Do Social Networks make us less social? Per definition, “Social networking is the practice of expanding the number of one’s business and/or social contacts by making connections through individuals”. Given all the possibilities we today have to communicate, this would by nature mean, we have become more social. However, some people argue that people deeply engaged in their digital social networks tend to forget the immediate social context. If you look at the pictures below, one could argue nothing has changed, i.e. we are neither more or less social than before.
However if you imagine the people on the latest photo are just reading what their friends are up to, or updating their status on Facebook, connecting with a previous colleague on LinkedIn or uploading pictures on Instagram to share with family and friends, you can definitely say that they are more socially engaged than the newspaper readers. But do we really become more social just because we use all these easy-to-use web-based technologies? I think this question can not be answered with a simple yes or no. It is more a matter of a change taking place, which has a huge impact on individuals, companies and the society as a whole.
While networking has taken place as long as societies themselves have existed, it is more a question of how we do it. The type and popularity of these networks might differ across countries but the desire to connect, to create, to stay in touch, and to help each other – is universal.
Back in the pre-internet era we got information via books and newspaper. Later came radio, TV and then the World Wide Web. With our family, friends and colleagues, we shared our thoughts meeting face-to-face. While this is still valid, I believe digital social networks span an arch between informative and traditional one-way media and face-to-face meetings. It gives individuals a new possibility to interact, communicate, and share events in their lives over great distances. Separated in time and space, even the most introverted individual dares to anonymously socialize, hiding behind a fiction name or picture. The loneliest person gets a feeling of being less lonely participating in a social network or being part of a digital community.
It is now easier to keep up friendships, make new friends, or to succumb to social pressure from existing friends. Offering unselfish help, developing a fascination for other people, putting one’s creativeness on show, getting reassured about one’s place in the world or finding other people with similar interests are also needs that are being satisfied through the new ways of networking. In theory, this is known as a Groundswell.
Looking at this from a company perspective, the new way of communicate shifts power towards customers, as they are no longer passive recipients of marketing messages. Instead, they are highly interactive and want to share their thoughts with other consumers and influence the businesses. Companies which use this to their advantage are the ones being successful. They listen carefully and use social networks to monitor trends, and get ideas for new products. With e.g. Facebook they are able to build close relationships with their customers, with LinkedIn they can attract and find the perfect match for an open job position, and with Instagram they can put their products and services on display and create awareness. Brands are getting more and more personified and individuals are feeling that they have a real power to influence.
Lego is a good example for how a company can respond to this new trend that shortens the distance between customer and company. They recognized the desire of their customers to influence product development and their wish to part of a bigger community and started the project Lego ideas.
Social networks also have the power to influence society as a whole. Non-profit organizations use both LinkedIn or Facebook to reach out with their messages to target groups. Let it be to create awareness for a certain aid projects or start fundraising events. Politicians and leaders can use networks to listen and find out what the actual concerns in the population and to find the sentiments of their audience. An example is “The Elders”, an independent network of global leaders working together for peace and human rights founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007. They use both Google+ and Facebook where their supporters can share ideas and information and stay updated on the Elders’ work.
“Social networking gives you a voice to your audience and ears to hear what they have to say to you… And the beautiful part is – you can do all this at your convenience!”. However, with convenience comes obligations. No matter for what reason you participate and/or use networks, it is essential that you follow some basic rules. Social networks are free to use and gives you the ability to come across with your message – so let’s use them to do good, make a difference, move forward and improve things for the better. If you have examples of this, please share them with me.