Today’s guest post is written by Janet Tyler.

The brats of the digital world—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and a brood of other social networks—will spend all day talking at us if we aren’t careful.

Communication pros spend big chunks of their time conversing on these social sites, treating them like kids – nurturing, taking their pulse, measuring their height and weight, and testing their temperature.

We take pride in watching them grow and seeing our influence in the conversations. Before we know it, however the day is shot—and then we go home and talk with the kids some more.

We can’t even escape them when we leave the house, because they’ve grown mobile appendages. Every social network worth its baby teeth has a mobile app. While we may be cautious about texting and emailing behind the wheel, we’re increasingly inclined to share, follow, and post photos of the idiot driver who just cut us off.

The mobility upsurge has resulted in our holding hands with our social network kids—as tech vendors are inclined to say—anywhere, anytime, 24/7.

Now, we love our kids, but sometimes we have to get them—and what they have to say—off the phone and get back into the real world.

The problem is not with the kids – they were born to consume time and make new friends around the clock—but with the way we relate to them. Like our own children, social networks hold a priority position in our lives; but if we focus solely on them, we become merely isolated, doting parents.

Let Go of the Kids. Get Out in the Real World.

We should consider “mobility” to encompass not just smartphones and tablets, but also heads and shoulders, knees, and toes. Instead of constantly communicating with employees and clients via networks—be they social, IM, or AT&T—we need to visit them much more often.

We should be not only learning what their products do, but also watching them being made. We should have more face-to-face meetings with clients on their site so we can engage fully in the chemistry that is only possible when humans put down technology and pick up cues from body language and small talk.

Social networks make terrific research tools—if we’re selling Packards, we can ask a thousand people who own one—but we still need focus groups for deeper context. We still need surveys of carefully segmented and statistically significant populations within the marketplace.

Furthermore, social media, by their nature, prompt in us a desire for immediate feedback; a thirst we tend to quench by measuring everything we see and hear every which way. We fall into the hazardous habit of many investors, looking for short-term results at the potential expense of the long-term growth of our client relationships.

Above all, we need to avoid the ironic temptation toward “introversion” that social networks can generate. There’s a potential danger in spending so much of our lives in virtual space.

Doing so allows us to listen only to those who make us feel better; to react as angrily as we wish, for the most part with impunity; to ignore the social graces that helped us succeed in the first place; and to wall ourselves off from large portions of the real world that we feel we no longer need to confront—whether those be real in-person conversations with employees or direct responses to clients.

We need more “real-time people-time;” to put down our handhelds, and put our faces forward to talk with clients and customers.

Spend some time on the phone with the kids, sure, but not all day and all night. To paraphrase Timothy Leary—the leader of a previous addicted generation—we’d all be a bit happier if regularly we’d “log off, step out, and wise up.”

Janet Tyler is co-CEO of Airfoil, a top technology PR and marketing firm with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley. She oversees the firm’s expansion of its digital, social, and global capabilities. Janet is a leading figure in the PRSA Counselors Academy, a board member of The Council for Public Relations and one of PRWeek’s “40 Under 40.” You can find her on TwitterLinkedIn, and on Airfoil’s blog.

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