Monday, March 18, 2013

Social media are the tools for real social networks

After reading the first few chapters of Rainie and Wellman's Networked, it seems clear to me there is a difference between social media and social networks. Facebook, Twitter and other social media are simply tools to help interact with the many social networks we each have and operate within. In fact, it got me thinking about how I interact each day with my multitude of social networks.

To each of us, our social networks make up different subsets of people. These can include our friends, family, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, acquaintances, friends-of-friends, and more. It can also include people we don't know who operate in similar ways or in similar places as us. We make dozens of decisions each days as it relates to our networks.

For example, in the last few weeks, here are some decisions I had to make regarding my social networks:

  • My wife and I are hosting Easter lunch. Who constitutes the network and who garners an invite to the gathering? We narrowed the list down to immediate family, grandparents and one aunt. We connected with all of these people via phone (all land lines, interestingly).
  • Disney purchased Lucasfilm and announced a new Star Wars trilogy. Who do I reach out to discuss our opinions on this? I decided to call my college roommate on his cell phone, I posted a link on a few of my acquaintances' Facebook walls and I texted both my dad and brother. 
  • The Nebraska Volleyball team announced they would participate in sand volleyball beginning this season. I had to determine who would be excited enough to chat about this with. I eventually called my mother-in-law, emailed my wife, chatted with an elderly couple at church and tweeted at a friend out of state.
  • Fantasy Baseball on Yahoo! opened up and emailed me to alert me about a new season. I had to determine who might be as interested as I am in playing another season. I texted four guys, Facebook in-boxed three more, called one and Tweeted an open invite to anyone who wanted to join.
  • I wanted to study for a test in a class, so I tried to determine which of my classmates I felt comfortable reaching out to. I ended up texting one, emailing another and sending a Facebook inbox message to a third.
  • A family friend from church got into a terrible car accident and was hospitalized. Similar to the first example in chapter one of the book, their family reached out to a few people who were well-connected and these people, among which my mother was one of them, spread the news through email chains, Facebook statuses, phone calls and more. Eventually, hundreds of people reached out to help the family.

It is important to note, I didn't  take all these actions right away. They were all a slow burn, but they constituted the means and decision-making process I used to spread information along a network of people. Again, the cell phone for texting, Facebook, Twitter and in-person communication were each the tools for spreading info in my social networks.

Then there is the idea that we all have certain networks of people that aren't necessarily meant to interact with one another. For example, some people choose to separate their dating lives and their social lives with close friends at first. Many young people purposefully choose to separate their social network of school friends from their social network of close family and relatives. In certain situations, we decide which subset of friends to invite to a night of board games and which set to go to a scary movie, among other things.

To illustrate this last idea, consider the Seinfeld theory of worlds colliding.  For those familiar with Seinfeld, watch this clip about George Costanza's worlds colliding theory (it won't let me embed, sorry), then watch part two below.


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