Do you remember the classic scene from “Saturday Night Live” when Jon Lovitz pretended he was actor-playwright Harvey Fierstein hosting a talk show, propositioning male guests, getting revoked, and yelling into the camera, “I JUST WANT TO BE LOVED! IS THAT SO WRONG?“
Planet Earth is home to approximately 6.6 billion residents, including 1.4 billion Internet users. I’m guessing everyone wants to be loved but the Internet users yearn for unique online connection.
In the following paragraphs, I write about human existence and social networks and why it’s important to link to each other. I also summarize the results of an informal poll why social networking is not important to some people.
As you read the below, think about the 1.4 billion people, you and me included.
We define ourselves by our relationships to other people: I am a son, brother, grandson, cousin, classmate, co-worker, colleague, acquaintance, friend.
We also define ourselves according to society roles: I am a blogger, writer, reader, photographer, traveler, aerobic exerciser, soccer player, music fan.
This cartoon exemplifies our lives and our inate desire to connect with each other on social networking services like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Bebo, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Twitter, and Plurk.
Sometimes we don’t even care to connect with other people. Sometimes we only want to be recognized, seen, loved.
If a TV camera is in a crowd, don’t you always walk past it to see who’s filming what and whether you can be videographed?
When the TODAY Show films outside Rockefeller Center, don’t you wave hands, hold up signs, and cheer?
When a batter swings and the baseball lands in the bleachers, isn’t there a mad rush to hold the ball?
When terrorists took over airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, didn’t everyone say they were a New Yorker?
Whether due to genetic makeup, social construction, or avocational design, we no longer seek out Waldo in crowds; we look for ourselves and each other, trying to find a common link to participate in a larger conversation.
In “The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki writes of the Who Wants to be a Millionare? TV game show and the “Ask the Audience” feature whereby if the contestant is unsure of the correct answer, he can poll the studio audience for their aggregated response. Nine times out of ten, the collective diversity of the audience is right.
If everybody else is doing something that enhances interpersonal communication, socioprofessional collaboration, and work or lifestyle productivity, wouldn’t you want to join in?
Paul Michelman of Harvard Business Publishing is unsure. After tinkering with social networking services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, he announced Facebook is useless for professional networking so he’s severing all business contacts and only “friending” people for exclusive personal correspondence.
Smugness aside, Michelman has a point. I’ve had a Facebook profile since early 2005, when the site was intended for college and graduate students to network. Since the site required users to have .edu email addresses, and I had just begun my graduate school studies, I signed up and gradually connected with people who also attended my grad school, lived in my town, or were also looking for dating and networking opportunities.
But a lot has changed in three years; over 40 of my high school classmates are now on Facebook. Three years ago, I was the only one from my graduating class. Even last summer, when I created a Facebook group for Suffolk alumni and invited grad school classmates, there were five or six of us; today, the group has over 150.
With the explosion of social media services and people joining these online communities to engage one another and share photos, videos, and assorted content, it’s no surprise that a lot of people are overwhelmed and create profiles on these sites in response to someone asking them for a link.
I asked my 200+ LinkedIn contacts last month why they have a profile and how they use other social media services.
I used to be like other people and duplicated my resume on LinkedIn, connected with other people (usually the same people who were my Facebook friends) and waited for a message that never came. Then I changed my tactics after reading blogs like Jason Alba’s I’m on LinkedIn – Now What?? and used the site differently with striking results.
But everybody doesn’t have to be like me. Our individuality is what helps distinguish humanity from other animals. Still, I was curious how other people, my friends and colleagues and classmates, used LinkedIn.
The results are very similar — not to mention a 5% ROI with 11 responses:
- “I joined LinkedIn responding to a friend who asked me to join and I use it passively for information, introductions to others, etc.”
- “I don’t use Linkedin for anything.”
- “I’d love to learn more. Can you teach me?”
- “I thought it was a good way to connect to professionals in our field and to keep in touch. Now that I’m pretty busy with work, I don’t have much time for it.”
- “At least once a week for one reason or another, I find that I use it to look for old personal contacts as much as new business contacts.”
- “I check LinkedIn but infrequently. I plan on using a group I created to reconnect with classmates.”
- “A couple of folks I’ve done business with have found me and linked to me on here, which has allowed me to write recommendations for them and hopefully improve their business.”
Only Courtney Walsh, a former co-worker and author of “Lipstick and Thongs in the Loony Bin,” said she frequently uses LinkedIn and other sites for book promotion.
I wonder what Michelman would say about LinkedIn.
Dutch computer scientist Alexander van Elsas probes the human factor in social media trends, and how even if your computer is not turned on and you are not active on some website, people who follow your status updates on Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed always know what’s going on in your life.
Part of friendship, you realize, is the burning desire to know what someone is up to. A few minutes ago, for instance, a friend sent me a text message on my cell phone, “What are you up to tonight?” Cell phones don’t have status messages; social media sites that I have profiles on, do.
“This technology feeds an urge for us to share what we are doing, and to follow what others are doing,” Van Elsas opines. “It is never ending. I find myself sometimes fire up Twitter or Friendfeed or whatever service late in the evening, just out of curiosity. What are people up too right now?”
If you liked this post, you might also like my prior commentary on social networking as listed in the right sidebar. Next up in this series is a posting on social networking in the business and government communities.
You don’t have to take my word for the power of social networking and social media. Look at the top 142 social marketing blogs to see what other people are saying. I’m willing to bet we’re all blurring each other for recognition by the 1.4 billion Internet users out there, you included.
So… What are you up to right now? What are you up to this weekend? What do your experiences and plans say about everyone else in the world and their experiences and plans?