One main facet of social media is its emphasis on creating and maintaining relationships.
All the content you create, all the following you build, each of these is designed to create and foster more intimate relationships with people, in some cases, people you might not have met any other way.
What’s interesting is social media is changing the foundation of the ways we relate.
Social media is changing our relationship styles in several important ways. First, it’s allowing us to connect with more people more rapidly. Second, it’s easy to miscalculate the level of intimacy of our online relationships.
Third, it makes us more prone to a sort of social media ‘contagion’ effect (A VIRUS that is bad for you), which means you may possibly start adopting behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs from those within our social network. Fourth, social media facilitates comparing ourselves with others, which may have positive or negative effects.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of these…
1.Connections! Connections! Connections!
As we look at the first trend, we note that social media enables us to connect with many more people, from all walks of life, than we might normally meet in a normal work-week.
We can connect with the CEO of some big time companies on LinkedIn. We can meet others who enjoy our love of hip-hop music or we can share Selfies of our Friday night out with people we’ve never met before.
Given the informal nature of social media, it’s easy to approach someone you’d like to meet, and this can be done more easily and fluidly. It’s easier to extend your sphere of influence and enlarge it to include people you’d like to meet, or would like to know better. This means that influence will beget more influence.
2. Easy to confuse digital intimacy for true intimacy.
We need to be aware of the downsides of social media, at least as far as our social relationships go.
One big mistake is that it’s easy to confuse digital intimacy for true intimacy.
We can become so seduced by the ease of connecting with others online that we begin to think that these relationships are more intense, more committed and more complete than they really are. We run the risk of alienating the people who populate our daily lives in pursuit of intimacy with our online friends. We each have only so much intimacy to go around, and we need to make sure we’re investing it for our own maximal benefit.
3. Loneliness is transmitted via social networks
(We have some basis for this! The research shows!)
Another downside of social media relationships is that we’re potentially subject to emotional contagion effects, as illustrated in research by John Cacioppo, a researcher at the University of Chicago. His studies show that loneliness is transmitted via social networks.
Cacioppo’s findings suggest that if a direct connection of yours is lonely, you are 52% more likely to be lonely. If the connection is a friend of a friend, 25% more lonely. If the connection is 3 degrees out (a friend of a friend of a friend), it’s 15%.
While this research looked at offline social networks, it may have some implications for online social networking as well.
If someone in your online social network is angry, lonely, or hostile, and takes it out on you, you’re more likely to ‘transmit’ this mood yourself. This means that even though you may never have met this person or interacted with them in real life, their “bad behavior” can still influence yours.
This is a problem, because any kind of negativity and bad manners has the possibility to multiply a thousandfold.
4. Comparing Yourself with Others
Another downside of our social media relationships can be that our successes feel diminished and our failures amplified.
With the inrush of so much information about how other people are living their lives, it’s easy to feel that we can’t compete. We might also feel some pressure to demonstrate a certain persona, as we know that people are always watching us. It can feel like we’ve traded a real-life rat race for an online one.
So given these factors, what strategies can you use to make sure you’re benefiting from your social media relationships instead of being dragged down?
How to Benefit from Social Media?
1. Limit the time you spend on social networks. If you’re using social media primarily for business, make sure you’re getting a return on your time investment. While it’s sometimes tempting to keep checking your online accounts, We all know that if you do this too often, other parts of your life will suffer – True Relationships vs. Digital Relationships.
2. Monitor your own emotions and reactions. If you find yourself getting really aggravated, angry or distressed, and you don’t know why, back away from the computer. Go for a walk, or connect with someone in your offline life. This can help give you a perspective on your emotions and reactions.
3. Take care not to compare yourself too often to others. As the saying goes, ‘There will always be people greater than you, and people lesser than you.’ It’s all too easy to get caught up in vicarious experiencing of other people’s lives at the expense of experiencing your own.
4. Set goals or guidelines for your online relationships. Have a clear plan for why you’re cultivating various people in your networks. Remember that more can be good, but too much rarely is.
5. Maintain a balance between your online and offline life. We need to connect with people face to face, not just by email, phone, or social sites. Cultivate a real-life network of contacts as well.
And to Add:
The Holy week is just around the corner – This means more time to “Reflect” alone and have more “Family Time. It’s also the time to remind us that we should be getting away from the mundane actions of everyday life (including our social media activities) and showing those we love how much they mean. Let’s bring back the spirit of true intimacy!
Start focusing on the loved ones in our life and less on the material things.
(Never too cliché) ;)
Research Supported by Dr. Rachna Jain, a psychologist by training and a social marketer by preference. She writes about the interconnections of neuroscience, psychology and social media.