While at a Minnesota Twins game, I couldn’t help but notice a group of high school girls sitting in the row ahead of me. It was hard not to. Every time the cameras started sweeping over fans, the girls whirled into a state of near hysteria: They shook their glittery signs, screamed, jumped, waved. But each time, the camera never caught sight of them. So what did they do? They started taking pictures of each other. I guess someone had to document their whereabouts that night. My sister and I mused that those pictures would be posted on Facebook within minutes of the final inning.
Regardless of whether these photos were posted, this seems to highlight a few of the personal needs that social media satisfies:
- People enjoy being acknowledged. Granted, not everyone wants their face to be on a big screen at sports events. But on these sites, you can post short blurbs about your life or opinions. It makes us feel relevant. As Michael Cohn puts it: “When it comes to acknowledgement through social media, people want others to recognize that they are thinking and acting in a cutting-edge manner.”
- This need extends all the way back to junior high school: We want to fit in. Just by joining a social network, you feel like you’re part of the group. You can add personal bits about yourself – like on Facebook, your “network” – and feel a part of a smaller group. Join groups or make your own. Like archaic chat rooms, these sites give users space to form anything from Kevin Spacey fan clubs to political rallies. It’s a place where you can feel included, even if you aren’t the most extroverted of people.
- Of course, we’ve all seen social network users with thousands of friends or followers. No one truly intends on cultivating all these relationships to yield deep personal gain. We add people to our friends list and begin following Twitter users to feel what Leisa Reichelt calls “Ambient Intimacy.” Reichelt defines it as “being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” These social platforms even offer a type of voyeuristic behavior that is sanctioned by society.
Like any form of media, social media is a place for businesses to get some face time. But before you bombard these sites with sales pitches or promos, you need to understand why everyone else is using them. Keeping a more personable approach and entering the conversation as a person, not a storefront, can help the transition.