Social media has been around for some time, and people seem to take great pride in the number of friends they have on social media platforms. I however don’t believe it is possible to maintain deep relationships with a lot of people at any one time, so the numerous friends and connections on social media have to count for something else.
According to an article on Business Insider, there is a practical limit to the number of deep relationships human beings can possibly maintain. The article places this cap at about no more than 150 relationships at a time as a limit, with most adults being able to juggle about 5 deep relationships at a time.
Obviously the depth of this ceiling for relationships cannot be the same for all the relationships. There is a distribution, with some relationships being deeper and more involved than others.
If one has too many relationships, it is simply not possible to give the necessary attention to each relationship, that is needed to foster and maintain meaningful relationships, which have all the hallmarks of deep enough friendships. Meaningful relationships are those that are personalised, reciprocal, and built around general obligations of trust and reciprocity
Take myself for instance. I currently have just over 320 friends on Facebook, and close to 270 connections on Linkedin. The reality however is that I hardly engage with most of the people in my circles on social media, and only interact with a handful on a regular basis, to the extent that I can count those I interact with regularly using the fingers on my hands.
This applies to everybody in general, if you were to take an audit of your social media relationships, you will find that most of them are mere acquaintances, and some even strangers, but that does not mean that those relationships are not useful.
So, if most of the relationships on social media do not serve the typical meaning of the word “friend”, then why do we have them?
My answer to this question is two words, Online Marketing. Whether you like it all not, everyone is in the business of selling. We all sell different things, besides actual goods and services: which are the obvious commodity, but in actual fact, we are all sell something more.
We sell our personal brand. People take pride in having a lot of friends on social media, because it deepens their sense of personal worth in the world. It makes them feel important. It builds their self-esteem, and in some cases it builds social capital.
Supposing you have 5,000 friends on Facebook. We have already established that it is impossible to interact with, give or take, more than 150 of them at a time. But it does say something about you doesn’t it? It says you are popular, and you are well liked.
I am not saying there is anything wrong in gaining status from a lot of people following you on social media, but I am saying it is important to recognise that, most of these relationships do not have any depth on which to ascribe the term “friend”, but they nevertheless remain useful.
Clearly the appeal for having numerous friends than one can count, does not come from the benefits the friendships or connections provide. The appeal comes from status and influence.
I already discussed how having numerous friends on social media speaks to elevating our self-importance, but it speaks to so much more. And this understanding, if properly leveraged, can make our livelihoods better.
Typically, people who have the most number of friends and connections on social media platforms are celebrities. It is in the best interest of a celebrity to be popular, whether it’s on social media or off. You will find that everybody, even the average Joe, as long as they are on social media, are in pursuit of a large following. Why is that?
The answer is in the ability to influence minds and have an impact. My use of social media, for example, is more focussed on propagation of ideas. And admittedly, it feels really good when I notice that an idea I let out on social media gets the time of day with many people. It does feel good, perhaps a little too good.
Apart from socialising, everyone wants their ideas to propagate like wildfire, whether they are talking about relationships or science. Aside for paying for it, and even though it is limited in reach, the only way to have such an impact on social media is to do just that: to have as many friends and connections in your circles as possible, even if you do not interact with them directly. That’s the biggest appeal to thousands of friends and connections on social media.
We are all selling something. I often write on Online Marketing, that’s what anyone who is on social media is up to: marketing. Some are doing it for business, whilst others, for their own personal brand, or even for both reasons. Regardless of the motivation, the selling of ideas is well served by the number of friends and connections one has on social media.
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