It is a fallacy to suggest social media brings us closer.
Take Facebook. It is silly to think that just because 500 million people have Facebook accounts and you befriend everyone in your life that you’re any closer to them on Facebook than off. Unless you can stand in a room surrounded by your 100, 600, or 2000 friends and one by one tell everyone what everyone else is doing in their lives, you fail as their friend.
If you are my friend, you should know where I was born and where I now live and how many siblings I have and the color of my mother’s hair. Right? Friends know these traits about their friends. How many of your so-called Facebook friends can you compare on the scale of knowing the color of their mother’s hair?
Facebook doesn’t bring us closer.
Paul Adams understands this dichotomy between the people in our rolodexes who we call to meet for lunch and to hear the latest news about their families, versus the people we identify as online friends. Paul, a user experience researcher at Google, wrote an eyebrow-raising article last year on the importance of designing online interactivity.
[R]arely do we continue the conversation once we’ve connected, and over time we forget that the connections exist. In fact, Facebook users often have no interactions with up to 50% of their connections. When we study how people are interacting on social networks, we see that most interactions are with a very small subset of the people we’re connected to.
The average number of friends on Facebook is 130, and many users have many more. Yet despite having hundreds of friends, most people on Facebook only interact regularly with 4 to 7 people, and for 90% of Facebook users, 20% of their friends account for 70% of all interactions. We also see this with phone usage. We have hundreds of people in our phone contacts, yet 80% of phone calls are made to the same 4 people. We know dozens of people who use Skype, yet 80% of Skype calls are made to 2 people. Even when people play computer games online, they mostly play with people they know offline.
The takeaway is clear. We need to stop calling the people we know online as friends. We need to call them connections, the term LinkedIn uses for the people in our networks. We need to stop building fans and followers. We need to focus on building and enriching relationships with our connections in our networks.
We need to think of the network as a database.
“You live or die by your database,” Chris Brogan once said about the necessity to build relationships.
If you lose your job today, how many people can you reach, and who would be helpful? Think harder about the names of those people. Have you talked with them lately in ANY form?
Whether the person in the database is someone we’ve known for 20 years who we talk to once a year, or someone we see on a weekly basis, or someone who is a friend of a friend, or someone who reviewed the perfume we bought on Amazon.com, we need to stop using offline terms such as friends to describe the people we trust online.
Social media will not bring us closer. But we can reach out to each other and connect.