Posted by Rebecca Snyder
In chapter 9 of Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life, the author discusses the subject of “constant availability” with regard to digital and social media connectedness. Chayco says, “People who live in tech-intensive societies can come to truly depend not just on digital technologies, but on the convenience they afford” (p.183). She quotes an interviewee of hers that said, “The pro-side is I’m available, and that is the downside, also” (p. 183).
Fortunately, and unfortunately, this rings true for an online, social media based business as well. If I need to contact a local store, someone at the post office, or even a restaurant, I have to wait until they are open again for business. For instance, yesterday (a Saturday), I visited my son and found that the cat he recently adopted from the Humane Society is having some sneezing. Of course, I wanted him to take her to our veterinarian for a check-up. Unfortunately, the vet we use does not open again until Monday morning. Considering that sneezing is not a medical emergency, there was no warranted reason for him to take her to a special 24-hour Emergency Vet Clinic. So, alas, we will call on Monday.
My online business operates much differently. One might say, I am always open – even though my hours are clearly posted on my website.
My posted hours do not stop customers from messaging my business page AND my personal page all hours of the day, every day of the week. …And, I am guilty of doing the same.
My son and I decided we wanted to get similar tattoos recently. We knew that the tattoo shop was closed at 2am when we were discussing this idea, but that did not stop me from contacting the shop that came most highly recommended (by my local Facebook friends) via private message (yes, at 2am) and asking about availability for the next day. To my surprise, the reply came almost instantly with the tattoo artist who was available to do our artwork and what time we should plan to show up as walk-ins. And, when we showed up that next morning, the owner remembered our message and got us right in for our tattoos.
As users of 24/7 social media, where do we draw the line? Or better yet, are most even aware that they could be crossing a line? An argument can be made that, anyone who does not want to be contacted outside of business hours can simply ignore the messages until they are back “in the office.” However, as simple as that seems, Facebook has made it complicated to ignore a message. It dings, it sits in the notifications and haunts us with that little red number at the top of the app letting us know that we have UNREAD MESSAGES, and, if that isn’t enough, Facebook also shows our customers that we have read the message by having our little profile picture circle move down the message thread. No denying we received it – or even what time we read it! Thanks Facebook!
I suppose the worst that could happen is that I lose a customer for not responding quickly enough to a message she may feel is urgent enough to send at 2 am. For some businesses, that probably would not matter as they have many customers and many more to come. In my smaller customer base (around 400 buyers total), it takes each one to make this work for me. So, I truly can’t afford to lose even one customer – and I find myself jumping through hoops and answering messages as quickly as I receive them, even if that is in the middle of the night. Chayco speaks to this and suggest perhaps it is not the fault of digital technology. She says, “Keeping up with a flood of stimuli and information can be challenging and burdensome. Tasks may start to snowball; people can feel they need to work and/or be digitally connected day and night, lest they fall behind the curve…but…these stresses are not caused by digital technology us. In fact some of these stresses are simply the ‘cost of caring'” (p. 191).