One of the greatest opportunities of social media is that it connects us to... well, pretty much everyone. You can tweet Barack Obama and there's a chance (however slim) that he might actually see it. Connecting the world has long been Mark Zuckerberg's over-arching dream, and it's a noble cause, one worthy of support. But we often overlook the potential human benefits of such connectivity - people get caught up by the perceived negative or frivolous nature of online communications and dismiss the medium as a result. Yes, social media platforms are used to communicate information that's not of critical relevance, but focussing on that aspect clouds over the greater opportunities of the connected era.
Being connected provides us with opportunity to reach out to people we'd otherwise have no way of connecting with, to learn more about other societies and how we all live. The ability to communicate and collaborate on a global scale provides unprecedented opportunities, access of such scale that it's difficult to even comprehend, and the more we're able to move beyond using social platforms as a means of presenting only the image we want people to see of ourselves, and towards a more honest, human expression of who we actually are, the more inclusion and community social platforms can facilitate. Now, in no way am I saying social media is the vehicle to drive us towards transformative societal acceptance - there's many more moving parts to that equation - but by enabling connections between more people and groups, and by encouraging people to express themselves and align with their passions through likeminded folk, social plays an important role in the larger process of understanding.
With such lofty goals in mind, it's worth considering what we can do to better enable people to connect with others to help build on the positive potential of social networks. One thing that we probably don't do enough of, generally, is show our appreciation. I mean, sure, we thank those close to us and (hopefully) ensure they know we love them and care for them, but what about those other people that have helped or influenced us, but whom we've never had a chance to thank? Through social, we can, we can pay tribute to people who've helped us in small or big ways and let them know we appreciate them - and all it takes is a short tweet, a brief message left out in the digital landscape. That simple act could change someone's day.
- When I was a teenager, I was in the local record store and I was looking for Radiohead's new single 'Paranoid Android', which I'd seen on one of the music channels. The guy at the store told me they didn't have the single, but the album was excellent - it was, and that album, 'OK Computer' had such a huge influence on me, changed the way I viewed art, to some degree. I would never have listened to it had it not been for him - and I know him, I know how I can contact him via social. I might send him a note of thanks for his guidance that day, of which he'd have no idea how appreciative I was and have been
- My English teacher in high school always went out of her way to help me out, even though I was a bad student who generally just wanted to get to the weekend. Only years later did I fully appreciate the efforts she went to - and I definitely appreciate it more now, dealing with my own kids who really don't care about listening to me most of the time
- I've had managers who've put their trust in me, staff who've gone the extra mile, mentors and presenters who've altered my perspective on how things work and what's important, most of whom I have thanked, but some I haven't had the chance. Some don't know the impact a simple act or thing they've said or done has stuck with me
These are just a couple of examples of people who've touched me and whom, for whatever reason, the opportunity to express my appreciation has never came up. But these things were important to me, I genuinely appreciate these moments of connection. Now, I can't say that I know, for sure, how to contact each of the relevant people via social, but I think I could find out through my extended networks. And even if I can't, I could still post a message on Facebook or Twitter with the detail I do know and there's a good chance that that post would still reach the person through various connections. I'm not saying you should be sending out a hundred notes of thanks every day, but it's worth thinking about using social networks for their connective power, to help spread a positive message and to reach out to people who've influenced you.
Why not tweet your favourite blogger or industry leader and thank him or her for how they've helped you? Why not thank a film maker or author for something amazing they've done that changed how you viewed things or went about your own work? Maybe they won't see it, maybe they won't respond, but that's not necessarily the only result possible. The aim is to build the foundations of social good by utilising the access we have to build better links and community. Maybe the intended person doesn't see it, but someone else might, and it could remind them of their appreciation for the same person or someone similar. It's building community around positivity, fostering a culture of inclusion through appreciation and humanity.
I realise this it's idealistic, I know a lot of people will read this just as quickly forget it and move on, but the best way to build a more inclusive world is through positivity. The best way to learn is to be open to all perspectives. And the most encouraging sentiment we can experience is appreciation.
Every person got somewhere on the back of their connections with other people. Every business has been built on interactions and relationships. And everyone has someone who's influenced them whom they've not had opportunity to properly acknowledge. It's worth keeping in mind the power of recognition, and to take note of those who you might like to pass on a note of positivity, particularly at this time of year.
Maybe you think of someone you'd like to thank and you send something to express that and maybe they don't see it. But every message you add helps build a more positive framework. It's ambitious to think it could be something, but everything starts from some place.