Social springboard: fostering in-person engagement in a digital world
No doubt, we’re living in a time where technology is essential to our daily lives. Whether out of necessity, convenience, or preference, most of our communication now happens virtually. And in the pandemic era, social media platforms and virtual meet ups are lifelines, where tech innovations let us work from anywhere and connect with anyone at the click of a button.
At the same time, the digital era has wedged gaps in our relationships. Much of our time is spent behind screens exchanging bits of info over texts and social posts while we’re missing out on all-important, in-person interactions. But virtual platforms aren’t on the outs any time soon, and let’s face it, we all use them, so we’re leaning in and putting them to work to bring people together.
We’re big fans of face-to-face.
At Cohere, our passion is bringing the life-changing power of community to the world, and we know there’s something extra special that happens when people meet in-person. The more occasions to connect outside of our screens, the more opportunities there are to cultivate relationships that inspire us to find purpose, live authentically, and thrive together.
In Michelle Obama’s book “The Light We Carry,” she says “Any time we avoid even a small real-life connection, we are to some extent avoiding possibility. As we move through life engaged with our phones, we are also blocking out dozens of tiny but meaningful pathways for connection. We shut out the vibrant life all around us, limiting our access to the up-close warmth of other people.”
There’s no quick-hit video or 140-character post that can replace the sincerity of a hug, the joy of collective laughter, or the delight of sharing a home cooked meal. There’s no software that supersedes the energy of playing a pickup game of soccer at the park. And when you pull into the driveway after a long day of work and your neighbor greats you with a wave and a warm smile? That’s the good stuff.
In-person is back in style.
No matter one’s love language, personality test results, or place on the introvert/extrovert scale, the need for human interaction and the desire for connection is hard wired into each of us.
That’s why there’s a growing movement to get back to in-person.
Coffee shops are going sans Wi-Fi to cultivate social interactions, workplaces are wooing employees back into the office a few days a week, and once online-only events are now offering opportunities to see one other from the other side of the screen. And we’re here for all of it.
Meeting face-to-face helps us better read body language, tone, feelings, and reactions, all the things that can be easily misinterpreted, or even missed, through email, over the phone, and in video chats. Gestures, eye contact, and inflection reinforce our words and our intent. A handshake, a hug, a great conversation, all promote a sense of safety, security, empathy, and belonging. They help us feel comfortable and more willing to share something about ourselves as we build new relationships.
A neighbor who never sees your face is not likely to feel the same connection to you as someone they regular chat with by the mailbox, sit next to at a community concert, or share a drink with at the local pub.
Social media is our springboard for engagement.
A big part of our community building practice at Cohere is in planning events, classes, club and group gatherings, volunteer opportunities, happy hours, and new neighbor parties, to name a few. And while setting the stage for social gatherings is important, getting the word out to community members about the opportunities to meet is essential.
This is where we lean into social media feeds, blogs, evites, online calendars, videos, and virtual chats to help spread the word. While we’re not using these digital spaces as our prime spots for interaction, they’re part of our engagement toolbox to help encourage attendance at in-person events and activities. These platforms can be easily updated and shared to reach the most residents right where they are.
Neighbors can identify events and activities that make sense for them. For example, a neighbor may be a rookie hiker who’s intimidated to join the community’s weekend trailblazers. That neighbor can join the social media space for the group where photos, chats, and event info are posted, and after some time sensing the group’s vibe via social media, that neighbor may feel comfortable enough to lace up and join a hike.
The same goes for events. How fancy is the monthly wine tasting? What food trucks are coming to the Friday night concert? What volunteer opportunities are available for my family? Neighbors can post questions, read responses, swipe through photos, watch videos, and get a better sense of what they can expect at an upcoming neighborhood gathering. Meeting neighbors where they are through multiple communication channels, including social media, helps us encourage residents to get excited, jump in, and join us in-person.
And at the end of the day, we also hope residents share all the memories and moments to their own social media sites, further inspiring other neighbors to join in on the fun the next time around.
In what feels like a tech-infused hustle culture, personal interactions can be fleeting. But if we can take time to step away from our screens and be together, in-person, the benefits (for all of us) are endless.