Sitting beside Janice on a flight is a fascinating experience. She’s naturally social and refuses to let you not be. Mind you, she isn’t annoying or overbearing, but pleasant, friendly and interesting. She asks questions that make you feel important, a part of her life though you’re really not. She’ll interject a factoid or two about her own story if the opportunity presents itself, but mostly puts you on stage and appreciates your little soliloquies of self-reflection.

Janice looks at her cell phone a couple times a day, checks email at the beginning and end of her day and works in between, only texts her teenage children to remind them to check in and set up a Facebook profile so her younger sister, Deneice, would stop pestering her about doing so. A successful financial planner at a large bank, Janice spends 3-4 hours each day pouring over projections, reports and forecasts, checks on market numbers through the company’s real-time dashboard and only occasionally ventures beyond the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg websites. If she’s read a blog, she doesn’t know it.

Litmus Test by Jiri Slama on Shutterstock.comShe doesn’t instant message. She doesn’t Twitter. She thinks Flickr is something fireflies do and Digg isn’t something she would like to do at all. “Shovels give me callouses,” she asserts.

But Janice is a connector. She collects memories of people she’s met, dined with, even sat beside on a plane. She refers people to others she knows, offers to email you their contact information and actually follows through in doing so.

Janice recommends products, too. She lit up telling me all about her new Ford Flex, calling it, “A soccer mom’s dream come true.” She even recommended some sort of Swiffer-esque lint wand to keep in my bag to clean my laptop screen and keyboard. When I told her about my children, she immediately started giving me alternative meals than chicken nuggets or pizza to fix for them when my wife leaves the meals up to me.

Even when I tried to focus on my laptop to do a little work, Janice interjected some other question that distracted me from the task at hand. Without seeming to do so, Janice prevented me from getting lost in my technology and gadgets and forced me to make a human connection with her so she could make one with me. At the end of the flight, I felt as good as I’ve felt in a while. We had a great conversation, learned a little bit about each other and ourselves and got some new products and services to think about using.

We were being social. Without a computer.

We were influencing each other. Without a blog or Twitter account.

We were sharing. Without clicking a button.

Before you get lost in your next gadget-assisted attempt at connecting with someone, remember that the Internet and technology allows you to do things. It doesn’t allow you to be anything.

It’s a mechanism. You are the platform.

As my friend Jay Baer recently said, “Your business shouldn’t ‘do‘ social. It should ‘be‘ social.”

To know if yours is, turn it all off, look your customers in the eye and see what happens.

IMAGE: Litmus Test by Jiri Slama on Shutterstock.com

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/DangerousMkting Sue Windley

    Great article as ever Jason! Agree so much with this – I see Twitter et al great as the starting point for connecting, but the important part is the human element that follows! Since getting into social media last year as part of my business, I have been able to meet up with loads of local connections made on-line – business people that I wouldn't have met otherwise. But the real bonus is the additional (on-going) connections with like minded people around the globe (especially in the US, Canada and Australia) – keeping it human reminds us we do exist in a global village!

  • http://www.georgepasswater.com George Passwater

    Great post Jason.

    Yes, some only think being human requires being at a computer while tweeting on Twitter or updating your wall on Facebook – there is so much more to it! Getting out and interacting with others, going to conferences and even talking on the phone gives more of a personal touch. The computer is only the beginning. Getting out and interacting is the other piece of the pie.

    Thanks again Jason!

  • http://nickhuhn.com nickhuhn

    I thought it was antithetical to the whole “social” movement when I began inadvertently avoiding it all last year, but yes: I find more meaningful interactions and relationships flourish in the _absence_ of buttons and displays and gadgets.

    Relationship building and communication worked for tens of thousands of years before now. Why let always-on tech devalue what really matters? Rock on, brutha.

  • http://www.4psmarketing.com/ Matthew Phelan

    A very nice but poignant post to read on a Friday. I suppose like anything in life it is getting the right balance between being buried in every new social media fad against living in a forest community in the outback.

    I suppose when an app like Foursquare lets you connect with someone you didn’t know was in town or an old mate from primary school gets in touch it is positive but we must all remember to lift our heads up from the keyboard from time to time.

    Beer anyone ?

  • jmctigue

    The thing about social media is that it allows you to do social without being there. That's a big thing for people like me who live out in the boonies but want to collaborate with folks like you. I agree there's no substitute for the real thing, but it's just not practical most of the time. On the business side, we are trying to expand beyond local, so that's another way that social media becomes crucial, since face-to-face becomes less feasible. I think we all need to think about how we use these tools, though, and that's where your post hits home for me. We could easily spend more time getting to know our partners and clients, as opposed to just e-mailing them a proposal. One avenue I enjoy is posting comments on blogs like yours. I'm not really getting to know you, but I am having a short conversation with you, which is a good first step. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. John McTigue

  • jmctigue

    The thing about social media is that it allows you to do social without being there. That's a big thing for people like me who live out in the boonies but want to collaborate with folks like you. I agree there's no substitute for the real thing, but it's just not practical most of the time. On the business side, we are trying to expand beyond local, so that's another way that social media becomes crucial, since face-to-face becomes less feasible. I think we all need to think about how we use these tools, though, and that's where your post hits home for me. We could easily spend more time getting to know our partners and clients, as opposed to just e-mailing them a proposal. One avenue I enjoy is posting comments on blogs like yours. I'm not really getting to know you, but I am having a short conversation with you, which is a good first step. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. John McTigue

  • http://thegeekgiant.com geekgiant

    Falls, this is called the real world.

    Sure, everybody has a Facebook/MySpace/Twitter profile. But the world of early-adopter hyper connectedness is still not the norm. I can't tell you how happy I am to be married to a nurse. I call her my reality check.

    Now, granted, this is shifting. Online connectedness is fast becoming a norm. But sometimes not looking at your phone for 6 hours is absolutely amazing.

  • http://christophercatania.com Chris Catania

    Absolutely! I had a great time at the Social Media Club event in Chicago last night and it was mainly because I had the chance to hangout with several of my online friends offline and in the flesh. It was great hearing my fellow social media colleagues share stories and help each other out, too. And I can't stress enough how important it is to get offline to connect with each other like we did last night.

    Your post also makes me think of the feeling I get when I have the pleasure of interviewing a live music fan. I've had some of my best moments reviewing concerts when I've had the chance to talk with fans live at the concert and discover how that concert changed their life.

    We need to continue to find ways to use social media tools to enhance our offline connections, instead of using the tools to divide us or just serve ourselves.

  • http://www.iangilyeat.com/ Elizabeth B.

    I agree! Face to face or even over the phone communication means so much more to people than “social media”. Social media is a good supplement, a reinforcement, but it should not replace in-person interactions.

  • http://twitter.com/scottpdailey Scott P Dailey

    Sensational, Jason. During the entire read I knew I was being baited for the epiphany at the end and while it's a fairly obvious one, once I read it, it's like so many of life's recurring lessons: I know they're in play, I exercise them too, but when I note their existence, I can heighten my awareness of their interaction in my life and am better for that increase in self-awareness. The “Do” vs. “Be” point is awesome too. I was tweeting earlier today and had a similar thought: the education in Twitter/Facebook, et al etiquette I continue to poring over is often the same as the rules that apply to successfully engaging the person sitting beside me on a flight. A car can take me somewhere, but I have to drive it. Love this post. Kudos!

  • http://twitter.com/scottpdailey Scott P Dailey

    Sensational, Jason. During the entire read I knew I was being baited for the epiphany at the end and while it's a fairly obvious one, once I read it, it's like so many of life's recurring lessons: I know they're in play, I exercise them too, but when I note their existence, I can heighten my awareness of their interaction in my life and am better for that increase in self-awareness. The “Do” vs. “Be” point is awesome too. I was tweeting earlier today and had a similar thought: the education in Twitter/Facebook, et al etiquette I continue to poring over is often the same as the rules that apply to successfully engaging the person sitting beside me on a flight. A car can take me somewhere, but I have to drive it. Love this post. Kudos!

  • http://www.CKRinteractive.com/ Ralph Leon

    Social media has been the norm and people are getting lost in it. If you follow social media to the roots it leads to face to face human interaction. It actually interesting that social media has been taking away this kind of interaction. Instead of people having conversations with others in person, they are glued to their phone, completely ignoring everyone around them. I liked your idea on turning everything off. I think another great way is to participate in events. The old methods of social may be considered outdated but they have elements (like face to face interaction) that social media lacks. Enjoyed the read Jason

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  • http://www.thegoldandoilguy.com/ Christina

    This ones a good read. Every business should all be social regardless of industry. The emerging of social media networking somehow confuses being social to doing social…

  • http://twitter.com/LoriJ_VA LoriJ_VA

    Yes, so true. The tools of social media are about actually being social. As I watch my children, all 3 in their mid to late 20's, they really get this idea. I see them have actual conversations with people who are mainly local who they see in person very often. I am doing more to try to educate my old 80's crowd that social media is more than just a marketing tool. Granted many SM tools and tactics are fantastic ways to move business along but ultimately that too is about letting people come to know you, find they like you, then do business with you.

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    Ahh, Jason, but here's a question: You write that she distracted you from your computer work to a thankful conclusion. If she wasn't there, would you have gotten “lost in your technology” and what does that truly mean?

    At a breakfast meeting this morning, I explained to a roomful of self-admitting geeks that I am contemplating downgrading from my BlackBerry to a basic cell phone. I saw the looks of horror on their faces, as they couldn't imagine doing the same. Yet, your anecdote above is proof technology is a crutch for something we can do just as successfully without. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://budurl.com/ynfr Megan Zuniga

    I agree that nothing beats the real thing. After a week of work staring at the computer, I find myself longing for human interaction…real human interaction–not some nicknames and pictures on a blog (no offense) or FB. I guess I'm a bit of an old soul. I always wanted to come back to the age with electricity or computers. LoL. How much simpler life was. And when you gossip with your neighbor, that meant actual face-to-face.
    Anyway…it's great to be reminded every now and then that no matter how techonological we're becoming, nothing beats real life communication. So, allow me to share some offline marketing tips that could help your business. http://budurl.com/96cx

  • http://twitter.com/CyFree Cynthia Freeney

    Couldn't agree more. I would say that it is a little bit about finding our “what kind of social” your business is.
    Some businesses and brands are naturally “viral”, they cater to a lot of needs and wants of a whole lot of people.
    A lot of business are more like Janice. Their social success relies on building stronger connections with a much smaller audience, in platforms other than just Facebook and Twitter.
    I believe you and your business (or platform) is there for a purpose and success comes from finding places where that purpose will be better served.

  • http://talkingstory.org Rosa Say

    This is a fabulous posting Jason, thank you for sharing it. You've inspired me to commit to being a better Janice in my own day to day work.

  • http://socialblazeapp.com/ Cassie Rice

    Totally agree with you Jason! There is so much talk about social media and brands needing to get involved in social media that it is easy to forget what social media is. Social Media is about being social, which originally was never something that happened online. We've created tools that help us to be social online.

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  • http://pervarakapadiaatmoney.blogspot.com/ Pervara Kapadia

    Yes Jason this is the core and basics of us Social Media professionals existence

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  • http://www.orchidbox.com Sarah

    A really enjoyable article, its true there is far too big a hype about social media, real one-on-one contact is the key.

  • http://www.onitsolutions.co.uk Jon Celeste

    great read. thanks. The world has changed so much since the net was born. Now social media has arrived. Whats next?