The Continuity of the Local
Quick Takes: The view from the IMF

Quick Takes: on Social Media Success

Seth Godin points to what makes for success for a social media site like Twitter.

  • Who likes me?
  • Is everything okay?
  • How can I become more popular?
  • What's new?
  • I'm bored, let's make some noise

This shift toward social media is taking place within two contexts, an individual one and an institutional context.

Context of Institutional Change
We are living in a time where traditional institutions whether social or business are either in decline or are scrambling to keep up with changes in society. The context of identity and security that they have provided is no longer stable. 

For example, the role of institutional religion in America has changed.  In the past, churches were the pillar of local communities. Now, they are either a museum of memories to a past that is long gone or they are a commercial retail outlet for consumers looking for spiritual services.  It is a well-discussed claim that we are witnessing the end of denominationalism. Or, said differently, we are witnessing the end of institutional religion in the form of denominations as the vehicle for the spiritual expression of people. People haven't abandoned religion. It has just become more individualized.

The impact of the role of institutions in the lives of people is that they are looking for new contexts for social interaction, identity and security. Social media fills that role at this time. However, if you spend much time with it, you may notice as I have that there is a whole lot of interaction, lots of "meet and greet" that doesn't lead anywhere.

What is the overall impact of social media when all it is is staying in touch? I believe we are at the beginning of the social media development curve.

Context of Individual Experience
One of the conclusions that I've reached about what is driving people to social media is the pairing of two desires. People what their experiences in life to be both "personally meaningful" and "socially fulfilling."  The internet has opened up avenues for personal exploration that did not exist before. As a result, people are finding ways for their personal values to be validated and supported online. For many people the virtual community that exists for them through social media is their primary community. They find affirmation and connection through social media that didn't exist for them in the social contexts where they live.

In addition, people want to be involved socially in things that make a difference. The rise of social enterprise sites like FutureShifters is providing a way for people to both interact socially and find fulfillment by being involved in activities that make a difference in the lives of people and their communities.

Transitions in these two contexts, the individual and the institutional, is driving people to social media sites. The question is whether these places of virtual community can keep up with the expectation that their online community be like an ideal local one. In my estimation that has not yet been proven to be the case.

I am optimistic about these prospects as I participate in many of these sites, and especially enjoy Twitter. You can follow me at @edbrenegar.

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