Winning friends and influencing people

When last week we were talking about ‘The Self Online’ I started thinking about how we, as humans, are taught how to present ourselves and how to interact since day one on planet Earth. There is a set of social rules we tend to follow both during in-person interactions and digital ones, they usually follow common sense and norms all of us, as individuals and as humanity, have developed through a trial and error kind of process. “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, a book I read some time ago, which was written in 1936 by Dale Carnegie, describes some of these norms. You may have read it (it sold 15million copies) and it is still pretty popular nowadays as it gives timeless pieces of advice on how to build successful relationships during in-person interactions or when writing letters. Its Wikipedia page offers a nice little summary, but some of the main points I remembered after reading the book are:

  • talk about what the other person is interested in
  • let the other person talk
  • remember and repeat the other person’s name
  • make the other person feel important
  • smile
  • don’t criticise

You get the gist of it, some points are interesting but otherwise, it is common sense, yet it is still nice to see them written down in a nicely organised manner.

Of course, in 1936, Carnegie discusses real-life interactions and only briefly looks at how to be persuasive when writing letters. So, my initial intention for this blog was to look at Carnegie’s points in relation/contrast to the digital world …but that clearly is not a very original idea as a remake of the same book, titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” was published in 2011. To be honest, I did not read it as no library seems to have it and I was not too excited about spending 14euro on it (here’s the Amazon link in case you were interested). From what I found online, the 2011 book aims to give guidance on how bloggers should interact with their audience while also following the same “rules” given by Carnegie. I am not going to lie, I read a lot of negative reviews about it and I am actually really struggling to see how the points raised by Carnegie can truly apply to the Digital Age. I personally think that the concept cannot be properly executed and that the whole book shou- …I REALLY should get hold of it before criticising, especially because this new version was published in 2011, which already makes it outdated. Instagram was released in 2010, Snapchat in 2012, in 2014 and 2016, and these social media platforms really changed the game when it comes to interacting online and presenting oneself. (I also had found some really interesting studies – linked below – published as early as 2013, which I thought were too obsolete to be used in this blog post.)

Overall, the negative reviews made me think about how clearly different face-to-face interactions are from digital ones. Okay, often social media platforms try to imitate in-person interactions for the purpose of improving user experience. For example, if we consider Facebook, we can simply look at characteristics like the language used – Friends; friendships celebrations and the Reactions added in 2016 to express more than just a Like, which was a pretty limited response if compared to in-person reactions. Nonetheless, despite the efforts, the differences between real-life and digital communication are countless.

I also found interesting that after only 75 years, our way of communicating has changed so much that it felt necessary to rewrite a book on basic social interactions and suggestions which are based on commonsense. If the original book had been written in the second half of the 19th century, a remake would definitely not have been overdue by the late 1930s. But clearly this is not the case in our era. For example, today, that I can remember of, I interacted with 12 people; (sadly enough) only 3 of these were face-to-face interactions and I had longer forms of communication with the people I talked to online. That means that only during 25% of my interactions I could have applied Carnegie’s suggestions. No wonder a rewied version of Carnegie’s book felt necessary!

Furthermore, I think there is a big problem with the 2011 book: its title. In real life, we do want to make friends and be able to influence people and in the 1936 book, Carnegie presents these two things as the key to success. But the online world, as already pointed out, is a whole different story. There are two types of online interactions: interactions between individuals (like me talking to my friend from home – these are somehow more similar to real-life ones) and those between a person and an audience (like influencers’). If we focus on the latter, we quickly realise that these are forms of self-branding, people are behaving like brands (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2017). Yet they are not brands: their monetisation is based on the amount of attention they receive (YouTube ads, merch, etc. are small exceptions). In this case, being talked about is not just better than not being talked about at all, but is all that matters. This shows that, online, making friends and influence people (despite being called ‘influencers’) is not a synonym of success.

I still tried to see how Carnegie’s rules can be applied to the online world:

  • talk about what the other person is interested in – can be discussed in terms of ‘know your audience’ but in many cases, in the Instagram/YouTube realm people attract like-minded followers or subscribers, rather than having to adapt.
  • let the other person talk – not applicable, either a back and forth communication (like on a chat) or a one-way communication – where the influencer talks to follower/subscriber).
  • remember and repeat the other person’s name – …shout outs ?????
  • make the other person feel important – applicable to social media to a certain extent.
  • smile – maybe presenting a friendly personality – not always essential?
  • don’t criticise – uuuhm, drama often draws attention…

Finally, I think that, due to the fast-changing world, there are too many differences between online and real-life interactions for any direct comparisons. But this is just my opinion, so feel free to comment below and let me know what you think about it!

Other studies: