Can true “engagement” really be virtual?

Technology has changed the way each of us live our lives, but I often wonder about the impact of the absence of the human element in many of our interactions that the internet, the rise in use of video games and Social Media, to name but a few, have contributed to.  I had the privilege of growing up, playing outdoors, in the park, on swings etc.  I had toys, but my imagination was fueled by the books I read, and the games I created.  I had many friends who’s lives were the same as mine.  Life was real.  Not virtual.

This has made me think about how organisations have to change their ways of working , with the aim of continuing to reach and gain customers, in a world which is largely virtual.  A recent article Hootsuite discusses how companies can continue to engage customers by listening to them, asking questions, being available, sharing other content etc.  The “sharing of content” reminded me of how as humans, we need to be part of a community.  Does it matter if this community is virtual, not actual?  I think not.  As long an individual has actual interaction in some part(s) of their life, having the rest existing in cyberspace is ok.  Not ideal.  Ok.

Focusing now specifically on Social Media, I began to think of institutions or organisations who have had to use it to, for want of a better expression, “engage the masses.”  Government is a prime example of this.  In this article , the impact Social Media is having on Government activity is highlighted.  President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign is an example of using Social Media for campaigning purposes.  The thing is, different countries have different laws pertaining to the use of Social Media.  Over and above that though, different departments within the same Government will view Social Media in a completely different way.  For example, any department involved in security e.g. Border Control, could view Social Media as a massive threat to homeland security because it’s under the radar, whereas the department which deals with Health would see Social Media as an amazing way to quickly reach and engage with an audience.  A Health department could tweet about a potential flu outbreak which could save lives.

Let’s think about the good things that Social Media can be involved with.  Perhaps non-profits?  This article from Forbes shows how behaviour can be driven by Social Media.  The success of the organ donation campaign that they cite is amazing.  I wonder though, how much Social Media activity for non-profits is actually beneficial to the cause, and how is this tracked?  Looking at the recent ALS ice-bucket challenge, one would think that it was a very successful campaign because you couldn’t go onto Facebook without seeing yet another ice bucket challenge.  But is this really the definition of success?

I went to and fro with this until I read this article.   I realised then that despite the backlash regarding the wasted water/ice etc when there is drought in the world, this campaign is perhaps the epitome of success.  It fully engaged participants in the virtual world of Social Media and became (albeit temporarily) and intrinsic part of the virtual and actual communities we belong to.

  • Boyd Neil

    Thoughtful piece . . . please discover how to hyperlink to articles rather than post the full URL.

    • Raheela

      Thanks very much, Boyd.

      I think the reason for this is because I have moved from the UK so still have a very strong network there. In addition, my life in Toronto is divided between the voluntary work that I do, and being a student. I am lucky enough to be making friends and enhancing my network in both these areas.

    • Raheela

      Thanks Boyd, and I will.