Social media is lauded as the one digital channel that truly revolves around the idea of bringing people together. While this is of course true, analysts and users are finding that its popularity can also be connected to a growing trend of alienation and loneliness. The fact that social media can be responsible for loneliness seems bizarre and counterintuitive at first, but a deeper understanding of the medium and the role it is playing in people’s lives makes this fact easier to believe. So, if online social networks are proving to be a negative influence in the lives of some people, how can and should the medium be used by people and brands, if at all?
Social media rising
Claiming that social media is the root cause of alienation experienced by millions of people can be a little misleading. However, there is certainly a trend that indicates that the epidemic of loneliness and the rise of social media correlate in chronological terms. As more and more people became part of ever-expanding social networks, so key elements of human interaction started to drop away. Personal interaction was traded for online, abstract interaction. Verbal communication continues to decrease as more people now communicate with shorter texts or even indirectly. In a way, it appears that the mere awareness of being super-connected to a social network at all times, made constant communication unnecessary. Because you are already aware of what is currently happening in the life of a friend, it seems redundant to contact that person in order to connect and find out more about their life.
Indirect communication and alienation
Social networking may have started out as an idea to connect people to each other, but its evolution has seen it become more of a broadcasting platform where direct interaction with others is not actually required. Instead of using online channels to actively build our social connections by talking to or making contact with people, many users now operate in isolation – merely publishing content and updates that reflect their current situation. While this kind of ‘posting’ often elicits some form of engagement such as a quick comment or the curt ‘like’ – this is meagre social exchange that could be likened to greeting a friend as he or she passes in the street.
Connections lost and gained
While social media alienation is certainly a troubling symptom of the digital age and its impact on human interaction and behaviour, it also boasts many stories that contradict the findings of lonely social media users. Social networking has helped many people connect to more people than they may have otherwise done, while also allowing people maintain contact with friends and family that live far away. All in all, much about the social media experience is what users make it. Those that are susceptible to social anxiety and isolation will probably experience an increase in these feelings through social media usage, while those who are naturally inclined to socialise will find the platform useful as a supplement to their social life.
Social media has changed the way people interact with each other and with brands, and companies that are aware of these subtle changes will fare better than their competitors. Understanding how to use social media as a tool rather than a substitute for human connection is the key to a positive experience that can be enriching, useful and fun.