Katie Price JordanThe former topless model, turned pop star, turned reality TV star, turned business woman, turned novelist Katie Price (aka Jordan)  is now about to become a lecturer at Oxford University. Well, OK it is only a one-off lecture, but nonetheless she is going to speak at the Oxford Union – a rare opportunity she shares with Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa. Behind the scenes, though, Katrina is a devoted mother to her children, including a disabled son as well as being a victim of both cancer and sexual abuse as a child. She has had her fair share of life. Whatever you think of our Katie, there is no doubt that everywhere she goes she attracts attention.

Some people might think that her past has made her seek out popularity. The notion of the “need for popularity” is well documented in the psychological literature. But whether or not Katie Price actually has some kind of drive for popularity, she would not be alone if she did have it. Indeed, it seems that we all have a need for popularity to some degree or another. It is particularly prevalent in our teenage years, when we are seeking boyfriends and girlfriends; we have this desperate desire it seems to want to be popular. Indeed, the teenage angst many youngsters suffer may well be down to perceived low levels of popularity.

But new research on social networking sites suggests that the need for popularity persists way beyond our teens. This study confirms that the number one reason we use social networks is to fulfil our internal desire for popularity. So the constant contest for “how many friends have you got” is not some kind of childish competition, it is actually a deep rooted psychological need. Similarly, if you are worried about your Klout Score or your number of Twitter followers it is because you are seeking popularity.

And therein lies the problem for using social media. Because it seems we are driven by popularity, if we don’t get it we give up using social media – probably just at the time it was about to be able to prove to us that we are indeed popular.  If you only have a handful of Twitter followers you give up because you feel a lack of popularity. Yet, strangely, if you continued to use Twitter you’d end up being more popular.

The need for popularity in social networks also reveals why businesses often find it hard to “get” social media. If the owners of the business are seeing social media as a “business” thing rather than a personal one, there is no connection with their inner “need for popularity”. The result is a lack of connection – what is the purpose of social media? It is more evidence, if you like, that social media IS personal. And that means it has to be used by individuals within your business, not by the business. Otherwise your staff have no drive to make the most from the social networks; it has to connect with their need for popularity.

And will Katie Price be popular at the Oxford Union? I expect they’ll be packed to the rafters…!

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