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The Dumbing Down of Social Media

Did you know, in many European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Poland) organ donation rates are almost 100%? However, in some countries (U.K., Germany, Denmark) it’s less than 25%! Are some Europeans four times more socially conscious than their continental partners or is something else going on?

The gap can be explained by one simple difference – in many countries the default when getting a drivers license is to be an organ donor. In countries with high donation rates Europeans drivers have to check a box to opt out of organ donation. In countries with low participation rates people have to check a box to become an organ donor.

Checking a box takes virtually no effort but that small change in the default – check to opt in vs. check to opt out – makes a huge difference! Many people argue it’s good for society to make certain choices, like organ donation or saving for retirement, easier whenever possible.

Behavioral economics looks how people make choices and what’s been discovered can help individuals and organizations structure choices in ways that benefit more people. But, resetting defaults doesn’t always lead to the hoped-for outcomes, especially with social media. The problem is many sites are dumbing things down.

Congrats on your work anniversary!

If you spend any time on LinkedIn then it’s a good bet you’ve seen notifications alerting you about work anniversaries for your connections. That’s nice because those milestones might otherwise go unnoticed.

To make life easier for LinkedIn users the platform lets you click on a link that automatically sets up a message which reads, “Congrats on your work anniversary!” The vast majority of people hit the send button and move on with their day.

But here’s the problem, we’ve come to realize it takes almost no time, effort or thought on the part of the person who sent the message. It’s like getting spam except it comes from someone you know. The same applies to the birthday alerts.

What Can You Do?

People value what you do for them, the gifts you give and the congratulations you offer, much more when you take time to personalize them. In one study, a simple handwritten message on a yellow sticky note doubled response rates on a survey. Why? Reciprocity dictates the more someone does something for us the more we feel we should do for them.

When you take a moment to personalize whatever you’ve done it makes people feel special and shows you put in some extra thought, time and effort. That’s a great way to build or strengthen relationships.

Gifts. You could argue a gift card is the best gift because it lets the receiver buy whatever he or she wants. Letting the other person choose their gift may be nice but there are a couple of problems with this approach:

  1. Now the burden is on the recipient to go to the store.
  2. It might indicate you don’t know them well enough, or care enough, to understand what they might like.

The best time for gift cards are when you know something about the person so it becomes personalized. For example, if someone loves to browse books at Barnes & Noble then a gift card is a reason to go somewhere they enjoy. If they happen to walk away with an unexpected find they’ll remember it was your gift card that led to the purchase.

Congratulations. We all like to be recognized, especially on important dates. It hardly takes time to modify the “Happy birthday!” or “Congrats on your work anniversary!” that automatically pop up daily on LinkedIn.

  1. Happy birthday Joe. Any fun plans for today? Enjoy!
  2. 15 years is a long time Ann! Congrats on the anniversary!

If you take a moment to send a text instead of the LinkedIn message you’ll be surprised at the responses you get. Taking it one step further, there are people I call every year on birthdays. I know they really appreciate it because not only do they tell me, they tell others. A friend recently told me she mentioned my birthday calls to Nick, a mutual connection. Nick told her he doesn’t get a call on his birthday so I sent him this message the same day:

I had lunch with Christy today and she told me you two know each other. I got the sense you weren’t feeling as loved as she does so I’ve marked December 16 as a special day to give you a call. Hopefully we’ll see each other well before then. Enjoy the downside of the week.

Little things like this can make a big difference! Nick and I will have a nice laugh on December 16 and I know this; if I ever need his assistance he’ll gladly help, not because he has to, but because he wants to.

Conclusion

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about social media being social. I applaud the efforts of LinkedIn, Facebook and other social platforms to make it easier for us to remember important milestones for the people we’re connected to. But, don’t let the ease create a laziness in you. Building and maintaining relationships is different than prompting behavior change for social causes. If you don’t understand this you might end up hurting relationships when your intent was to do something nice.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker and trainer, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini. Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses, Persuasive Selling and Persuasive Coaching have been viewed by more than 60,000 people! His latest course, Creating a Coaching Culture, will be online in the second quarter. Have you watched them yet? Click a link to see what you’ve been missing.