There is a lot of debate these days about whether social media is good for relationships or whether it hurts and devalues them. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Umair Haque argued that the ‘social media bubble’ has devalued relationships through ‘inflation.’ In economics, the more money there is in circulation, the less value (i.e. buying power) it has because increased circulation causes prices to rise. Umair Haque maintains that this is what social media has done to relationships.
For this idea to work, you have to assume that we have a limited amount of attention to devote to relationships, and that every new relationship we participate in somehow degrades the value of our other relationships. Lance Concannon from businessblogging.co.uk offers another opinion:
People do not invest any less effort in their important relationships just because they have a large number of less important connections on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. If anything, social media enhances relationships and provides an additional conversation channel between friends and family that can be used to connect when they are apart.
Facebook enables us to maintain a constant, low level of conversation with people close to us throughout our working week. We don’t have time to write emails or have IM conversations with all of our friends and family over the course of a week, but with a few status updates here and there we are are able to communicate casually.
Facebook also makes it easier to stay in contact with people who might otherwise have drifted away – like colleagues from old jobs, friends and relatives who move far away and people you struggle to stay in touch with because of the practicalities of everyday life.
The relationships with those people may be weak, but at least the connection is maintained rather than being completely severed. And the same is true of channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. The relationships on those platforms are mostly with colleagues, professional acquaintances or simply people who share similar interests. These relationships are mostly low value, but it takes very little effort to maintain them, and the level of effort required does not significantly increase when the number of relationships rises.
Low Value Relationships are Fine as Long as They Come at a Low Cost
The reason social media enables us to vastly increase the number of weak relationships is because tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn significantly reduce the level of effort involved in maintaining those relationships.
Most of those relationships are of low value, but under the right circumstances any of them could evolve into a much more valuable relationship. They might be able to help you with a problem, give you a great idea, or lead to a solid business opportunity. The ‘opportunity cost’ (i.e. the time and effort maintaining them) is so low as that it makes it more than worthwhile.
Lance Concannon concludes that just because it is hard to monetize something, it can still have value.