About Social Media, Edited Lives and The Illusion of Belonging

The need to belong and social media

I have friends and ‘friends’ on social media.
So many of my friends are very different from each other. I’m friends with the constant attention seeker, lonely guy, with the ‘check my new acquisitions’ guy, the ‘check out my new hair colour and tell me I look great’ girl (yes, you do, dear!) and so on. It’s fascinating that all these different people (some of them I know well) are displaying this huge need to share, interact, get feedback, and to basically belong there, on social media.
So, I have a question.

Is social media fostering our relationships and connections with other people or is it just keeping us in an illusion of belonging, with carefully crafted and edited online lives that will fit the patterns of success?

We know that humans feel the need to connect to one another and to have relationships; hence, the motivation to belong, to be part of a group in the real life. But why are people so strongly motivated to belonging online, what powers their needs? Are there the same principles, and if so, what’s changed, do humans nowadays need to belong more and at all times?
Some people still get married just because ‘everyone else’ is doing it. And if this is the case with social media, are people joining in just because they are afraid of being left out and seen as outsiders? Maybe online makes it easier for us to accept and to be accepted, mainly because people have more time to prepare and to present you with a version of themselves that you might like and interpret without prejudice. While real life uncovers the real you in so many interactions, online facilitates the presentation of your most successful version. Yes, I tend to believe that real life is forcing people to be real.

Some could argue that social media made it easier for people to belong. The shift to online communications saves so much time (online conversations, online work projects, online dating), but do people really feel like they belong there?

Marketing the illusion of belonging

As a marketer myself, I know that within a space were people share their emotions and needs, the opportunity to capitalise on this situation won’t be missed by companies.
As social media has progressively become a new way to advertise, I have other questions.

What are the implications of the people’s constant need to fit in, to be liked, shared and publicly associated or connected with something/someone cool? What are the consequences of marketing the illusion of belonging?

Some marketers may be using genuine tactics to empathise with their target’s needs. And those who are gifted with great storytelling skills, may very well succeed in getting the attention and the desired reactions from their audience. I want to believe that at least the big companies and institutions nowadays are starting to use the massive amount of social data they have to actually help people by building healthy communities where people can satisfy their needs to trust and be trusted by people, and hopefully change their behaviour for the better. Here is a great article about the The Science Behind Using Online Communities To Change Behavior.

But what are the implications of those who make people feel stranger, lonelier, less attractive and once again excluded? I would say very complex. Because every macro and micro breeze blows in the direction of engaging people on social media; are marketers doing enough for a post-interruption marketing era? Is it enough to collect fragmented data, to ask for permission, and to keep pushing product sand services or should marketers and companies take a more proactive approach and start caring about the feelings people are left with once they switch off, not just care about designing great online experiences.

Of course brands spend a considerable time expanding their reach and growing their communities, but are they aiming to bring people closer to each other? Moreover, being part of a bigger community is actually driving us further apart, as we get to actually relate to less and less people. Social media might suggest that more connections = more opportunities, but at what expense? Isn’t this social media clutter making it harder for people to trust, empathise or even care about other people?

Smaller but not closer

Social media makes a big world smaller, but not closer. As social media is now part of our lives (and one that is not inherently bad), it’s our own responsibility to care and relate, to build genuine relationships, and to make sure that we won’t be surrounded by thousands of people and still feel completely alone. And if belonging is just an illusion, choose wisely what to believe.



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