A social media business bubble

How often do you hear the statement “Social media is all about building relationships”?

Long before Facebook was the social media king, people such as French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu raised the idea of social capital, and the ability for people gain access to powerful positions through social connections.

Since human beings are inherently social beings, it didn’t take long for us to recognise that new social media tools can help us connect with people we otherwise might not have been able to, and grow our group of connections more efficiently.

But are we building real relationships online, or is social media just bringing groups of lonely people together?

A new study from Relationships Australia has found those frequently feeling lonely are more likely to use social networking, particularly Facebook.

And only around one in four (27 per cent) say social networking has had a positive impact on their relationships, while 16 per cent say it had a negative impact. More than half (57 per cent) said there had been no impact.

Does this destroy the business case for social media connections, which has placed value on large, loosely organised networks? Are we increasingly trading intimacy for volume?

Facebook has work to do to improve perceptions, but the social networking giant has been increasingly open about what it’s planning to do with the myriad personal data it holds about us. The fact that we constantly trade our privacy for convenience and connectedness says more about us than Facebook.

If you really want to scratch the murky surface of this trade-off, take a look at www.takethislollipop.com which shows your Facebook profile through the eyes of a deranged stalker.

Meanwhile, Twitter has just launched a new website telling the stories of people who say Twitter has changed their lives for the better. Such as Aaron Durand, who offered to buy a burrito for anyone who bought $50 worth of books during the holidays at his mum’s flagging bookshop, turning the business around in months. Or Rebecca Chiao who created an interactive map that charts the locations of sexual harassment in Cairo through texts and Tweets sent in by victims. It’s powerful stuff.

Yet the research suggests it would be a mistake for businesses to think they can deepen the relationships they have with customers using Facebook. The ultimate verdict depends on whether you believe some engagement with your brand is better than none.

In the US there’s new data showing businesses that have a Facebook presence are struggling to respond to customer comments and complaints, making it more of a one-way conversation for consumers looking for answers.

As for individual users of social networks, Dr Rachna Jain recommends business users limit the time they spend on social networks, making sure they get a return on the time invested. She also recommends users set goals or guidelines for business relationships, with a clear strategy for the reasons behind cultivating people in their network. And don’t forget to balance time spent in online social networks with time spent in face-to-face meetings.