One main facet of social media is its emphasis on creating and maintaining relationships.
All the content you create, all the following you build, each of these is designed to create and foster more intimate relationships with people, in some cases, people you might not have met any other way.
What’s interesting is social media is changing the foundation of the ways we relate. This article will examine how social media is changing our interpersonal psychology and what you can do about it.
This has important implications for business because business, after all, is comprised of interpersonal relationships.
If you’re connecting with your clients and customers through social media, you want to be aware of how various changes in our interpersonal psychology might directly impact your client relationships.
On another level, too, it’s important to be aware of how your social media participation may be impacting you, as this will have implications for the decisions you make and the choices you adopt for your business.
Social media is changing our relationship styles in several important ways. First, it’s allowing us to connect with more people more rapidly. Second, it’s easy to overestimate the level of intimacy of our online relationships.
Third, it makes us more susceptible to a sort of social media contagion effect, which means you may possibly start adopting behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs from those within our social network. Fourth, social media facilitates comparing ourselves with others, which may have positive or negative effects.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of these…
As we look at the first trend, we note that social media enables us to connect with many more people, from all walks of life, than we might normally meet in a normal work-week.
We can connect with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company on LinkedIn. We can meet others who enjoy our love of punk music or we can share recipes for Thursday night’s dinner with people we’ve never met before.
The business case for developing such a broad social network is found in the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, who studied how people have historically gained social currency (he called it social capital). One way they did this was by having large networks that were loosely organized and not particularly intimate. This finding has been supported in many industries, which demonstrates that those who attain top leadership positions tend to have broad social networks.
With this increase in number of connections and frequency of contact, you’ll also see that you have access to many more ideas and resources than ever before. You can crowdsource the best information to solve our particular business issues. Research shows that, generally speaking, more opinions create a better result.
Given the informal nature of social media, it’s easy to approach someone you’d like to meet, and this can be done more easily and fluidly. It’s easier to extend your sphere of influence and enlarge it to include people you’d like to meet, or would like to know better. This means that influence will beget more influence.
While these aspects are positive and useful to us in our businesses, we also need to be aware of the downsides of social media, at least as far as our social relationships go.
One big mistake is that it’s easy to confuse digital intimacy for true intimacy.
We can become so seduced by the ease of connecting with others online that we begin to think that these relationships are more intense, more committed and more complete than they really are. We run the risk of alienating the people who populate our daily lives in pursuit of intimacy with our online friends. We each have only so much intimacy to go around, and we need to make sure we’re investing it for our own maximal benefit.
In business, this means you need to make certain that you’re investing in the right balance of online and offline relationships for your personal and professional success.
Another downside of social media relationships is that we’re potentially subject to emotional contagion effects, as illustrated in research by John Cacioppo, a researcher at the University of Chicago. His studies show that loneliness is transmitted via social networks.
Cacioppo’s findings suggest that if a direct connection of yours is lonely, you are 52% more likely to be lonely. If the connection is a friend of a friend, 25% more lonely. If the connection is 3 degrees out (a friend of a friend of a friend), it’s 15%.
While this research looked at offline social networks, it may have some implications for online social networking as well.
If someone in your online social network is angry, lonely, or hostile, and takes it out on you, you’re more likely to ‘transmit’ this mood yourself. This means that even though you may never have met this person or interacted with them in real life, their “bad behavior” can still influence yours.
As you become increasingly networked and involved with each other, it’s going to be more crucial to monitor your own influences and reactions. We might be more prone to social media moodiness, depending on whom we’re spending time with and paying attention to within our social networks.
You’ve probably also seen that sometimes normal courtesy and politeness—aspects we would utilize in our face-to-face interactions—are sometimes reduced (or missing altogether) in the online space. I’ve personally noted people interacting in mean and critical ways that, I imagine, they would find more difficult to do in real life. This is a problem, because any kind of negativity and bad manners has the possibility to multiply a thousandfold.
As a business owner, this is important for several reasons.
First, if you’re rude or critical, this can negatively damage your brand and how people view you. This may determine who chooses to work with you and how your business is perceived, which can impact your profitability.
Second, given that even ‘private’ online conversations are not really private, something you say off the cuff can have lasting negative impact, in even unintended ways. What started out as a thoughtless remark can spread quickly to your detriment.
Another downside of our social media relationships can be that our successes feel diminished and our failures amplified.
With the inrush of so much information about how other people are living their lives, or conducting their businesses, it’s easy to feel that we can’t compete. We might also feel some pressure to demonstrate a certain persona, as we know that people are always watching us. It can feel like we’ve traded a real-life rat race for an online one.
So given these factors, what strategies can you use to make sure you’re benefiting from your social media relationships instead of being dragged down?