Kerry is a big part of the Clearbox social media team and when she’s not crafting the next perfect post for Bushmills Irish Whiskey, she’s reading up on the next big thing in social.
Following her last article about who we really are on social media, this time she’s asking if we’re all really friends online...
One of the great things about social media is how many people we can connect with at the click of a button.
For me personally, social media has been an incredible tool that has allowed me to keep in touch with many of the friends I made whist studying abroad. I’ve been able to maintain friendships and keep up to date with their lives. Where are they living now? What are they doing? Don’t worry, social media will tell me.
That being said, do I really know, or have any form of interaction with a large majority of my Facebook ‘friends’? Absolutely not.
For many people, social media is about publicly connecting with each other and Ciarán McMahon’s book, The Psychology of Social Media has got me thinking about why we make these connections and if they truly benefit us.
Some studies suggest that the reason we connect with other people on social media is to gain social capital. The idea that the more people we know, the more valuable information and opportunities we gain. This social capital can be in the form of the support you get from your family or close friends, or can come from more casual acquaintances in the form of general information. Both types of relationships tend to exist within our social media networks.
Different social media services suit particular types of relationships. Each social media platform offers a distinct experience to its users in terms of how they connect with each other. Twitter is about fleeting conversations and more casual interactions, whereas Snapchat and WhatsApp are all about forming deeper, more meaningful connections.
One thing is certain - social media makes it extremely easy to connect with a large number of people, but meaningfully connecting with people still takes time. Ultimately our connections on social media are more often about quantity over quality.
Social media platforms allow us to gather our connections in one place but largely, they don’t let us organise them by importance. Think back to the days of BEBO’s Top 16 and how painstaking that experience was. We don’t necessarily want to prioritise these connections publicly. So, we often organise them by platform. Connecting with your boss on LinkedIn is absolutely fine - recommended, really. Connecting on Facebook, well that might feel a little different.
Does that make the content we post on each platform, to each audience, vastly different?
We have many connections on social media and we like to think we are posting our content for them. But are we really just posting for ourselves? After all, we never really know who is paying attention to us on social at any given time and therefore we post to somewhat of an imagined audience. We don’t know how our content is going to be perceived, how people are going to interact or if they are even going to see it.
The inability to segment our connections on social media often results in people posting a ‘lowest common denominator’ style message - we self-censor with the aim of saying something safe and inoffensive, consistent with our previous posts and political or professional opinion. Some would argue the opposite - they post purposefully controversial, or what they view as truthful, content on their social media, in order to ‘weed’ out their connections and create a ‘safe’ space for them to express their true opinion.
The increased number of more exclusive avenues through which to share content with our close connections, for example Instagram’s ‘close friends’ option on Stories highlights that even though we often have a vast number of connections on social, we still value our more meaningful close relationships.
I find it interesting that although we often seek a high number of connections on social media, when we take a step back and look at it, what are we really gaining from them? What value do they add to our lives? And ultimately how real are these connections? Human beings value close, meaningful relationships but we also seek a wider circle of acquaintances that boost our social capital. Social media is a useful tool in fulfilling and fostering both types of connections.