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April 09, 2008

Why do people participate in social applications?

by Josh Bernoff

We continually get asked by our corporate clients: why do people participate in social activity online? What drives them?

In Groundswell we tried to collect as many reasons as we could, to reflect the diversity that drives all this participation. In this post I'll list as many as I can. But this is just a start -- participation is as varied as the people who participate.

  • Keeping up friendships. Facebook is about connecting with people you know, to find out what's going on with them.
  • Making new friends. We’ve all heard stories of people hooking up on social networks. According to Forrester's consumer surveys, one in five online singles has viewed or participated in online dating in the past year.
  • Succumbing to social pressure from existing friends. People in the groundswell want their friends there, too. Your friends, your daughter, or your golf buddies are emailing you right now, asking you to join them.
  • Paying it forward. Having seen that a site is useful, you may be moved to contribute.
  • The altruistic impulse. This is Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake's "culture of generosity." It's what made Wikipedia possible. People just want to help.
  • The prurient impulse. People are sexy, entertaining, and stupid. All that is on display in an endless parade of exhibitionism.
  • The creative impulse. If you're a photographer, a writer, or a videographer, the Web is the perfect place to show your work.
  • The validation impulse. People who post information on Yahoo! Answers, for example, would like to be seen as knowledgeable experts.
  • The affinity impulse. If your bowling league, your PTA, or your fellow Red Sox fans have connected online, you can join and connect with people who share your interests.

Respect this diversity. Keep it in mind as you set up your social applications. Assuming everyone wants the same thing as you do -- or as each other -- is a big mistake.


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Malcolm Kass

For us facebookers in our thirties, the biggest benefit is keeping up with friends in a, to be frank, very lazy way, esp. for us post 25 yrs old. But it isn't close friends we aim to keep up with via facebook, it is the weak/weakening friendships that make facebook so useful. For instance, I have some of my high school friends that I see only every 5 years or so, which is fine by me. But what I would like to do is to keep track of the big events in their life. Pics of their kids, pics of their wedding. etc. I have no need to use facebook for my close friends, I already contact them fairly regularly, but the guy that was my roommate in college for a semester, the girl that you went on a couple of dates with, the former co-worker that left the company, your teammates at MBA school, this is why facebook is valuable for those of us older than 25.

Social Marketing Journal

Very good points. We have to agree with Malcolm Kass on keeping up with acquaintances and the big events that hit their lives. Although, we often wonder ourselves when receiving a friend request from someone we haven't spoken to in 10 years... what real use is it to keep in touch with them? Would they get offended if we do not accept them? Why must they need to know about our personal lives and vice versa. The odds of us genuinely caring about one another is slim... seems some people use those networks just to be nosey as messages are RARELY exchanged between two parties (particularly on Facebook).


I've often wondered why people use blogging and other pages such as Facebook and Myspace. I really don't see a real purpose unless someone wants to waste precious time. I was "forced" to participate in a blog for a technology class I'm currently taking, and it's part of my grade. Based upon my experience and the opinions of others, I'm told these pages are used to "kill time," and as stated previously, being nosey. I myself feel a lot of those pages are there just to see who can be "dumb" enough to put some of their private information out in the open.

I expressed this to my associate professor, and she did explain there are benefits to blogging such as parents, teachers and students using them for interactions and communications. This is probably the only form of my use for blogging. Otherwise, I don't see myself wasting my time.

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