Don’t be the Ghost on the Digital Dance Floor

“Want to go Sunday?” The text came as a surprise and, of course, I said “Yes.”

Go what? Canoeing. On the aptly-named Ghost River.

But this isn’t a story about me, or a conversation or even a text message. This is a story about a ghost—the kind of ghost that’s become a common sight as people, businesses and social lives have become more engaged with technology. And this ghost wasn’t a body of water.

The girl had a canoe. I repeat, the girl had a canoe. This was a red alert. How can you say no to an invitation for a day on the water?

I didn’t. But there was just one problem: we hadn’t actually met, not really. Sure, we had texted and Instagrammed and Snapchatted and interacted on every form of social media known to man, but we hadn’t actually met.

No, problem. This was 2016, and somewhere between Uber and Tinder, the line has been blurred between the way people meet online and the way people used to meet in person. We were sort-of friends, I thought. Meeting up with a total stranger on a Sunday morning for some canoeing? No big deal … unless she turned out to be Kathy Bates and have a weird, murderous thing for writers.

The preparations were made: the cooler was filled with ice and ice cold beverages, the roof rack was loaded with pads (to protect her canoe on the journey back to the drop-off … very thoughtful) and I was on my way to the rendezvous. There was just one problem — somewhere between 11:00 a.m. and noon, the girl vanished.

She ghosted. She was gone. Never to be heard from again — except on Snapchat, where she had apparently gone to the zoo at the time we were supposed to meet.

Yep. That’s horrible. But honestly, it’s not uncommon. It happens when people have no soul for various reasons. And it doesn’t just happen in the dubious world of dating. It happens in business, too.

I wavered on telling this story. It’s personal, embarrassing and until I checked FTR’s Facebook page on Monday, I thought it had nothing to do with business.

Then, I realized I was wrong. Ghosting has everything to do with business, especially if you’re managing your company on social media.

This is how brands work online: we invest gobs of money and time wooing “fans” into liking our Facebook page, or following our Instagram. You need cool photos, cooler copy and a heck of a product to get that job done. But more often than not, once those fans are acquired, they’re ignored. You’ve got them, and they’re taken for granted.

That’s not how human interaction is supposed to work.

Fans might message your company asking a question about a new — or a very old — product. If they’re lucky, someone will get back to them that day. If they’re like most, a company representative might respond in a few days. And if they’re unlucky, nobody bothers to answer their question at all.

There are a lot of reasons those messages don’t get replies. Sometimes, nobody knows the answer. Sometimes, the questions get relayed to someone else and lost in translation. But none of those are reasons to leave someone hanging. Even if you don’t know the answer, even if you’re lost and confused and the only thing you can say is, “I don’t know,” you should respond.

It’s common courtesy.

Remember, you sought these people out. You asked them to be your fan, to get to know your company and to buy your products. If you leave them hanging once they start talking to you, you’re doing social media wrong.

If you want to do social media right, you have to be real.

And there’s nothing real about a ghost.