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Surface noise or something more – how connected is social media?

By Jillian Ney - Posted on 1 May 2014

Dr Jillian Ney is a visiting academic in the Department of Marketing at the Business School. She lectures on digital marketing and social media for both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Last month, I got to cross an item off my personal bucket list when I gave a talk at TEDxGlasgowUni.  The overarching TEDx theme was ‘connectivity’ where I spoke about the idea of ‘connectedness and the digital self’.  With Mark Zuckerberg aiming to connect the world via Facebook, I wanted to explore if social media really does provide true connectedness.

So, what’s your opinion on social media connectedness?  Do you feel connectedness through social media?

I personally feel that social media has killed off some of the English language.  The term ‘engagement’ is banded about without a second thought.  There is no ubiquitous definition of engagement and there are no out-and-out clear measurement models or frameworks for social media engagement (I hope to remedy that one!) yet people talk engagement all the time.  Empty words with little meaning beyond likes and follows.

For me, the idea of connectedness and engagement are the central constructs of social media.  To overcome the lack of clear definition of what ‘connectedness’ is, during my talk, I explored what connectedness means in other disciplines and areas.  Each discipline has its own way of defining and describing connectedness but they all have the same underlying principle - the whole, and how we connect and relate to that whole.

Social media is seen to fit nicely into the connectedness concept but is that really the emotion we feel when we engage through social media?  Have we become mindless in our approach to social media - is the constant checking of our feeds an automatic response, engrained in our daily rituals?  That is what I explored with the aid of the audience, a visualisation exercise and my knowledge.

I argued that even in the symbolism of social media we are met with the idea of connectedness. However, upon closer inspection, the connectedness is little more than people holding hands and nodes on a page.  It's all surface noise and nothing more.

There are several reasons why connectedness is not reached in social media. The ones that can be altered the most to captivate us is the design and functionality of the sites and social media experiences themselves.  Yes, as social media users we can post mundane and crazy content but that content is relevant to us – it's all part of the human condition.  By altering the design architecture of social media we may be able to transform engagement from surface level to a true connected experience.

You can watch Jillian's Tedx talk in full hereConnectedness & The Digital Self. 

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