Social networking fails to reach out to people

These people will make better use of Twitter and Facebook than many of their children

These people will make better use of Twitter and Facebook than many of their children

Late tonight, all across the UK, groups of people will be getting together for a party to celebrate their, er, Party…! Strange as it may seem, but people do have fun on Election Night to cheer in their winning MP, to let their hair down after four weeks of hard work and to see if David Dimbleby makes any kind of gaffe during his live, all-night-long TV performance…! Of course, most people will not be going to a Political Party party. Many will be tucked up in bed, long before Gordon Brown admits defeat – whoops I’ve given the result away, sorry…!

The people at the parties will be the most sociable people in Britain today; the rest of us cannot be that sociable mid-week, when we’ve got to be up and about for work in the morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And you can bet a fiver if you like, that most of the Tweets sent tonight will be from all those political party supporters up and down the land with the “latest” insights and suggestions as to who is winning, or not. Look out for all those party-goers Tweeting away into the small hours.

And therein lies a feature of social networking. The most active people on social networks are the most sociable people in the “real world”. This is confirmed by new research from the Rochester Institute of Technology which shows that even college students who are not sociable haven’t been bitten by the social networking bug. For the past few years, college lecturers in the USA in particular have been using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to extend their classroom offerings. The idea – and it has some evidence to support it – is that students who would otherwise sit quietly at the back of the room can participate in discussions using Twitter or Facebook groups.

This new research, however, provides an interesting twist to what we know about social networking amongst this younger age group. The study reveals that even though the youngsters take part in those classroom discussions, they don’t actually use the social networks any more. Indeed, many of the students don’t continue those online relationships with their classmates because they “are not their true friends”.

It is further evidence that confirms the principal use of social networking is not to find and build new relationships, but rather to extend and deepen existing ones. This should come as no surprise; social networking attracts sociable people. It doesn’t really attract people who are loners, who prefer being in much smaller groups and who are introverted or shy. And therein lies the problem for many businesses.

They are looking to social networking as a quick fix, a way of replacing traditional, planned marketing. Gosh, you can connect with millions of people – let me at them….! But it isn’t that simple. All those people struggling to cope with Twitter and Facebook aren’t really finding the software difficult – they are finding the socialising hard. And all those businesses who want their staff to get them more leads using Twitter are struggling because the people they are asking are those office-bound, technophiles, who adore fiddling around with Twitter and Facebook “APIs” but detest the actual connecting with people bit.

Here’s the truth: online social networking is easy if you are sociable. You just “get it”. But if you are not sociable, no amount of tweaking your profile or fiddling with add-ons is going to get you more business using social networks. In just the same way as some people simply cannot abide the thought of going off to a party at midnight tonight to “celebrate” politics, there are plenty of people who cannot really get their head around online social networking. It just doesn’t “fit” with them and their way of doing things.

Just because social networking exists does not mean you have to do it. If you are a party go-er, then social networking is for you – after all you do that at parties. But if you are a more solitary individual don’t put yourself under pressure to “do” Twitter or Facebook because it is the “in thing” and several gurus tell you it will do your business good.

There is, however, a solution – and it has nothing to do with the Internet. What this new research from Rochester actually shows is the fact that online social networking is related to the quality of your offline social networks. Poor social networking structure was related to lack of use of the online facilities. In other words, you will improve your chances with Twitter and Facebook if you do more offline networking. Strange as it may seem, the better you become at “real world” networking – even if it isn’t party-going – the more you will increase your chances of getting real value out of Twitter and Facebook. If you want to gain the real benefits that online social networks can bring, the single most important step you can do to ensure that is to start more networking in the “real world”.

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