Which came first? Social networks or social people?

You can’t miss the advice online these days to take part in social activities. Everywhere you look some business guru or other is saying you must be on Facebook, that you should be Tweeting on the hour, every hour and that if you haven’t yet started Pinning on Pinterest you are so 2011…! Social, social, social – the three places where “it is at” online, apparently.

But what if you are not social? What if you are a bit of a loner? What if you find chatting, personalising things and being generally full of bonhomie somewhat daunting? Does that mean the modern world of business is not for you? Is your online future doomed?

Of course not. It’s just that you need to do things a but differently. And ignore those “gurus” encouraging you to do something which you don’t like or want to do.

The puzzle of the social web
The social web can be a bit of a puzzle

Sometimes, people see “evidence” and make connections with things which are not necessarily all they seem. So, many business experts see the link between social media activity and online success and say “therefore” you need to be fully social online. But do you?

New research points out the potential error in the modern business equals social networking theory. The study looked at the cause and effect relationship between family dinners and teenage behaviour. There is plenty of evidence that when families sit down together in the evening and have a meal together that troublesome teens tend to be better behaved. So, politicians and media columnists jump upon such “evidence” and say we should restore “family values” and have “proper” family dinners in order to improve the behaviour of youngsters.

Except this new study shows that the relationship between family dinners and childhood behaviour is much more complex than at first sight. It seems the family dinners come about because of other factors in the household – attitudes and other behaviours. So it might not be that family dinners lead to good behaviour, it looks like the good behaviour leads to family dinners.

It is a reminder that sometimes we get cause and effect muddled. The business experts who reckon we should all be social crazy online may believe that social media leads to more business. But it may be the other way round. It may be that increased business activity leads to more online social activity. Which came first, chicken or egg?

In a masterclass I run for business owners I refer to a research study which purports to show the link between social media activity and profitability. The study connects the two together, suggesting that the cause of the profitability of businesses is the increased social media activity they undertake.

But this research makes the same error as those politicians connecting family dinners to improved behaviour. It believes there is cause and effect. However, when you look at the kinds of companies which achieve success it is more about overall attitudes, lack of autocratic leadership and encouragement of independence of thought amongst staff which leads to the success of the business.

There is no doubt that people do well online thanks to social media. There is no doubt that it can lead to profits. There is no doubt that business experts link the two with a cause and effect relationship.

However, the family dinner study should be a reminder that there is doubt that online social activity inevitably leads to business success. It is much more complex than many people would have you believe and is wrapped up in personality typing, attitudes, corporate cultures and leadership styles. You need to focus on all those things first, before social networking can really help your business.

Which came first? Social networks or social people? 1

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