: nothing beats the tried and true personal approach.

I recently moved to a neighborhood where I was struck by an unfamiliar exchange. Walking through the streets of South Boston, people were saying “hi” and “good morning,” even “how are you”! In my opinion, there’s far more networking potential in that exchange than at my computer screen. I feel at home in my area and in their company; I think the power of that speaks volumes to what can be practiced on a professional scale. Ultimately, in a world where modernity may feel like its leading to isolation and detachment, the key to connectivity is in the old-fashioned personal touch.

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2 Responses to “The good ol’ fashioned social network – maintaining a personal touch in a digital world”

  1. Reports of the press release’s demise have been greatly exaggerated « EZG Blog Says:

    […] been greatly exaggerated By Brian Keaney The web has been all a-Twitter lately.  Jamie and Kyle have both written about it over the past few weeks, and around the bustling halls of EZG today […]

  2. Reports of the press release’s demise have been greatly exaggerated « BrianKeaney.org Says:

    […] web has been all a-Twitter lately.  Jamie and Kyle have both written about it over the past few weeks, and around the bustling halls of EZG today […]

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