Social media & the unbearable loneliness of being

Social media and the unbearable loneliness of beingIt’s the security lines at airports that make me feel most alone in the world.

All that patting down, removing items from my person and from my belongings… For those few minutes where you shamble through the security scanner, barefoot, divested, unconnected, surrounded by strangers, and observed by cameras and armed security officers, I feel totally, and helplessly alone.

I’ll come back to that in a moment. But first–have you looked at the growth of social marketing activity lately? Exponential growth, faster than any other medium. It took television 30 years to reach an audience of 50 million people; Facebook did it in just two. Over 95% of Generation Y use social media.

The question that fascinates me is simply, “Why?”

Why is social media growing faster than any other media in the history of our industry? Face it: most social media is not that exciting. Blogs, Twitter, Craigslist… Those sites are mostly text. How can plain old words compete with high definition, Dolby surround sound, celebrity obsessed goodness?
I go back to my airport security line experience for the answer. In those moments where I surrender my laptop, and iPhone, and Blackberry, and about six other electronic toys, I become completely isolated from my world. I may be surrounded by harried travelers, but I am disconnected from my friends, family, co-workers, and about 300 other random people who sometimes dip into my life through Facebook and LinkedIn.

Social media isn’t growing because the technology is slick, or the entertainment value is amazing. It is growing – invading – our lives because it helps us feel less alone. As a former retailer, I spent a career trying to figure out how to get consumers to become customers. Promotions, sweepstakes, clearance events, coupons, loyalty programs…
Manipulating people to behave the way we want them to behave is hard. And expensive. I often joke that they will print the phrase, “For a limited time only” on my tombstone.

Ironically, helping people make connections is much easier. Inviting them to participate in the brand – and helping them connect with others who share their passion – harnesses something far more precious than a desire to save a buck. Instead, it taps into a primal human emotion, the desire to belong.

What could be more powerful than that?