Overconnectivity: When Too Much Tech Hurts Your Relationships

Make sure these three common technology offenses don’t damage your relationships: oversharing, overusing, and overly informal.

May 29, 2014

Technology can keep you plugged in with your clients and peers, but sometimes being online 24-7 can come at the expense of forming stronger offline relationships. Could you be overplugged?

Overconnectivity with your smartphone and social networking activities may actually hinder your relationships. “Technology is making us more social and helping us to connect, but we have to use good judgment,” says etiquette and manners expert Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. “We are very reliant on our technology. That’s not a bad thing. It helps us become more available and recognizable, which helps bring us more business. But we need to know when to use it, when to turn it off, and how to use it appropriately.”

Offense #1: Oversharing

In the year of the “selfie,” you may find it difficult not to think of social media as just a means to promote yourself and get your message out. The more you post, the more connected you look, right? Not necessarily, according to a growing number of surveys that show too many posts can actually disconnect you from others, especially depending on what you say in those posts.

If you’re a real estate professional who merges your personal life with your business life on your social networks, make sure you’re not turning people off by becoming one of the growing number of what are called “meformers.”

What’s that? Rutgers researchers Mor Naaman and Jeffrey Boase distinguished Internet social network users into two broad categories: meformers and informers. Meformers are people who use social networks (Twitter for the researchers’ analysis) to post updates on their everyday activities, social lives, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. They found the majority of Internet users in their research fell in this category, while only 20 percent were informers. Informers use their social networks to share information; they interact more with their followers and tend to mention others in their messages more often. Informers also tend to have more friends.

Social networking “super sharers” are becoming an increasing annoyance online, according to a recent Pew Research survey of 1,800 adult Facebook users. In that survey, 36 percent of respondents said that they dislike when people share “too much information about themselves.” A study of 500 active Twitter users by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing found that others welcome your message more when you limit talk about yourself. Researchers found the most effective approach to tweets is to make them “informative” — in this context, sharing news stories or statistics rather than talking about, say, what you had for dinner. Also, researchers found that users preferred positive messages and did not have a high tolerance for posters who tended to share negative tweets. Other recent studies also have linked oversharers on social networks to narcissism, according to a 2013 University of Michigan study.

“The whole idea of social media is to interact with other people,” Gottsman says. “You’re not the priority, but what you can do for your clients is, like sharing information.”

Being an oversharer not only can cause others to tune you out online or unfriend you but can also impact your real-life relationships, according to a study by researchers from University of Birmingham, University of the West of England, University of Edinburgh, and Heriot-Watt University. For example, posting too many photos can spark feelings of jealousy among others, and others may also start to tune you out if you post every accomplishment or the same content over and over again.

Here are four tips for proper social sharing:

  1. Don’t make it all about you. Take a critical look at your last few posts on your social networks: Are you a meformer or an informer? “When every post someone opens up is all about you, you risk becoming annoying,” Gottsman says. “When it’s all about you, people tune you out. You can occasionally talk about yourself, but do it every fifth mention or so.”
  2. Seek connection. Build rapport and be inquisitive of your followers. Use Twitter, Facebook, and your other social networks to engage in conversations with others by asking a question, answering a question, or sharing pertinent links (other than just your own). Make a point of commenting on your followers’ posts, Gottsman says.
  3. Question the value, before you post. Before you put a message out there, ask yourself: What’s the value and what’s your motivation for posting it? “The information you share should ultimately be the type of content other people are interested in passing along to their own followers,” Gottsman says. “Keep your tone informative, unique, and conversational.”
  4. Segment your lists. On Facebook, you can use the Friend List feature to segment your contacts. This allows you to get your message on the feeds of only the followers who you know will find it useful. You can segment your followers by close friends and acquaintances or even create custom lists. (Others won’t be notified about how you’ve segmented your lists on Facebook.) Learn more about setting up the Facebook Friend list feature

Offense #2: Overuse

Another common tech etiquette downfall: never disconnecting. Does the thought of being stuck with a dead phone battery make your heart race? Does forgetting your phone send you into a panic? When your phone buzzes, do you have a compulsion to respond immediately at any cost? Or maybe you’ve experienced “phantom vibration syndrome,” a term coined for those who experience that common false alarm phone vibration. If all this sounds familiar, “nomophobia” (abbreviated for no-mobile-phone-phobia) may describe you.

Nomophobia is the rush of anxiety and fear some people get when they realize they’re disconnected. A survey by SecurEnvoy has estimated that up to 67 percent of the population could have nomophobia.

Phone separation anxiety is common, and in an industry like real estate where you rely on your phone to stay connected to your business, you may feel the separation even more. Losing touch could mean losing business. But losing one’s sense of life balance due to constant connectivity can be draining on a salesperson, according to researchers at Baylor University’s Keller Center in the report “How Technology is Changing the Sales Environment.”

Technology can create an idea of there’s “no place to hide” creating by the expectation of constant connectivity. “We recommend that agents consider how they might use technology to create good connectivity as well as appropriate boundaries,” the authors note in the report.

Here are five tips to avoid technology overuse:

  1. Monitor your use. Is your phone use starting to scatter your attention and becoming a distraction from your tasks and relationships? Track the number of hours you spend each week on it, such as your social media use and your responses to e-mails and text messages, etc. There’s an app for that too. Menthal Balance is an app available for Android users to track the time they spend on their smartphone, including phone time and the apps you use the most frequently. You’ll get a full report of your usage and can see if a digital diet may be needed.
  2. Turn off your phone around others. “Make people in front of you always the priority,” says Gottsman. “If you interrupt a face-to-face conversation to respond to a text or take a call, you are communicating to the person you are speaking with that they are less important.” Also, don’t just flip your phone to vibration mode. The constant buzzing can distract you and others around you as well. If an incoming call is absolutely urgent, excuse yourself and go to a private space to take the call, Gottsman says. But, she adds, it’s usually better to let a call go to voicemail than to pick up the call just to offer an excuse like “I can’t talk right now.”
  3. Harness technology to automate but with a human-touch. If you’re scared about missing a call, you can use technology to show you’re responsive until you actually have time to respond. For example, programs like Better Voicemail automatically change your customized voicemail greetings based on who is calling by using their caller ID information, area code, or a call group you’ve designated (such as first-time callers). You can also use it to send an automatic text follow-up with your website URL to first-time callers or any other information you’d like them to have. Learn about more tools: Adding the Human Element to Your Technology.
  4. Designate specific “on” times. Have specific times of the day when you will answer e-mail, text, and phone messages, and be sure to convey those times to your clients. “By engaging with e-mail and text messages within a bounded time period, the agent exercises more control and reduces the anxiety that might be felt due to overconnectivity,” according to the Baylor University Keller Center report.
  5. Watch your nonverbal message. By always being glued to a device, what message are you sending to others? For example, if you’re buried in your phone at networking events, you may send a message that you’re unapproachable. By glancing at your phone in conversations with others, you may make others around you feel second-rate, Gottsman says. By picking up the phone in a crowded restaurant or noisy place to try to show you’re always available, you may make the other person feel annoyed at the background noise or make them feel frustrated that they don’t have your full attention.

Offense #3: Overly informal

Technology makes you more connected and with that, comes a rush to always be responsive. But in that rush, you may be tempted to take some shortcuts with your messaging. Your messages over social networks, texts, and e-mails are still a reflection of you and your professionalism, no matter how impressive your response rate is. It’s a reflection of your personal brand, Gottsman says.

In other words, you are what you tweet. Mistypings, poor grammar and spelling, and shortening words by omitting letters or using abbreviations (particularly ones that the other person may not know the meaning of) may make you appear less professional.

A recent study alludes to how costly those seemingly little errors can be, particularly if they appear in the description you write on a home listing ad. About 43 percent of 1,291 people surveyed online said they would be less inclined to tour a home if its online listing contained misspellings or improper grammar, according to a new study by Redfin and the grammar experts at Grammarly.

A home listing filled with misspellings or grammar errors sends a signal to potential buyers that details are not important,” says Allison VanNest at Grammarly, a website offering grammar and spelling checkers.

Likewise, any message you send out to clients — whether just over e-mail, text, social networking, or other channels — could have that same effect of showing them that details aren’t important or could make you look less professional.

Here are two tips for professional correspondence:

  1. Slow down and proofread. Take a moment before you press “send” to reread your e-mails and text messages carefully. Don’t rely on spelling and grammar checkers to catch everything. For example, in the Redfin and Grammarly study, they mentioned common offenses like incorrect words in listing ads that wouldn’t be caught by these tools – such as “master bedroom with walking closet” or “fresh pain and carpet.” Also, besides your spelling and grammar, make sure that your message is clear and the information you’re writing is correct. In a rush, it’s easy to accidentally forward the wrong document, hit a “reply all” button, or even call your client by the wrong name. Read more: BounceBack From 5 Technology Blunders.
  2. Don’t be abrupt. Your client has a question and you have the answer, so you may be tempted to ditch all the formalities and just give the point-blank answer. But when you’re abrupt with your message, you may send a message to your client that you don’t really care or aren’t willing to give them your full attention. Be polite, not abrupt, with your messages, Gottsman says. Include a signature line with all your e-mails so that the client has your contact information on hand. If you’re texting, make sure you identify yourself; don’t assume the other person has you in her contact list and knows who sent the text, Gottsman says. “We get too comfortable,” Gottsman says. “But the content you put out there is a reflection of you.”