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Rejection always hurts, no doubt. In fact, when I worked as a psychologist, rejection (fear of it, or getting over it) was, perhaps, at the root of many of the issues which brought my patients to my therapy practice. I heard so much conversation about this topic that I actually wrote a book on strategies for overcoming rejection.

Now, working as a social marketer and online business consultant, I see that rejection continues to be an issue- but not in quite the same way as I’ve seen before. Now, people are experiencing social media rejection, and wondering what to do about it.

Social media rejection can occur in several ways:

One way is that your request to connect is either denied (harsh!) or ignored (vague.). You might reach out to someone that you know, or would like to know, and get a strong negative reaction or response back. In most cases, you’ll be wondering what happened- what you did to set this person off. Similarly, you might reach out to someone, and they just never seem to get back to you on your connection request.

A second way social media rejection occurs is when you find that you’ve been culled from a list- whether it be taken out of Top Friends on Facebook, or unfollowed on Twitter, or similar. The thing about this is that it might not always be clear what happened. I know, for instance, that sometimes my Twitter account behaves strangely, and my account unfollows people I actually still want to be connected to. I believe, sometimes, that this might be due to some kind of technical glitch, or just a ‘drop’ by the Twitter servers. Anyway, the point is that sometimes people get unfollowed- and then contact me, wondering what happened. Likewise, I know there are times where I’ve been unfollowed, and I’m not sure why.

The third way (more subtle) that social media rejection occurs is when you try to take part in a conversation or make a connection and it is directly rebuffed or ignored, in real time. Again, the challenge with this is you can’t always know if the rebuff or ignore was intentional or accidental.

As with any technologically based method of communication, glitches do happen.

That being said, what about when you are sure that you’ve been rejected? When there is no doubt that you’ve been unfriended or unfollowed on purpose?

Even though it’s virtual, rejection still hurts. Research says that social rejection can actually cause physical pain– a holdover, anthropologists believe, from evolutionary times, where we needed to be part of the ‘tribe’ in order to survive.

Today, while rejection may not impact our survival, it doesn’t make it easier to deal with.

So how to deal with social media rejection? Here are some ideas:

1) If you were unfriended or unfollowed by someone and you’re very surprised, why not reach out and ask what happened? If appropriate, call the person. It might be a technical glitch (as outlined above), or it might be an indication of something that needs to be discussed. While it can seem a bit awkward, at first, to call and say, “Hey, I noticed you stopped following me on Twitter.”- (I mean, who wants to be a social media narcissist, right?), you have to consider whether the relationship is worth the awkwardness. If it’s an important connection, I think the little bit of awkwardness is worth it.

2) If you aren’t close enough to the person to contact them offline, but you are still wondering what happened, try to reach out to them directly. @ message them on Twitter or leave a comment on their Wall- something nonconfrontational, like “hey, just wanted to connect/reach out/get in touch.” This may show them that you do care about them and want to connect or communicate.

3) You can ignore it or just move on. Not all situations are going to warrant follow up or follow through. It’s also wise not to spend a lot of time brooding over people who step out of your social stream. In the same way you can’t focus too much when people unsubscribe from your email list, you can’t focus too much when people unsubscribe from your networks. You never know how or why people make the choices they do, and so it’s not worth being too upset over. You’ve heard this before, but don’t take it personally.

Of course, though, the goal here is moderation and balance. If you find that significant people are unfollowing you or unfriending you, there may be something in your approach that needs adjustment (or maybe your account got hacked.)

But like any other kind of relationship in real life, your online social connections will evolve- with people moving out, and, hopefully, new people moving in.