social tightening

With all the talk about social distancing, I am worried about people.  For fifteen years I have been talking about how we need to connect with people in a gadget crazed world. In society people have felt more lonely, not more connected, since social media took over our lives. While some people have harnessed the digital tools, others are on the outside looking in. For many, social media has become a virtual high school “cool kids table”.  And now we are all being asked to practice social distancing because of Coronavirus.  This is going to leave more people than ever, who rely on their job for human connection, to be stuck at home and very isolated.  Social tightening becomes more important while we are apart.

Social Tightening

Social tightening is a term I came up with in the last week.  The term “social distancing” came out of nowhere and has been given to us as a way to slow down the spread of COVID-19. While we have to take drastic action during this public health crisis, this self quarantine of much of the population will have some very negative impacts on people.

Humans are social creatures.  We need that engagement with others to thrive. While we now have amazing digital tools, most of the best parts of our lives happen in connection with others. While a Zoom call is a great option when you cannot be face to face, it does not replace the power of a shared experience.  Plus, with most people not having had time to ramp up to a “work from home” world, the next few weeks and month are going to have wide spread social implications.

Everyone should look at their circle of friends. I do not mean everyone you are linked with via social media, but the people you know.  The research around the Dunbar Curve says most people will have about five close friends, fifty friends, and 150 people they can really “know”. Beyond that it is hard for our brains to keep track. While some dispute this research, it is a good starting place.  Look at your 50 to 150 connections in your life and make sure you are taking action to keep in touch with them. Social tightening is not something you can pre-schedule as posts via Twitter or Facebook.

Social tightening is a person-to-person intentional series of actions.

More Connection – Less Broadcast

In the past week my email inbox has been overrun with newsletter and social media broadcast communications with titles all around “Coronavirus”.  Every type of company out there has jumped in with their two cents on this issue. The problem is with thousands of such communications, all of them became useless.

In our current situation we do not need more broadcast communications from brands, we need personal communications from the people we know. This is about both personal friends and business associates.  Now is not the time to sell. Now is the time to connect.  People are scared.  There are real financial concerns.  Some people, even those we think are doing great, are feeling very lost and alone.

A few days ago I began reaching out to people who I know. Business and social contacts. This was by phone or text (as that seems more personal than an email). Each message customized to that person, and just letting them know they are not alone in these crazy times.  I had no agenda.

Most people responded with a simple “thanks” and returned the sentiment. But several, whom I texted, asked if they could call.  Some of these people were on the verge of tears. The fear of the virus, the worry for older relatives, and the immediate financial problems had them on the ledge. While I am also being heavily impacted (my business is as a speaker at live events, and my whole industry collapsed), I am naturally optimistic. A few months ago I dealt with some personal issues and have a very “Zen” feeling about this crisis and that we will survive.

Companies and Associations Need To Lead

With live meetings cancelled and workers being sent home to keep people apart to stop the spread of disease, the leaders of all organizations need to show people the importance of social tightening in a world of social distancing. We do not know how long the Coronavirus will be with us (it will not be forever, as viruses fade away and medical experts discover vaccines). In the meantime we cannot let people drift apart and feel isolated. While the digital and social media tools do not solve this problem, they can be used in intentional ways to bridge the gaps in distancing.

While there is far too much being written about virtual meetings (people will go crazy if asked to spend too much time watching talking heads on their screens day after day), this is a topic that should be addressed upfront.  Along with education of ways to be productive when working remotely, every company and association should be talking with their people about human connections and how it is important.  In boom times we seem to forget about the power of people, but when things get rough we need each other more than ever.

Family, Friends, and Business Connections may need Social Tightening

People can be lonely, and yet they will not stand up and announce it. Be aware and conscious of others. Empathy is what you need in dealing with family, friends, and business connections.  There has been a lot of talk about the “epidemic of loneliness” since Dr Vivek Murthy’s HBR article in 2017 about loneliness. Many have become more disconnected in recent years, in spite of all our social media tools.  We have to take time to “See People” and let them know we care.

As we are all hunkered down in our homes, we will spend a lot of time with significant others and our children.  We need to take efforts to not get on each others nerves.  Look for some fun activities that you all like to do and make sure you schedule time to engage. Do not allow everyone to put on headphones and simply co-exist for days or weeks at a time.

But outside of the house we need to make an effort too.  Our family and friends who are across town or across the country (or around the world) need to feel connected.  Use Facetime or Zoom to do calls so you can see each other face to face. Share the realities and feeling of the situation.  More communication is better during these uncertain times.

When it comes to business contacts, take into consideration that at this point their priorities are not you selling to them.  There seems to be a double-down of outbound selling happening at the moment, but buyers are not looking to buy (unless it is a real solution to their most pressing needs). What you need to do with business connections is just let them know you care.  Some have great personal life support systems, but others many not. Do not be pushy, but let them know that you are there for them and not looking to sell. Even if you have solutions to business issues around this crisis, be focused on the mission not the money.

Personal connection to others is what people need. They do not need email blasts with sales messages.


Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies (well he was until last Monday when the meetings industry temporarily collapsed).  Thom is the host of the popular entrepreneur podcast, “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do”, and the author of 12 books.