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The Quality of Social Media Relationships: What is “Genuine” Communication? Part 2 of 3

This week, my DishyMix guest blogger is Joseph Carrabis, CRO and Founder of NextStage Evolution. Joseph is a Senior Research Fellow and Advisory Board Member of the Society for New Communications Research and Director, Predictive Analytics and Senior Fellow at the Center for Semantic Excellence as well as a member of Scientists Without Borders.
Joseph Carrabis

This is part 2 of a 3 part series of responses to a question from Ted Zahn, Creative Director at Real Branding about the quality of our relationships in the social media space.

Ted Zahn, Creative Director, Real Branding

Ted Zahn
Hello again,
This is part 2 of my response to Ted Zahn’s question. Part 1 dealt with whether or not social networks will truly enhance the overall quality of our personal relationships. Here we continue with “will social networks enhance just the quantity of our personal relationships rather than the quality of them?”
Excellent question, this. NextStage presented some research findings on just this subject recently. The real question (to me) builds on something I wrote in part 1; how much effort does someone want to put into a given social network? It can be summed up by someone’s response during our research, “I don’t have time to be on five or six social networks.” This response was specific to networks like LinkedIn, FaceBook, et cetera. Although anecdotal, it was exemplary of the major themes we were studying.
Quick response first: People will take part in as many social networks as benefit them. They will more actively take part in social networks that more directly benefit them. Preparing my response I went back through NextStage’s research and then contacted about twenty people just to verify the emerging pattern. This leads to the next paragraph.
Perhaps a more useful response: The average human being will only be able to actively participate in a maximum of nine (9) social networks at a given time. This doesn’t mean they’ll only be a member of a maximum of nine networks (they could be a member of several hundred, they’ll only be active on at most nine in any given time period) nor does it mean they’ll participate in nine in any given time period (they’ll max at nine. Most times they’ll only be active participants on 2-3 at a whack). Thus if you’re a marketer wanting to know where to place advertising dollars, go for volume unless you have extremely high confidence in a networks demographics.
The limits mentioned above have to do with aspects of neurophysiology, specifically our brains’ I/O system. Once you get past neurophysiology you start dealing with things like situational awareness, attention-distraction gradients, engagement, …

<ASIDE>For the record, I define engagement the good old fashioned, neuro- and psycho-cognitive way, “Engagement is the demonstration of Attention via psychomotor activity that serves to focus an individual’s Attention.” None of this “if there’s this many clicks in this amount of time on this many pages during…” stuff.
Then again, I’ve seen lots of evidence that people do things based on what and how they’re thinking and little evidence that people think about things based on what they’re doing and how they do them, hence equating a mental state to an activity is the reverse of what’s true in my view.

Now the socio- and neuro-economist kicks in and asks, “What do you mean by benefit, exactly?”

How people benefit from social networks touches lots of areas of research. Let me start with the question “How does someone chose to self-identify?” John Spalding wrote “What we love to do we find time to do.” and this is demonstrated via self-identification.

For example, I love music so I block off some time every day to play guitar, piano, whatever strikes my mood and interest at the time. I also love bike-riding with Susan (wife, partner, WiseWoman of the North, etc) so we block off time for that every week. I wouldn’t reference myself as a musician or biker and here is one of the interesting things about self-identification, humans are constantly projecting themselves into their environment so that we can be recognized (identified) in ways that reinforce our self-concept. Thus, when people call me a musician (I’m not) I’m flattered, my ego swells, my pride rises a notch or two. When people say “I always see you out riding with Susan” ditto.

The fact that I non-cognitively project those aspects of myself into the world is what demonstrates the depth that those self-concepts exist in me.

So let me put it out there to the readers; what do you find time to do? Then, whether you chose to accept it as a definition or not, it’s what you “love”. More to the point, it’s how you want others to identify you, to recognize that you are not Joseph and vice versa.

Now let’s apply this more directly to self-identification and social networks.

Humans continually do things, say things, etc., to demonstrate who and what they believe they are. I write “believe” and not “think” intentionally. Belief comes from deeper parts of our self-concept than thought because we tend to have less of ourselves invested in what we “think” and more of ourselves invested in what we “believe”. I write in Reading Virtual Minds that there are three basic levels of self-concept – Personality, Identity and Core – and most people aren’t aware of them (probably a good thing for most people).

At various points in a person’s life they may need to identify themselves as an alumnus from a specific institution. A way they might do that is by taking part in the alumni social network affiliated with that institution. Or perhaps they wish to gain recognition as a kite-flyer so they take part in kite-flying social networks (for the record, I don’t take part in such networks).

Or do I? Now we get directly into how one defines a “social network”. The Pictou County Flyers is, indeed, a social network even if the members don’t recognize it as such. They periodically gather to perform activities that are all designed to do one thing and one thing only – reinforce their belief that within that social network they are safe and accepted.

You didn’t think I was going to write “fly kites”, did you?

The level of safety and acceptance one feels within a network is directly proportional to the number and quality of connections they have within that network.

Again, note “number and quality”. We’re not talking about the number of people they know within that network, we’re talking about the ways that people connect, their reasons for connecting and the strength of those connections.

For example, right now (I’m guessing) most readers only know one person in the Pictou County Flyers (me). Your connection to the ‘Flyers isn’t very strong. Let’s say I take you out flying some day and you fly the SkyTiger, the Q2002 and (god forbid) the Ekko. Let’s count your knowing me and our flying these three kites as a total of four connections.

Connections aren’t enough. It’s the quality of those connections that matters where safety and acceptance are concerned.

Let’s say we had a great time flying. We spent most of the day laughing ourselves silly. I was uniformly encouraging and made fun of myself when I made mistakes. We also had periods where we opened up to each other and transmitted quality personal information. We then went to a pub and had some beers and sandwiches, got to know each other a little more and finally I mentioned the Family Kite Night at Nelson Memorial Park in Tatamagouche (Nova Scotia, folks), inviting you to come along.

You may only have four connections to me but those connections are very strong. You feel quite safe and accepted by me. Safe and accepted enough to meet me and some of the ‘Flyers in Tatamagouche.

When we meet in Tatamagouche I tell the other ‘Flyers how well you handled the kites. They accept you because I accept you. People who prefer the SkyTiger, Q2002 and Ekko make their way over to you to talk, others who prefer other kites less so.

Kite flying is the vector. What is transmitted is social acceptance and safety, sometimes referred to as credibility and most often recognized by neuro- and socio-economists as social value, i.e., the benefit we mentioned o’ so long ago.

You’ll participate in kite flying activities because you benefit from doing so, specifically your value increases within that social network each time you participate.

Or you can be like me and just get a rush out of it.

So will social networks enhance the quantity of our personal relationships? Tell me how “personal” personal is, what benefit is derived from the relationship and I’ll answer yes or no. How many people are in your Skype contact list? How many do you interact with daily and for how long? How many people are linked to you? Ditto the ‘interact’ question.
Next up, is there a “digital effect” that is shifting the nature of our relationships to less personal, one-way broadcasts (email, status updates, photo galleries, “Where I’ve Traveled” widgets) at the expense of “genuine” communication. Is this just an inevitable trend of the digital age? Or are social networks actually a part of the solution? I’ll post something on my blog for people who want to know a little bit more of the science behind this kind of stuff.

Joseph Carrabis, Founder, NextStage Evolution on “Why People Do What They Do.”


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Meet Joseph Carrabis, Chief Research Officer, author, inventor, musician, cultural linguist and genius. Susan talks to Joseph about being a cultural linguist, gender specific marketing discoveries, cultural anthropology and how humans, as social animals, are interacting with social networking.

Hear Joseph describe the differences between neurolinguistic modeling, psychodynamic modeling and psychosocial modeling and how our brains are still working with 10 million years of evolutionary history. Get details on gender differences in the ways women create networks to establish power and authority and how men establish power and authority to create networks.

1 Comment »

  1. Recent Links Tagged With "distraction" - JabberTags said,

    October 19, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

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