Have you ever wondered about the proliferation of social network applications and our apparent addiction to them?
How much time do you spend reading and posting to these applications? What do you get out of it? Why do you follow others and why do they follow you?
Think about the number of applications that are out there, now there are apps such as HootSuite and Klout that give you a unified view or dashboard across a number of individual applications.
We are Social Beings
There is a deep desire in human nature to be accepted and liked, people in general don’t like the opposite extreme, think of the adjectives that surround it: lonely, isolated, rejected. So given free choice people want to belong, they want to be accepted, included, supported. In the past the social hub for many was the ‘local’ the pub. Look at the popular UK soaps, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Eastenders, each has its own tangible ‘local’ and in fact a huge percentage of the character interaction centres on these ‘locals’. However the life we see in these soaps is fading into the past, physical communities no longer work locally to where they live, people travel significant distances to work in isolation, they build up a circle of colleagues at work but since everyone at work lives in different directions and significant distance away, the social bond that used to form with work colleagues is dwindling.
Expanding our Circle of Friends
Our circle of ‘true friends’, those long term connections from childhood or college are different too, our busy lives mean that we don’t catch up with them as often as we would like and for some communication reduces to the single act of sending a Christmas card once a year and even that physical communications medium is on the decline.
Our social appetites unsated we turn to social networks, initially as a means to find and retain contact with our ‘true friends’ then we expand to our work colleagues, because they are doing the same, then we further extend to our acquaintances and in the case of Twitter perhaps the odd celebrity so that we can feel that we know them, that we have the inside track.
Smartphone apps now allow us to aggregate our plethora of social media accounts to a dashboard so that we can keep on top of all of the messages and updates that flow on a minute by minute basis. People then fill their time on the train to their place of work with a pseudo interaction with a series of ethereal acquaintances. Is this what engineers created 3G and 4G newtorks for? Is this what the single tangible embodiment of most of human creativity to date, the Smartphone, is really for?
The desire to expand your social network comes from our inherent thirst for interaction, news, updates and anecdotes, to be included.
Technology has enabled social media to be delivered in a real time stream to our pockets and bags and every empty moment the desire to check or update becomes compelling. Watch people on commuter trains, where they used to read the daily paper or a book most are transfixed by the multicoloured glow of a Smartphone or Tablet screen.
A Numbers Game
Now lets think about numbers, in the 60’s and 70’s people probably had about half a dozen close friends through work or playing a sport and including family this extended to perhaps 30 or 40 people. In today’s connected world if people added up their social connections across the different social media platforms then their total social population probably extends to 300 or 400 on average, and many people have far more. So that’s a conservative increase by a factor of 10.
What does this all mean? Think about the strength of each of these connections, with 6 or so close friends its hard enough to stay up to date and even then there are limits to how much you would help them emotionally, financially or to find a job or somewhere to live. So with hundreds or thousands of connections the relationship strength is really quite weak. These connections almost fall into what we used to call ‘acquaintances’, people we would say hello to as we passed them in the street but for whom our friendship didn’t go much further.
Many social media apps on Smartphones now synchronise to your phonebook contacts automatically. Consequently you probably have hundreds of contacts, all very useful but do you actually call them and do they call you. The true test is if you called them would they know you?
So what of the future? As the computing power and bandwidth available to your Smartphone increases so will the complexity of social media applications. There are already apps such as “Here on Biz” that leverage from location based services to tell you when you are in physical proximity to your contacts. With the advent of Google Glass type devices it will not be long before we are walking through a conference centre or office complex with visual cues as to the location of the people we know, with total recall of who they work for their names and so on. This will spell the end of the embarrassing ‘haven’t we met somewhere before’ or the awkward feeling when the other person knows your name but you don’t know theirs. We will be able to selectively publicise data about how we feel, what our relationship status is, walking through a room will deluge us with information about others similar to the nightmarish prospect of being able to read everyone’s mind, in fact in 20 years time using the Smartphone as a brain extender this will in effect be entirely possible.
Brush Down Your Contacts Regularly
Get to understand the contact database you have built up, it does have some inherent value, learn to rank the contacts and to understand the ones that are truly useful and the ones that are just baggage categorise them if your contacts app allows. Ironically you don’t need to do this to save memory space on your systems anymore but you do need to do it to save your ‘head space’ and to really allow you to capitalise on the contacts that you truly value.
In Twitter make sure you regularly look to unfollow people who are inactive, or dull and tedious, use an application like Tweepi to do this.
Take a look at the ProInsights app which analyses your Linkedin database and creates some excellent visual infographics and analysis by company and geography. See below.
Whatever you do, just make sure that you are aware of what these contacts really are and how to use them for your and their best advantage.