The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Effective Social Media Utilization

In 1990 Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer published their influential article “Emotional Intelligence.”  In it, they defined emotional intelligence as, “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”  In the same article, Salovey and Mayer defined a construct that identified four different factors of emotional intelligence:

      1. Perceiving Emotions: The ability to perceive emotions in oneself and others as well as in objects, art, stories, music, and other stimuli
      2. Reasoning With Emotions: The ability to generate, use, and feel emotion as necessary to communicate feelings or employ them in other cognitive processes
      3. Understanding Emotions: The ability to understand emotional information, to understand how emotions combine and progress through relationship transitions, and to appreciate such emotional meanings.
      4. Managing Emotions: The ability to be open to feelings, and  to modulate them in oneself and others so as to promote personal understanding   and growth

Emotionally Intelligent Social Media 

“The emotionally intelligent person…attends to emotion in the path toward growth. Emotional intelligence involves self-regulation appreciative of the fact that temporarily hurt feelings or emotional restraint is often necessary in the service of a greater objective. (Salovey and Mayer 1991)”

At its core Social Media is about human interactions.  However, in the Social Media ecosphere, these interactions occur in short bursts across multiple platforms with potentially devasting consequences for those who are “tone deaf” to their audiences.  The inherent limitations of Social Media make refined Emotional Intelligence devastatingly important, because EI failures make their way around the SM ecosphere in minutes, damaging reputations and shifting customer perceptions–usually in the wrong direction.  Let’s talk about WHY and WHAT you can do to prevent these failures.

The WHY:

  1. Difficulty of “perceiving emotions” 140 characters at a time.  Twitter has 140 characters.  YouTube loses people after about 30 seconds.  Long FB posts do not get read. In the SM space, those trying to provide service, deliver information and otherwise assist customers start at an inherent disadvantage.  Traditionally, a customer service rep in a call center might be  forced to listen to the tirade of an upset customer.  Although unpleasant, at least the rep had a significant amount of “data” and the opportunity to sense what was below the surface of the customer’s emotions.  With SM, there just isn’t that much to read into and the criticality of perception is heightend dramatically.
  2. Propensity for emotional response.  Without direct, face-to-face contact with someone, it is easy to fire off a damaging, unproductive response to a critical or negative post.  Anyone with a teenager has probably seen this effect.  It took center stage nationally with the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood mess.  The ability to think and then act is critical.
  3. Limited processing power for information.  The reality of our world is we are all in information overload.  Interpreting the academic or business implicatios of vast amounts of data is daunting.  Appreciating the feelings generated by tweets and posts and then understanding the growth of the feelings in those is almost unmanagebale.
  4. We all have our emotional limits.  We live in a high-stress, move-at-lightspeed world.  We get tired.  We get worn down.  Given the right set of circumstances we all have the propensity to snap.


  1. Make openness and transparency the norm.  If you try to hide it online, they will find out.  They will also be mad.
  2. Promote respectful assertiveness.  Pushovers get no respect.  A**holes get no respect.  Find the middle.
  3. Tolerate constructive diagreement. If everybody thinks your product is ugly, respect their opinion.  Then ask them why.  It’s a huge opportunity and they will appreciate being included in the dialogue.
  4. Value flexibility.  Do not compromise your organizational principles.  After that, give your staff the SM flexibility they need to support your customers.  It will make them, and your organization real.

Of course, the key to all of this is finding employees with the right EQ to engage in your SM efforts.  This is no simple task.  However, the time and effort you put into the recruiting process will return many fold in your SM reputation.

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