The Invisible Threads of Social Media

The Invisible Threads of Social Media

I work for Weaving Influence, so the idea of “threads” and weaving them together to create a cohesive whole is inherent to what I do every day.

Our goal is influence, so we have to be mindful at every step along the way of the threads we choose, the patterns we follow, and the way we tailor the final product.

As I have recently added another social media outlet, Periscope, to my repertoire, I have been thinking about the type of perceived familiarity social media creates. With Periscope, you see people getting ready for work, putting on their makeup, cooking dinner… it’s almost like being with them in person!

For many people seeking to establish themselves as a brand, this is exactly what they want to do: create the feeling between the viewer and themselves that they share commonalities and could, in fact, comfortably chat over coffee.

If you are working on establishing your brand, allow me to suggest a particular consideration as you choose which threads you weave and how you weave them, based on a bit of experience gained in seven years of being an avid social media user.

The Whole Cloth of Expectations

There will be times when you (and your growing brand) want desperately to interact with your followers. Your fingers will fly to respond to a tweet. You’ll heavily research a Facebook question. You’ll invest all of yourself into being what they want.

The challenge lies down the road, when your brand is bigger and more well-known, and the demands you face are heavier.

There may come a time when the “there is only one of me and there are so many of you” issue will threaten to rip out some of the beautiful social media stitches you have sewn.

Stitching Together A Plan

There may be times when the success you’ve had creating the warm and fuzzy “we’re friends” feeling butts right up against your needs for security or personal boundaries, or simply your need to allocate the ever-diminishing supply of time.

I was inspired to write this post by two incidents where people I felt quite close to, due to a deep and intense social media history, spoke publicly about their boundaries. The problem was: these boundaries did not exist during the preceding years of warm and fuzzy relationship-building (or if they did, I was not aware!).

In one case, someone I had approached about a coffee get-together while in her city said (on Periscope, which didn’t exist back when we became acquainted), “I never get together with followers who come to my city unless they can do something for me and my business.” In another case, a blogger I felt deeply connected with — enough to friend on Facebook — said via a teleconference, “People ask to be my friend on Facebook and I’m not prepared for that kind of exposure.” As you may have guessed by now, I was one of those Facebook friend-ers!

Three considerations come to mind:

  • Social media will evolve, and you may find yourself on a new channel, sharing old sentiments that come off differently than you intend.
  • Balancing the sentiment of “we could be friends!” with “we are strangers to one another who have not established a trust or intimacy level” is a delicate thing.
  • I suspect these two individuals may actually share a fear of mine: that they’re not nearly as compelling in real life as they seem to be online! There’s a certain safety in being behind a screen or keyboard, and in-person interactions can threaten to strip away all of those protective barriers in an instant.

Connections are a precious commodity. If you create a warm, welcoming feel, you need to have a plan for how you are going to erect and maintain your personal boundaries without alienating the very people who are helping you grow your brand.

Friedrich Nietsche said, “Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” As you grow your online presence, keep in mind the invisible threads in addition to the visible ones — they may be the ones that keep your social media fabric from deteriorating into tatters.

Image Credits: Andre Bonn and tom_nulens



Meet Paula Kiger

Hometown Guest Author Headshot

Paula received her M.S. in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University. Previously, she coordinated the Internship Program at Fordham University and worked for Florida’s Healthy Kids program, which provided insurance to uninsured children. She has proofread professionally for Ballantine Books, has edited for numerous authors, and enjoys social media immensely. She is a NASA Social alum, Fitfluential Ambassador and a Charity Miles All Star.

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What People Are Saying

  • Very thought provoking! Thank you for this.

    • Thanks for reading/commenting, Michelle! I love how writing helps us process things. A situation that for me started as “I’m so frustrated and surprised this happened” turned (hopefully) into an opportunity for constructive thought — as in “boundaries are the kind of thing you need to think about before you need them.”

  • Interesting. I agree the boundaries definitely change and sometimes you just can’t do what you may have done in person before but like you, I think it is a bit abrupt to say it so bluntly. What’s interesting is I also wonder if there is a two-way relationship whether that feels different to them than you’re simply being a follower. Of course, how would you know? Good food for thought either way.

    • That’s an important distinction, Janice, and one that I really couldn’t get into in this post for reasons of brevity. In both cases that prompted this post, there definitely had been two-way communication (although not in person, obviously). One was QUITE involved (being part of a group that banded together to help raise funds during the individual’s medical crisis, for example). // I had a separate conversation with someone I HAVE met who started as an online relationship. I was telling her about this post and how, although I respect boundaries (even more so after these incidents!), I am so grateful she and I got to meet in person. That was sort of a different situation. Our meeting was at an event in her hometown that I was involved in, for a cause she was directly part of being the leadership of. She definitely at this point qualifies as “big” (although I am betting she would disagree with me if she saw this comment!) but there are MANY confidentiality and other considerations, since her blog and online presence have to do in many ways with her child and with a particular diagnosis that has had a huge impact on their life. She really SHOULDN’T accept most “let’s have coffee” invitations, I’m guessing. It’s complicated. 🙂

  • Yes, this whole conundrum is something that hit me very fast in my blogging “career.” I tend to like the invisible threads as much, or maybe even more than the visible ones. The warm and fuzzy relationship building is what scares me, a lot of it just seems to be disingenuous. I really don’t want to be “friends” with anybody I don’t fundamentally like, who I wouldn’t want to have a cup of coffee with in the first place. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I think that serves me well. Thanks, this made me think.

    • I think it took a while (obviously, since I’m just writing about it now and one incident that prompted it happened YEARS ago, long before Periscope!) for me to really give the conundrum my full attention. And in a way, it’s “easy for me to say” what people ought to do or not do with their boundaries! Since Weaving Influence helps authors (and others) promote themselves and their products online, hopefully the end result is just giving them a prompt to think about this piece as they build their brands.

  • Yes, it’s difficult to find perfect matches when forming relationships with people. Two people can have different needs and expectations for the relationship. Often this makes one person more eager to connect than another. Timing is also a big thing. Sometimes I’m more open and vulnerable to forming new or deeper connections. Other times, I’m in survival mode and just trying to get through the day, so invitations to connect can seem overwhelming. All my best to you. Thanks for the cool Nietzsche quote.

    • Thx, Karen (and isn’t that quote THE BEST??!!). You are right that timing can change/vary for everyone, for sure. One side note that I think drives much of what I do online is that I am very active in the fitness and running community. It makes a “meetup” at a race or whatever easy and safe. It’s a public event, you can grab a picture, look the person in the eye, perhaps exchange a hug, then move on with your lives feeling a bit warmer and fuzzier (and sweatier in that case LOL). // I will say that every single time I have met someone IRL who I started a relationship with online, I have come away more satisfied with the relationship for having looked them in the eyes. It just made a difference, one I am not sure I can quantify in words.

  • Hi Paula! How interesting! I do agree that we all need to have boundaries but I find it fascinating that someone who seems to be “connected” on line would reject any connection offline. The lack of congruency in that disturbs me. Authenticity in all things is very important to me so if I came up against that from any blogger, I’m sure that I would discontinue connection online from that point further. With readers it might be a little different, but still being clear about boundaries in advance would be important. I plan on attending BAM in April in Las Vegas and have really been looking forward to connecting with some of the bloggers I’ve met online. It will be interesting to see who actually shows up and if they have any interest in connecting with me back! ~Kathy

    • Hi Kathy – thx for your comment and your insightful observations. I think you hit on the piece of it that was incongruous for me —- that sensation that “we’re all in this (life, fashion, leadership, whatever) together!” except that ….. maybe we’re not! I know we can’t anticipate what social media channels will make themselves available to us so maybe it’s naive to think we could “define boundaries” in advance …. I think the point to some extent (but I may not have conveyed) is ….. once these individuals had a more widespread, more anonymous channel, the things they said did not correspond to the way they were earlier on (or at least the way I perceived them). Have fun at the conference; I definitely would love to make some IRL connections there!

  • I can relate to the Facebook incident. I use my Facebook page for close personal friends and family. This is where I post about my children. So yes, I am guarded with certain forms of social media.

    Glenda (fellow midlifer)

    • Yes, Glenda, that makes SO much sense. I have often said I am glad blogging and social media weren’t really an option for me until my children were older because I would have been insufferable! And in the process I would possibly have exposed them to a wider, less secure, range of individuals than was really advisable. Definitely a good point and probably an argument for Facebook “fan” pages vs personal pages — or at least keeping the two separate.

  • Hi Paula,

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    Like real friendships, my social media connections range from very close to almost no connection at all. When people reach out to me for deeper connection on social media, I have no problem putting some boundaries around that. If I hardly know you at all on social media, I won’t meet with you in person, unless you make a case for why you want to meet with me. I don’t look for my immediate gain. Rather, I ask the person asking to meet to show me at least one reason why it would make sense for us to deepen the connection.

    As the 21st century information age expands, I remind myself that it is all a big experiment. I’m sure that when the railways came in the late 1800’s, people started building new connections and many of these same issues came up in similar ways.

    Here’s to continuing the experiments.



    • David, you are SO RIGHT in using the term “experiment.” Maybe I should cut the individuals I refer to a break! Or maybe we could look at them as the control group and use these experiences to craft a different/better/more effective approach to social media as it continues to evolve. Great points…

  • Paula, thank you for writing this. You now explain why I have gotten some not-so-clear responses (or lack thereof) from people I thought I had a relationship with, from virtual interaction. And at the same time I have been on the other end of the situation. Someone reached out to me on another medium and made me wonder what they read into our online relationship that I didn’t.

    Having said all that, for the most part, those I have connected with in person or by phone or Skype, based on social media relationships have been friendly and equally as enthusiastic as me, to connect “in person.”

    I think you bring up some great points that I need to revisit and consider more deeply in the future.

    Thanks Paula!

    • Thank you for your comment, Mary. As you know, I trust your opinion in matters like this! And, as you point out — much of the direction of the piece raises more questions (or maybe it’s that it presents more angles…) rather than pat solutions. I guess that’s the thing with social media — it’s easy to make real-time decisions or statements that after further consideration you may want to revise. (Real life in person works that way too I suppose!). In fairness to the person who made the comment about “only people who can do something for me,” the invitation refusal did not come from her, it came from an assistant. So maybe she really DOESN’T know how some of the dots failed to connect (?). I think the best part of this blog has been the comments! 🙂

  • Really interesting post, Paula.

    I think you’re absolutely right about figuring out how to maintain personal boundaries if you’ve cultivated a warm & fuzzy persona… and my guess is that a lot of people I (and you) know go through this. I wonder if we make it harder than it has to be, though; I have seen folks be very respectful online if you are honest with them about the space you need, etc.

    As to the person who said she never gets together with people unless they can do something for her business… OUCH. I suppose I should give her props for being honest, though! Just seems to me she might be closing off all sorts of new opportunities by being so calculating about it.

    In terms of whether or not someone is as compelling in real life – that is not something I think you have to worry about, even though I have yet to meet you IRL! I don’t think most people think that, honestly; they just don’t want to take the time to meet, or have other stuff going on.

    Btw – how’s Periscope going for you?

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Shonali. I think this post was definitely more of a “Paula thinking out loud about ramifications/options” rather than a prescriptive “here’s how to do it.” I agree — most of us are more than able – we are WILLING to respect each other’s boundaries. It’s all about how they’re communicated (and I think somehow there’s a parallel with people I’ve met who are non-huggers but I guess that’s for another post!). I don’t intend to abandon the person who said she “doesn’t get together.” AT ALL. As I mentioned in another comment, she actually was instrumental in one important move I made in social media (the one that got me on Instagram). The point I was trying to make (or at least the dynamic that led to this post) was ….. after establishing that whole warm and fuzzy thing, it was in a more anonymous arena (Periscope) that she said the statement about when to meet/not to meet people ….. something about it was jarring in light of our previous exchanges. I’m not sure I’ve completely processed how much was “me” and how much of it was something broader. As to Periscope …. I LOVE IT!! I REALLY REALLY LOVE IT!! I have so much to learn but, being a pretty cautious person in so many areas of my life, I am glad I just pressed “broadcast” and played around with it from there! Thank you again for taking the time to comment; it means a great deal to me.

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