Social scientists from the University of Amsterdam have suggested that using online social networking sites could be beneficial for your psychological health. They claim that the Internet has “come of age” and is helping people achieve greater happiness than before.
Essentially they have compared the use of the Internet ten years ago to how it is being used nowadays. Back in the 1990s, only a small number of adolescents used the web – and mostly they were solitary teens lurking in the corners of some seedy chat room. That allowed unsavoury characters to prey on them, sometimes even “grooming” them for sexual purposes.
These days, almost every adolescent uses the Internet and they hang out together on Facebook or Bebo, for instance. This has meant that no longer are they isolated, solitary web users open to abuse by those nasty elements. Instead, they are connecting with like-minded people of their own age – often extending existing offline relationships using online technology.
Interestingly, though, the researchers in the Netherlands have noticed that this has increased the way in which people engage with each other. Online, people tend to be more open and less distracted by sights and sounds that would annoy them in the “real world”. This appears to enable shy people, in particular, to be more expressive and more focused on what they are doing.
The result is that relationships that are either built online or enhanced via sites such as Facebook are stronger. Relationships that are carried out online appear to be deeper and more intimate than those that are just offline. And, according to the Dutch researchers, this leads to greater psychological well-being, such as increased happiness.
However, think about this form the business perspective, rather than the world of the teenager. If relationships that include an online element are stronger and make the participants happier then it suggests that you will engage your customers much more if you include an element of social networking with them.
Many businesses are networking online with similar people. For instance, Ecademy is full of people who work in the small business sector – all helping each other improve their business. This research from Amsterdam suggests we need to network with our customers more, as well as our colleagues. By networking online with your customers you will enhance your relationships making both of you feel much happier, this study suggests.
So, how can you do that? Well, use existing tools such as Facebook and Twitter; set up special groups for them in Facebook, or a private club in Ecademy. Alternatively, add a social networking facility to your own web site, accessible only to your customers. And if that sounds too cumbersome, go to Ning where you can set one up in just a few clicks.
There are plenty of different ways you can network online with your customers; but this new research suggests that if you are not doing this, you are not deepening the relationships as best you can. And in times of recession, the depth of the relationship is often the determining factor as to whether or not you get the business.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+