You don’t need a background in linguistics to know that there are differences in the way people talk online to in person. However, with social media taking off big time, there is an argument that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have given people something to hide behind where social norms and etiquette are slightly forgotten.

One such example is on Facebook, where you can not only ‘like’ comments but you can also ‘unlike’ them afterwards. Since when in everyday conversation have you said ‘Ah yes I like that’ and then followed it with ‘No actually I don’t like that.’ In this way, many conventions used in the ‘real’ world are put to one side.

Similarly, you can also see what your friends are saying and how they are interacting with other people – not something you would notice in the ‘real’ world unless you were with them.

With the ability to observe more, it is also possible to reveal how people change the way they interact online to in person.

My interest in this was sparked by a comment on Facebook a few days ago by a friend of mine. His friend had posted a photo of a bike and my friend had commented on it asking for the specification. What struck me most was not about the bike spec but about the vocabulary he used. I have never heard him say ‘dude’ in my presence before and yet every second comment had ‘dude’ this, dude’ that. Maybe it was a man thing – showing some solidarity or trying to be all macho.
Either way, it was fascinating to have this glimpse into how differently he interacted with this guy than with me. Although frankly, I don’t think I’d like to be referred to as dude!

I also have a friend who is quite a quiet person in real life and yet on Facebook she comes into her own. I logged on the other day to find a massive post broadcast to all her friends about the state of things in the world. It wasn’t something I would ever have imagined her to say in person.

I suppose this highlights two main things really. One, that social media seems to allow people to express themselves without the need to adhere to certain norms and secondly, for better or for worse, we get to see our friends in a different light.

Social media is, for the most part, an enabling and helpful tool for communicating – for friends, groups and companies, but unlike ‘real’ life there don’t seem to be the same norms for communicating.

How do you communicate on social media? Do you think it this mode of communication actually benefits customer to business interactions? We’d love to hear from you.