Home Blogs It’s all about you – Making the most of socialising online

It’s all about you – Making the most of socialising online

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I was reading ‘designing for the social web by Joshua Porter for my UXbookclub Sydney meeting a couple of months ago. It opens with a quote from an article by Douglas Adams, circa 1999. He has crystallised the importance of social networking for me!

“We are natural villagers. For most of mankind’s history we have lived in very small communities in which we knew everybody and everybody knew us. But gradually there grew to be far too many of us, and our communities became too large and disparate for us to be able to feel a part of them, and our technologies were unequal to the task of drawing us together. But that is changing. Interactivity. Many-to-many communications. Pervasive networking. These are cumbersome new terms for elements in our lives so fundamental that, before we lost them, we didn’t even know to have names for them.”

We are social beings

Porter rightly says, “People use software to do all the same things they used to do without it: talk to each other, form groups, gain respect, manage their lives, have fun.” Things that humans have always done. It’s just that years ago our friends and family were walking, driving or a short flight away. It was easy to keep in touch, as they were not far away. These days the situation is different.

I use the internet to keep in touch with my family and most of my best friends, as they don’t live near me. I feel a need to keep in touch with these people. No! I need to feel connected.

Humans are innately social and must be surrounded by other people. Those who are not stimulated socially can go insane. For example, the other day was watching Sean Penn’s 2007 movie “Into the Wild“. It was inspired by the true story of Christopher McCandless, who thought that freedom was about being at one, alone, with nature. As he painfully found out, you really need other people around you.

Social support

The graph below shows that psychological distress is correlated with social support.

james-breeze-graph1_580w
Dalgard OS. Association between social support and psychological distress. In: EUPHIX, EUphact. Bilthoven: RIVM, EUphact Determinants of health Environment Social support, 26 May 2008.

Recent research has also suggested that Facebook ‘usage’ is not entirely related to personality. Researchers at Michigan State University showed that Facebook increases self-esteem and life satisfaction. Perhaps the need for social support in a person’s life is more important to peoples’ Facebook adoption?

MySpace has been shown to have similar effects. A short article titled Blogging as a Social Tool: A Psychosocial Examination of the Effects of Blogging (by James R. Baker, Susan M. Moore, December 2008) suggested that blogging helps people feel like they have a stronger social support network, possibly because blogging helps a person gain some insight, feedback or perspective on their life. The researchers also did not differentiate successful, frequent bloggers from those who may have started a blog and posted only one entry.’ He even writes about that fact blogging might even make you happier! It certainly makes me happy, as I mentioned in a post last year.

Social software is a forced move. It had to happen. We have to be able to deal with the fact that, in some parts of Western culture, the family is no longer a ‘unit’. In fact, Stephen Andersen suggests that the best social media features/sites are rooted in natural human behaviour.

Ambient intimacy

Leisa Reichelt calls this type of social support Ambient Intimacy, which:

“is about 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. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.”

True, but it is actual intimacy for some. They have only a few social networks (friends) where they live; perhaps they work too hard or they are socially inept and don’t like seeing people face-to-face. In that context, social networks provide actual intimacy. There is nothing ambient about it!

Here’s Leisa’s preso on ambient intimacy.

The globe has been turned [back] into a village by electronic media”

Some tips on getting the most out of being social online?

Delicious

Save things on Delicious so you can find them later. Here’s mine http://delicious.com/jamesbreeze

Once you do this you will see social effects.

Twitter

Do think Twitter is a waste of time? Do you “really struggle to see the value of an endless number of small thoughts being shoved into the Net” [a quote from a Facebook friend of mine]?

Is it like this three-minute Twitter Police video?

Should we be protecting the world from useless tweets?

For the first six months after I signed up to Twitter, I did nothing. Then I realised it was a way to keep track of my thoughts and interesting blog topics, without having to write an entire blog post or write in a diary, which I hate. So now I get it…

A psychologist, Elisha Goldstein, links Twitter to the practise of mindfulness. If you have something on your mind that distracts you from your daily chores, you can use Twitter ‘to be reminded to pop out of the routine or auto-pilot [you] may be in and become more present to everyday life.’ That makes sense to me, I have written a thesis on mindfulness in mediation.

A challenge

PLEASE, do this for me for one week. Tweet about things you like, things do are doing, things that frustrate you about 5 times a day. You are essentially writing a diary. That’s useful – plenty of people have researched the value of writing a diary. Galina Pembroke discussed the value of journaling here. Twitter is not quite as ‘deep’ as writing your own diary, but it works for me. Once you do this for yourself, you will see how the social effects can kick in.

Once you are interacting use ‘Groups’ in Tweetdeck to manage where your attention is placed. You can put your mates in one column and your colleagues in another and people who you think are smart and worth spending the time on in another. However, follow as many similar people as you can, so you have more opportunities to get the interactions you need. If somebody responded to a tweet you should put them in a group too, you know they care about you so care about them back.

Also, remember when you are online and ready to tweet, read what is there in the stream of Tweets at that time and forget about all the rest. If you worry about the tweets you’ve missed it will become a chore and you won’t do it.

Once you really get into Twitter, read Problogger’s post abou the benefits of Twitter

He lists:

  • Research Tool
  • Reinforce (and expand) Your Personal Brand
  • Promote Content
  • Extend Audience – Find NEW Readers
  • Networking
  • Previews
  • Speedlinking
  • Story Gathering
  • Find Out What People REALLY Think

LinkedIn

Do you think that LinkedIn is some social network that is only relevant if you are looking for a job? No!

Think about it as a place to store your resume. I could never find the latest one of my PC! It was also a place to store my contacts for work, that weren’t on the server at work ;) Now it is a place to keep testimonials from clients! Once I used it personally, then the social side kicked in. I now participate in group discussion, find recruits (one contacted me today), market my business and much, much more.

Facebook

Facebook pissing you off? Do you think that it should be banned and that people should be sacked if they use it when you are sick? You need to experience it first. Use it to organise an event or think of it as an online photo album or use it to find out about what your old friends are doing. Help yourself first. Then you might just start interacting with people.

Social networking really is valuable – some example

I’ve found a few examples to demonstrate that the personal value of a network must exceed the network value for you to get over the initial hump and actually start using one of these new tools. Also, by making it about you, your readers will view your efforts as real and they’ll actually take the time to interact with you.

This blogger shows how Twitter was helpful to her daughter when a family member passed away. She was offered support that was short and to the point from four friends that were distributed across the US.

I did a little experiment with Twitter and Facebook. I asked my followers how Twitter had helped their social lives. Here’s some answers:

“It compliments it, fortifies it and adds to it. Facebook is your online answer to Crown St living: you have a view into the buzz of life but you can choose to interact with it as little or as much as you like. The people who use it as a total substitute for reality are Bad Boy Bubby internet geeks. They give online communities a bad name. Or do they? Maybe these people would absolutely have no friends otherwise?” Ilona

“When you’re parenting small babies and toddlers and find your life morphed from a flurry of work and activity to home alone (well, with the l’il ones) a great deal of the time – Facebook becomes a godsend. Yes it makes up for missing social interaction it provides you with a sense of community and continuity when all else in your life has changed so drastically…” Andrea

“It’s fabulous for those of us who live away from our home.” Dee

Of course, Twitter is in the news right now, with the Iranian elections. The fact that the US State Department last week made a special request for Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance so Iranian protestors could continue to voice dissent suggests that the service is anything but frivolous.

This speaks volumes about the value of social networking and its power to connect people and ideas.

James Breeze is a usability specialist and CEO of Sydney-based Objective Digital.
An earlier version of this post appeared here.

Photo: restlessglobetrotter (Flickr)

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