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3 Must-Heed Traits of Social Media Psychology

Social Media

Social Media Traits

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by Kenneth Rudich

Three must-heed traits make social media stand apart from any other context most people deal with on a regular basis. And because they carry considerable sway, individuals and organizations alike are well-advised to always be mindful of them – especially since the risk associated with overlooking, underestimating or ignoring any one of them can be substantial. Nobody really wants to toil with the consequence of a social media fail if they don’t have to.

The three must-heed traits are: its Digital Footprint, its Impulse Friendly Design, and its Vibe Sensitive Nature.

For the purpose of this post, social media includes any device, platform or technology that facilitates interaction in the digital world.

Social Media Digital Footprint

The digital footprint covers time and place as it pertains to using these technologies. Both of these can be trickier to negotiate than might appear on the surface, which is why mindfulness is so important.

Place begins with the real world context a person is in while using their device and then extends onward into the digital world. This characterization recognizes the device as rooted in one world while serving as a gateway to the other. Each world, then, is distinctly separate in its own right, but together they form the footprint.

One aspect of footprint mindfulness involves the ability to distinguish between private space and public space within each of these two worlds. Private space is yours and yours alone, where your actions won’t unduly distract, anguish, bait or impinge on another. Public space is shared with others. The concern here revolves around the practice of showing a thoughtful regard, respect and courtesy for the others in the space. It’s a community-based social dynamic.

When a private space overlaps or intersects with a public space, the default courtesy is to treat it like a public space. So, for instance, if someone is engaging their personal device in a place or context where it defies the general expectation they’ll refrain from using it, then it’s a fail.

Let’s look more closely at this social dynamic in terms of its real world implications, and its digital world implications.

The Real World Implications

social media fail


For the real world part of the digital footprint, space, like territory, is usually physical in nature and fixed in time – it’s a “here and now” type of concept. Though one might expect that these readily observable characteristics would make it easy to tell the difference between private space and public space, human idiosyncrasies can intervene and cloud the thought process.
Some examples include, but are not limited to, potentially endangering others by texting while operating a vehicle on public streets and highways; causing a disturbance by texting or talking on the phone in a movie theater, during mass or on an airplane.
Even if you think you’re engaging the device in a socially responsible manner, like in a theater before the movie starts (maybe even during the previews), bear in mind the other patrons don’t know anything about you. With no previous experience to fall back on, they’ve no reassurance you’ll quit once the movie begins — what they do know, on the other hand, is that you’ve already violated the general expectation to refrain from using it. To the extent your behavior has now disturbed their sense of temporary refuge from the outside world — which, btw, is part of the appeal of the movie theater experience they’ve paid for — it becomes intrusive. Just because they might not complain (this time) doesn’t suddenly make it acceptable or less discourteous.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the absurdities that can arise over such space confusion than this comment from a former paramedic, which appeared under a news story about the life-saving exploits of an EMT unit:

“I was a paramedic for 18 years. I kept hearing about how firefighters and police officers save lives, but not a thing about EMTs.

On September 12, 2001, I responded to two calls with my volunteer departments — one a car fire with my fire department, and the other a shortness of breath call with my volunteer squad. On the way back from the fire in a fire truck, every single person I passed except one waved at me. During the entire ambulance run, only one person waved. With one finger. Apparently, she didn’t like the siren interrupting her cell phone call.”

Digital World Implications 

Brand Management

In the digital world, the footprint boundaries between private and public space are anything but concrete. Nobody can be certain if, when or how something might get noticed, shared, gain traction or go viral. Except for transactions that explicitly promise contractual privacy, it’s best for your own sake to be cautious and regard all other online activity as occurring in a public space.

social media marketing

Social Media & Diversity

In conjunction with this, be aware that audience diversity is likely to broaden as the size of the audience grows. As visibility increases, so do the viewpoints, perspectives, beliefs, values and behaviors of those exposed to your content. If the content was originally meant for a small, select audience (or individual), but then gets leaked or goes viral, something unintended — and wholly unpleasant — can swiftly descend.
For the sake of due diligence, ask yourself, before publishing online, what might occur if everyone else in the world ends up seeing it? Are you willing to own that consequence? Should you get a second opinion from someone you trust before publishing it (especially if you’re doing it as a representative of someone or an organization)? Should you consider an alternative medium for delivering the message?

Time Implications of the Footprint

Time in the digital world is about the shelf-life of the footprint. Everyone would be well served to assume whatever they do in the digital world will have an extended shelf-life from the moment it gets published or sent.pr_exec_small

Be especially wary of anything that can come back to haunt you long after you’ve forgotten about it. Consider, for instance, how the screen capture function can give a tweet or post legs long after it’s been deleted or the account has been closed.
Never underestimate the potential impact of the digital footprint.

Social Media Impulse Friendly Design

A mindful user recognizes that social media not only accommodates spontaneity, but downright invites it. Insta-everything makes it attractive, but also potentially troublesome.

Impulse management or control, the capacity to save oneself from doing something spur of the moment that may — or predictably will — cause regret later on, is invaluable in this environment. It doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous; but rather, you’re able to capably handle the responsibility of pulling it off without committing a social media fail.
Some people are better than others at doing this. They can delay, as needed, the urge to act or react, even when swept up in the moment. They’re conscious of how their words and actions affect others, and they possess a strong instinct for recognizing when, where and how to tone down something that would otherwise be imprudent. Because they can rely on their judgment in the face of being put to this kind of a test, they’re able to minimize the odds for encountering unwanted results or unforeseen circumstances. They can afford to be spontaneous.

social media

Emotional Hijacking

Other people struggle with checking themselves. The reasons differ. Some get ridiculously excited when chafed, which makes them prone to experience what emotional intelligence expert Dr. Daniel Goleman calls an “emotional hijacking.” Others employ social media in such an absent-minded sort of manner (like an involuntary reflex action) that they end up producing something akin to a stream of consciousness – wholly unedited and consistently real, even if sometimes unwise. And, of course, there are those who simply don’t care or actually enjoy being disruptive, like trolls for example. These tendencies conjure up the old aphorism of “an accident just waiting to happen.”

Most people probably rest somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. For those who prefer to avoid a social media fail, self-awareness is key – recognizing your own level of skill and agility for adequately managing this social media trait.

Know thyself in advance. Take a personal inventory to gauge your predisposition for impulse control – just as important, consider it in light of the other two key social media traits discussed herein. Do you have an impetuous nature? Consistently feel compelled to immediately respond to a text or call? Tend to operate in auto-pilot mode? Vent before giving yourself a cooling off period? Often try impromptu humor or wit? Incessantly push a certain agenda even though it might be the wrong time, place or context to do it?
In the final analysis, would you benefit from trying to be more conscientious with your social media usage habits?

Social Media Vibe Sensitive Nature

social media

Vibe Sensitive

Most people have heard the phrase, “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.” These two separate elements, the what and the how, represent the rational side and the emotional side of the communications process. While they operate hand in hand, it’s the emotional side that does the bulk of the work for creating and maintaining a vibe. The vibe sets the stage in terms of the tone, mood and attitude. It also influences the perception of value, but not to the same degree as the rational side.
The participants in a communications process typically react to the vibe first and the message second – though the two reactions may be only a split second apart. This explains how people can disagree without being disagreeable. By the same token, how they can agree but still be disagreeable. CONSIDER, FOR INSTANCE, HOW THE VIBE CHANGES WHEN A COMMENT IS ENTIRELY WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Even if someone agrees with what’s being said, the persistent parade of capital letters is likely to elicit a degree of emotional discord.
Every form of social media activity conveys a vibe of one kind or another. What makes this vibe distinct from any other vibe in any other context is the relationship it has with the other two social media traits discussed above. As these three become intermingled, the environment gets transformed into a highly vibe sensitive atmosphere.

social media marketing

Vibe Sensitive Redux

This dynamic is especially acute when the object of attention carries the real, perceived or potential taint of a bad vibe – such as exhibiting selfishness, insensitivity, crassness, hostility, negativity, cynicism and so forth. The mere fact that the other two social media traits are always looming nearby with the significant power they hold makes it only wise to pay attention to the vibe you give off, be it as an individual or an organization. It takes only one bad vibe moment to unleash a potential tidal wave of backlash.

Be Careful, Have Fun

One way to help keep your social media experience smooth and pleasant is to remain consistently mindful of these three traits. 

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