You can’t imagine former Prime Minister Gordon Brown having many friends on Facebook. Not because he doesn’t have friends, but probably because he is a rather cerebral person, who is likely to shun the meaningless chit-chat so prevalent in online social networks. I don’t know Mr Brown, but I suspect he would find much of the conversation on Facebook rather banal and beneath him. After all, he has a Ph.D., spent several years in academia before becoming a politician and his passion for deep, analytical thinking is well-documented. Sadly, though, that may actually be his downfall.
New research on over 4,000 people in Sweden has shown that the nonsense chit-chat on Facebook and other social networks, like Twitter, actually serve an important psychological purpose. It seems that trying to be too business-like, formal and analytical about it all rather works against you.
Having online friends who just make the odd comment, say something daft, who don’t seem to contribute is all rather important psychologically it seems. The chit-chat makes you feel wanted and loved. In addition, the research found that when we use online social networks we feel more closely connected to people who keep appearing in our online stream of information. In other words, online social networks increase your feelings of strong relationships.
These two factors combined are immensely powerful. A sense of worth, of being strongly linked to other human beings and being loved by them is fundamental to our psychological health. So, it suggests that in addition to seeking business connections and “value” inside social networks, simply connecting with people and engaging in chit-chat is what we should also be looking for. If you focus your online social activity merely on business, taking a serious approach and avoiding the banal you are doing yourself a disservice. Combining that with chit-chat, knowing that people have just had a cheese sandwich or merely getting a “like” on Facebook with the comment “super” is also what you need to aim for.
It also suggests that the people who try to separate business from personal, by keeping “Facebook for friends” and “LinkedIn for business” could be trying too hard to make a distinction which deep in our brains does not really exist. What we like are people who like us – whether they are in business or people we know down the pub. And this study shows that what we need from them is chit-chat because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Perhaps that is why LinkedIn is so tiny in comparison with Facebook because it is too focused on serious business. It looks like LinkedIn is the Gordon Brown of the online social world – and this research suggests that is the wrong way to go for our psychological health.
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+