Screaming the Social Media Chat Blues

Just saying ‘hi?’ Bad idea!

Can I pick a nit, please? Get something off my chest?

I write a lot for Internet publications, on Medium.com mostly, but also for a popular syndicated LGBTQ news and opinion outlet. I promote my writing heavily on both Facebook and Twitter.

As a consequence, a lot of people reach out to me to say hi, or to ask me something, or to tell me something. And that’s cool. I love chatting with people about the stories I write.

But here’s the thing. Between Twitter and Facebook, I get between 10 and 20 private messages every hour, around the clock. That’s a heck of a lot to keep up with, though I do my best.

Check out this scenario:

Unknown Facebook User: Hi!

Me: Hi, what can I do for you?

Unknown Facebook User: How are you doing today?

Me: I’m fine, thank you. You? Did you have a question or a comment for me?

Unknown Facebook User: Where do you live?

Me: I’m sorry, but that’s a personal question I don’t feel comfortable answering. What can I do for you?

Unknown Facebook User: You don’t have to be mean!

Me: Seriously, dude. What do you want? I’m trying to work.

Unknown Facebook User: I want to get to know you better.

Me: (sighs and hits the block button, knowing from experience that this person is highly unlikely to have anything substantive to say.)

That whole process takes a minute or two at the least. Multiply that by 10 or 20 per hour, and you can easily see that if I tried to engage like that, much of my time would be eaten up by meaningless chit chat.

So, out of self defense, I don’t even respond to private messages from strangers that consist only of, “Hi,” “How are you?” are some derivative thereof. I can’t. There aren’t enough minutes in an hour or hours in a day. I’d be doing nothing but typing empty pleasantries all day long, every day.

I’m surprised people don’t understand this, honestly. I occasionally reach out to somebody on social media, and knowing that people’s time is valuable, I make my initial message brief, but dense with information so that my interlocutor can easily decide if and how to respond.

I understand that meaning-free messages are annoying and likely to be ignored.

I’m sure that by writing this, I’m not going to slow the avalanche of content-free messages that I receive, though a boy can dream. But maybe this is something you haven’t thought about, and you can change your own PM practices.

Have you thought about how best to capture the attention of the person you’re messaging? Have you thought about the fact that they don’t know anything about you or about why you’re messaging them?

Have you thought about how long it takes to work through social niceties? Have you thought that they might be really grateful if you to just laid it on the line?

Here’s another example of a conversation I had just the other day:

Unknown Facebook User: Hi, I’m a 50-year-old man from Philadelphia who reads your writing once in a while. I’m single and looking for a boyfriend close to my age. I like your picture, and I think we have a lot in common. I was in Act Up Philadelphia in the 80s. Do you have any time to chat?

Me: Awesome! Love my former Act Up colleagues. I checked out your profile pic and I’m flattered you’re even interested. You’re hot! I don’t think I’m looking for a boyfriend right now. It’s complicated, but I’m not in a great place in my life for that. But I’d love to get to know you better. Maybe we can chat sometime.

See the difference?

Even though his message was purely social, it was respectful and interesting. He told me what he wanted in his first message, and he made it clear he’d done a little homework too.

So I took him seriously and replied seriously. Now we chat once in a while, and he’s telling me about his hobby raising orchids in a hothouse in his garden, which is cool.

That’s how it’s done!

So, please. If you’re tempted to send messages saying nothing but, “Hi,” or “How are you,” think again. Understand that you’re probably going to annoy the heck out of people, and that you aren’t likely to get much of a response.

But if you take the time to be thoughtful and to communicate with purpose and substance, lots of good things could happen.

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