One of the most popular blog posts for social media bloggers to scribe is the one where they tell you what not to do on any particular network. At their best these posts are an earnest effort to capture community norms and at their most ingratiating they are rants about people the blogger doesn’t care for. I’ve never found them particularly illuminating, but a new study from the University of Edinburgh may indicate that the vast majority of Facebook users care immensely how people in their networks perceive them. In fact, it stresses them out.
When your mom and your boss friend you on Facebook….
What the Edinburgh study concluded was that people have different circles of friends on social networks, and that people feel pressured to conform to the standards of these social circles while appeasing all of the others. Depending upon the diversity of the social circles, it’s a pretty hopeless task. And it produces distress for these users. That’s a problem. Facebook, Twitter and most social networks want and need you to increase your social footprint. The realization that increasing social “friends” increases people’s stress is troublesome for businesses forecasting perpetual growth.
Last month, Newsweek ran an article “The Torture of Modern Friendship” where they address some of the complications of having to project a deliberate image to appease an increasingly diverse circle of friends (including your mom, your boss and your Burning Man comrades). So, the concept of Facebook causing distress is not a revelation: it’s increasingly part of the social media experience.
Is fragmentation the future of social networking?
I’ve written about this before: people’s knee-jerk response is that filters would fix everything. Funny thing about filters: very few people are using them. And that’s an important thing to pay attention to going forward. Google Plus was developed as the social network with the most intuitive filters, yet Facebook still kills Google Plus for users and for time on site. In the abstract, filters make a lot of sense. In reality, they are a hassle and are underutilized.
An unintended consequence of the (seemingly) endless social network offering is that there’s always someplace else to go, and that’s what you see in Gen M (the multitasking generation, Gen Y + Z). They’re simply taking their conversations elsewhere, because THAT’S much easier than setting up filters. Right now Tumblr and Instagram are hot (Tumblr is in the Top 10 websites worldwide), but it could just as easily be Path or Pheed or MySpace (or one of thousands of other choices).
There isn’t an alternative to Facebook with the size and scope that it enjoys. But if size and scope have become a disincentive, then are niche networks the social future? And are teenagers foreshadowing this future right now? And if niche networks are the future, how many more “What not to do on X” posts will the world have to endure?
What do you think? Is appeasing social circles on Facebook stressful? If so, what is the solution? Is there one?