THE BLOG
01/14/2015 05:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Social Media Lessons From My 99-Year-Old Great Grandma

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My great grandma, who we call Nonie (Italian for Grandma), turned 99 last year. She has served as the matriarch over the tight-knit Italian side of my family for decades, passing on bits of wisdom over the years. Nonie does not have a Twitter or a Facebook account, nor is she on LinkedIn. The extent of her online experience includes a few Skype sessions. She was simply blown away by the fact that I was all the way in Germany, yet able to be on the computer screen in her living room in California.

That being said, social media experience or not, anyone who has made it to 99 years old is worth listening to, and I recently realized I am using a lot of what I picked up from Nonie not only in my daily life, but also in my social media strategy.

Here are my top three social media lessons learned from Nonie:

The Whatever Principle

One of Nonie's many catch-phrases is "Whatever, honey." She always tends to soften statements by adding "honey" at the end. It can be interpreted as "let's agree to disagree and move on." A lot of times in these situations, a simple "honey" is not added after the whatever, but rather "I wish you a lot of luck, honey."

So what does this have to do with social media? I certainly do not go around writing "whatever" under all the comments, tweets and blog posts I do not agree with, and I have never called anyone "honey." However, on twitter, I keep the phrase "whatever, honey" in the back of my mind when someone decides to unfollow me. Why should I invest time in those that leave? My effort should be focused on engaging with those that stay and are open to conversing with me. I also keep this principle in mind when participating in discussions on LinkedIn. It is not uncommon to have professionals with differing views on a certain topic.

The best time to apply The Whatever Principle is when these discussions degenerate into personal attacks, or move away from the topic at hand. Before making a fool out of myself and stooping to unprofessional levels, I agree to disagree and move on.

Sometimes a topic or issue may be too important to just say "whatever," and that is when Nonie's second catch-phrase comes into play.

"To Each His Own"

The "To Each His Own" phrase is often used by Nonie as a follow-up line, after she has agreed to disagree. The phrase may seem dismissive on the surface, but after taking a closer look, I believe there are four main aspects that can be used to create an action plan when differences of opinion arise in the social media realm:

  1. Acknowledge the Difference of Opinion
  2. Do Not Judge
  3. Be Respectful
  4. Know When To "Walk Away"

If a disagreement comes about, it is important to acknowledge the existence of the differing opinions without being judgmental. A respectful discussion could garner attention from other users, who could perhaps serve as mediators or provide a different take on a given issue, enabling further learning opportunities.

As soon as the discussion turns judgmental and disrespectful, one can easily begin to lose face amongst his or her peers, at which point "walking away" may be the best solution. Therefore, it is important to keep the phrase "to each his own" in mind, as it serves as a reminder that there will be differing opinions, and that these differences should be acknowledged and dealt with respectfully. If this cannot be achieved, the dismissive overtone of the statement needs to be applied.

Everything in Moderation

The third social media lesson I have taken from Nonie is the importance of moderation. A popular family story from a few years back took place during a road trip. It was lunch time and Nonie felt like eating a chilidog and fries, so the consensus was to stop at the fast food chain Wienerschnitzel. I am going to go out on a limb and say that 99 may have been a lot harder to reach had Nonie eaten fast food every day. But if you were to ask her about her diet, she will tell you "everything is okay, in moderation."

In reference to social media, it is important to focus on networks that will help you achieve your personal and professional goals. According to a list on Wikipedia, there are over 200 "major" social networking sites, not including dating websites. I don't know about you, but I do not think there are enough hours in the day to be present across all of these "major" sites.

A good approach is to find the top three or four networks that work for you, and begin engaging with people and building a solid network. If you try to spread yourself across too many networks, the relationships you build may merely scratch the surface and yield little to no fruit.

Of course, it is also important not to lose track of what is going on behind your computer or smart phone screen. Remembering to "look-up" and engage with the people in your surrounding environment is key. If you are busy formulating your next "perfect" tweet or Facebook post, you may miss out on some special "real-life" moments.

Closing Words

Whenever I fly back home to California, I make sure I spend the majority of time "looking up" so as not to miss out on any of Nonie's advice. To draw on a fourth (bonus) lesson from Nonie, "everybody is welcome," to leave any social media tips in the comment section below. Nonie always says everybody is always welcome in her home, and you can bet, if you drop by for a visit, there will be something delicious to eat and great conversation.