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Has Social Media Made Us Less Social?

by David · 3 comments

You want people to be excited about your brand and you want to interact with your customers in a feel good space. But more and more studies are showing that social media is a place of anxiety and social disconnection for many of its users.

Welcome to Generation Lonely

Louise, in her late 20s, is a typical American gal. She has a small circle of close friends she hangs out with in her free time. Like most Americans her age she has a Facebook account, and from time-to-time she logs in to check-out what her wider network of freinds is up to.

Jon, also in his late 20s, has hundreds of friends. But he rarely spends any face-to-face time with them. Instead, he does most of his socialising on Facebook and Twitter.

Guess how many Americans are like Jon. One in ten? Two in ten?

Nope.

Four in ten Americans spend more time socialising online than in real life.

That’s despite the fact that research shows, time and again, that people prefer to hang out face-to-face, and in person meetings are better for our emotional and mental health.

Even when people do hang out in real life, it’s increasingly common for them to sit in a bar, cafe or restaurant with their nose buried in their smartphone.

Welcome to Generation Lonely. More friends, less intimacy.

What’s Gone Wrong with Social Media?

Technology is changing so fast that psychologists and sociologists are still figuring out how social media will impact society in the long run. But recent studies show:

  • 45% of people feel “worried or uncomfortable” when email and Facebook are inaccessible
  • Two thirds of people have difficulty sleeping when they use social media before going to bed
  • 36% of parents feel technology disrupts family life
  • Daily overuse of media and technology makes children and teens prone to anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders
  • Students who frequently check Facebook during class get lower grades on average
  • Sixty percent of Americans spend less than two waking hours a day fully disconnected from email
  • A study in 2004 by TrendWatching found most people asked to choose between a cell phone and a car would choose their cell phone

These studies show that social media, and email, are impacting society in a big way – and it’s not all good.

Social media, at least in some cases, is pushing us away from soul and deep human connection.

What to do about it? Let’s start by looking at what’s right with social media.

What’s Right with Social Media?

Social media and email are addictive. Used unhealthily in the workplace, they can become a black hole, sucking away time and productivity.

But it’s not all bad news.

“Friends” on social media are often weak ties. Weak ties are old friends we’ve lost contact with, acquaintances, and friends of friends. Weak ties are the best place to find new opportunities, whether that’s a new job, a new client, or an investor. By increasing our weak ties, social media boosts our access to opportunities, if we network in the right way, and keep our eyes open to opportunity.

As social media guru Beth Sanders says:

“In my own life, my social media connections have served to establish relationships and strengthen existing ones. I owe my career today to connections first established via Twitter.”

In other words, while bringing soul to relationships in real life is usually about intimacy and deep connection, social media creates only sparks and glimpses of soul.

Not everyone we meet on social media will become our Best Friend Forever.

But the more people we meet, the more parts of friendship and soul are available for us to explore.

Search for intimacy on social media, and you’ll most likely discover emptiness. Search for opportunity, and you’ve hit a gold mine.

That sounds promising, right?

Let’s bring some soul back to social media!

Your Take-aways for Business

For those of us who live our lives on social media, sometimes we need reminding there’s a world out there.

Create human connections

Let your customers interact with your business in a variety of ways. Social media is the new kid on the block, and sure, he’s oozing with cool. But don’t neglect email, telephone and face-to-face meetings.

Online-offline Networking Mashup

For your business networking, use social media, but supplement it with face-to-face meetings. Use social media to find great connections in your local area. And meet up with them! Face-to-face is still the most powerful way to network.

Let Your Right Hand Know What Your Left Hand Is Doing

If you say one thing on social media, and do another thing in the real world, your customers will notice. Make sure your social media team is in touch with the rest of the company.

Allow Time to Live Offline

Business consultant Tony Schwartz estimates up to 50% of people feel overwhelmed or burned out at work. He blames this on being constantly connected. Says Schwartz:

“Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.”

Make sure your staff know they can have time away from social media and emails, time in the evening to disconnect from work and live their personal lives.

Over to You

What are you doing to ensure your social media strategy creates real connections rather than fostering fractured attention and disconnection?

David is Social Caffeine’s acting editor. He’s British, but we don’t hold that against him.

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