Commentary

Filling Your Needs Online?

OK, I admit, the title sounds a bit aloof. However, consider this for a moment: Do you remember life without the Internet? True, some of you who are reading this may be younger; part of the Digital Generation. Of course you can't answer the question. So for those of you who can... do you remember? Sure, I admit I probably have at least one daily moment where I'm ready to throw my BlackBerry out the window. Sometimes there's just no escaping the raging herd of emails. I have an even bigger confession: I can't live without it.

I've written and worked in the social media space for a while now. It fascinates me. It's like social anthropology for a girl with media roots -- go figure. Let's face it; we all want to know what's inside the walled garden. In our work lives we want to care and keep for and yes, capitalize on such networks. (Yes, I said that out loud.)

They are diverse and personalized, yet fickle, tangled and opinionated. This has left many asking how to connect with these users within their networks. I was happy to find research released just before year end by Communispace. The report is called, "Meeting Business Needs by Social Needs" and is based on a hypothesis: People are looking to fulfill six essential social needs online, and the organizations that understand this and build the right kind of social networking opportunity are more likely to create deeper emotional bonds than usually exist between companies and customers.

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In the report Communispace researchers build on the work of social scientists by identifying the specific social needs that are met through participating in social networks. It draws on Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. Makes sense to me.

Findings include:

  1. Online social networks provide people with the ultimate tool for defining and redefining themselves, as evidenced in profile pages on Facebook and MySpace.
  2. The need for autonomy, recognition and achievement are essential to our sense of self-worth and are fulfilled in online communities, blogs, and social networks that provide a way to develop and manage a virtual reputation.
  3. People have a need to both seek and provide help to others. Mutual assistance between strangers is a phenomenon that has been uniquely enabled by the Internet.
  4. Online communities are becoming the way people find, create and connect with others "just like me" -- people who share similar tastes, sensibilities, orientations or interests.
  5. A sense of belonging or affiliation alone is not equivalent to a true sense of community. Achieving a real sense of community requires long-lasting reciprocal relationships and a mutual commitment to the needs of the community as a whole.

Communispace referenced its other research on social networking behavior and found that when companies meet the full range of social needs, they gain trust and deep insights into their consumers and community members. And when companies go still further to actively embrace and act on people's ideas they fulfill a sixth social need: 6. People want to be reassured of their worth and value, and seek confirmation that what they say and do matters to others and has an impact on the world around them. Meeting all 5 + 1 of these social needs generally requires the level of intimacy and facilitation that are the hallmarks of smaller, invitation-only online communities.

    So I ask you this, why are social networks all the rage? Why do people network with certain people online? Some of this I know and some I still scratch my head at. What I do know is, like it or not, is that media has become (more) social and social media has become culture.

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