We hear a lot about why marketers and businesses get involved in social media, but in our digital world we need to remember it’s not about us. It’s about the consumer, the individual user. I often find it very instructive, and a great reminder, to step back and look at the reasons why individual users love and use various social media platforms. I like to examine why I joined various social media platforms in the first place. This can actually be very instructive for any of us who got involved with social media as individuals before we started using these platforms for our businesses. In fact, I believe that those who are most successful at using social media for business are those who were using it for their own personal reasons first. This is why I think it’s important for all social media marketers to maintain their own active, personal profiles alongside their business accounts.
By taking a look at why people are there in the first place, we’ll have a better idea as to how to engage them. Here are 11 reasons I believe that people are drawn to various social media platforms, and enjoy using them:
1. We desire community
No one likes to be alone. Oh, we all have our moments of desiring “me” time, but in general we want to belong. This is why we join groups and organizations. We join clubs, churches, and civic organizations. Social media allows us to be a part of community, not dictated by space or location, and in general, these communities tend not to be exclusive, nor do they have insurmountable barriers to entry. We can even be a part of multiple communities that might not normally mesh well. With community comes that sense of family (when our own families might be dysfunctional) and a sense of unity (when our world is characterized by fragmentation and confrontation).
2. We desire to extend our communities
Many of our “real world” communities also exist online. You may only attend church on Sundays, but you can interact with that community throughout the week. Even if your entire communities don’t exist online, many of the community members do (after all, a community IS its members). By using social media, we have the ability to remain connected to our communities even when we’re not physically together.
3. We desire to connect and reconnect
Social media platforms have given me the tools and means to re-connect with people I went to school with or worked with several decades ago. Some of them weren’t even really close friends at the time, but via social media, and through the passage of time, we connect in new and interesting ways. A few of these connections have become very important to me. These kinds of relationships can be very rewarding. The cliques that kept us apart in high school or college have diminished, and just the fact that we went to school together is a reason for us to connect. Research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that Facebook is an excellent tool for reviving “dormant” relationships.
4. We desire to move beyond isolation
One criticism of the digital age is that we are sitting in front of our computer screens, isolated from the world. Even if this is true, social media allows us various levels of social interaction, even from the comforts of our own home. We can meet and interact with people from all over the world, and yes, even build friendships. Many of my strongest friendships are with people I originally met through social networks. Julie Clawson wrote an excellent blog about this over at Sojourners, titled Why N.T.Wright is Wrong About Social Media. The previously mentioned studies from Pew also indicate that:
The average user of a social networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American.
In fact, the study indicates that Facebook users have more closer relationships across the board, and get more social support than others. Those who say these online relationships aren’t real are kidding themselves. Drawing a line between “real life” and “online life” is merely an arbitrary distinction that needs to be deconstructed.
5. We desire real world connections
It may seem like an anomaly, but connecting with people via social networks very often leads to real world connections. Meetups, Tweetups, and just informal get togethers are often the result of online connections. I can attest to this from personal experience, and it happens time and time again. And, the initial online connections also helps get rid of the initial uneasiness that often comes from blind meetings. You already know something about each other, including commonalities. Real world connections that begin online, tend to work better and faster. You already have a sense of whether or not you’re going to like the other person based on online interaction. This is one reason why we are seeing the mainstreaming of online dating, and an increase in the number of marriages that began as online relationships.
6. We desire to be involved in more causes and activities
Again, according to Pew, heavy social media users tend to be more politically and socially engaged than non-users. They are also engaged in volunteerism at a higher rate than the general public. Social media allows us to connect with other like-minded individuals more easily, and at a faster pace, than ever before. It also helps us find new interests, while realizing that we might not be alone in our love of some particular topic or hobby. You might be the only fan of a particular band or TV show in your local, physical community (or, so you think), but social media can help you discover entire communities of fans with which you can connect. Plus, it gives you the ability to discover more opportunities for serving your community and others. I’ve personally gotten more involved in quite a few causes as a result of information I’ve seen on social channels.
7. We desire having our own voice
Many of us feel voiceless, as if others, including big corporations and mass media outlets, aren’t hearing us. Through social media we can say what we want with the chance of being heard. I have friends who are shy in person, but you would never know it from how they interact on Twitter and Facebook. They might be uncomfortable speaking up in a crowd, but online they are free to speak their minds. It is an instant voice, unlike writing a letter to the editor, which may never appear in the paper. This might surprise some, but I’m actually quite the introvert. Social media has been incredible in the way it has allowed me to have a voice, both here on my own blog, as well as on various social channels.
8. We desire safety, privacy, and control
Not necessarily control over others, but over our own experience. Again, this might seem counter intuitive in an age where the government apparently has access to all of our online information (via the NSA), and the issue of the lack of privacy on Facebook and Google is debated and bemoaned on a daily basis. But, social media platforms are customizable (and rapidly becoming more so). We now have a lot of control over who sees us, and how much they see. We can block people completely, or allow them total access to our online lives. We are the gatekeepers of our own experience, and social media lessens the chance of being thrown into awkward public experiences.
Of course, all of this is contingent upon us, as individuals, learning about, and taking advantage of, the privacy tools that are at our disposal. It is also important that we learn how to use social media responsibly, and make sure we are careful with the type, and amount, of information we decide to share online. There is no substitute for having strong personal filters in place, and coupled with platform specific privacy tools, we can create a very safe, private, and controlled experience.
9. We desire to be “insiders”
There is something “mystical” about exclusive clubs and organizations. Social media gives us the chance to be “insiders” with businesses and organizations we might never had access to previously. If we are actively involved with a company via social media, there is a chance we might become one of their “insiders”; someone they go to for quick market research. Any group we join, or business page we like on Facebook, gives us access to information that others might not have. Businesses are smart if they take advantage of their loyal followers or fans and reward them with information or special privileges. Our comments can be used by businesses and marketers to improve their product offerings, and their quality of customer service and experience.
10. We desire a more level playing field
When you interact with others and businesses online, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like. In many ways, social media CAN be color blind (not always). But online, you theoretically are just the same as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Your weight, appearance, clothing….none of those matter as much as they do in “the real world.” I’ve seen brick and mortar businesses treat customers in varying ways based on appearance; that is less likely to happen in the digital realm. Plus, we as individuals can gain unprecedented access to celebrities, politicians, CEO’s, journalists, and more.
11. We desire a chance to succeed
From crowdfunding and crowdsourcing campaigns, to how quickly information can be shared and spread about our latest endeavors, social media is a great tool for facilitating the success of the little guy. As someone who loves to support small businesses, and is a fan of lesser known independent music and art, I love how I have the ability to discover new things. I also love how I can tap into that to get the word out about my activities, both professional and personal. I love watching my friends create something wonderful, and then get it funded online. Prior to social media and the internet, the barriers for entry into all sorts of business and cultural activities would have been incredibly high. Tapping into the power of online word of mouth allows us the chance to succeed on our own terms, and gives us an outlet for our creative efforts, while expending far less in personal resources.
Put aside any of your business or marketing uses of social media for a bit. As an individual user, what do you like about social media? Has it been a positive experience? Do you agree with my points or have any others you would like to add?