Siliconcowboy's Blog

Technology, journalism, social media and social responsibility

Small Groups: The Next Big Social Media Opportunity

One of the defining characteristics of social media is that it allows people to rapidly grow, and communicate with, a broad audience of friends and associates.

Curiously, there are a large number of hard-core Facebook users who have no interest whatsoever in this capability.

Instead, they are attracted to the ease-of-use that social media provide as they communicate with a much smaller group.

For these people, the fewer associations, the better.  And ironically, they are far more common than are “power users” with hundreds of friends.

Indeed, the average Facebook user has between 120 and 130 friends, which, according to one researcher, is just below the threshold for the number of friendships one person can reasonably expect to manage in real life.  Many Facebook users are connected to even fewer friends – 30 to 50 is not uncommon, mostly close friends and family – and they’re perfectly happy to keep their circle small. They don’t necessarily try to exclude others, they just don’t actively seek new members.

Others use sites such as LinkedIn to communicate with an exclusive group of associates in business or professional organizations. While LinkedIn doesn’t release statistics on the average number of links created by users, recruiters say it’s likely to be much smaller due to the nature of the environment. LinkedIn users have great potential to expand their links, but they’re more interested in cultivating high-quality discussions or organizing teams, largely to demonstrate their employability and value as team builders. Increasing their circle might risk the inclusion of less-qualified members, which would detract from their objective.  LinkedIn has done a great job of removing affiliate garbage from the site and rewarding group moderators for keeping discussions on track and useful.

Similarly, the average Twitter user has just 27 followers. This is due to a large number of factors, including that an estimated 25 percent of Twitter accounts appear to be inactive. Still, the number of power Twitter users is incredibly small by comparison. Twitter lists and hashtags enable “grouping”, but not in any meaningful way (other users aren’t readily aware of being in such a group).

Going back to Facebook, we also find that many people with large circles of friends also engage with one or more smaller circles focused around a single purpose or interest.  These Facebook users typically self-organize when one member invites a few friends into a closed or private group, and those friends expand the circle to include others with the same interests or characteristics.

If the group is merely closed, it can be seen by friends outside, and those friends can see who is included in the group – but they cannnot interact with it unless they are invited in by an administrator.

If the group is set up to be private, other Facebook users outside the group cannot see it, nor can they know who is included in it.

There’s no telling how many such groups exist. It could be a few thousand, or many more. The fact many are closed or private may cause others to regard them as antisocial, but in fact they are often just the opposite.

Softball teams, book clubs, local chapters of professional organizations and self-help groups all have tightly organized members who use social media to enhance their ability to communicate, plan events and archive photos or meeting notes. These are powerful needs, but they are only loosely supported within the Facebook framework. In fact there are many problems with the way groups are architected by Facebook – not the least of which being that it’s almost impossible to get back into a group if you have left one.

While social media platforms tend to gear their efforts toward the needs of the many, the fact is that the majority of users are only interested in communicating with a few. Once these platforms focus on the needs of these groups, we’ll begin to see an evolution in social media.

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This entry was posted on April 27, 2011 by in Art of Communication and tagged , , , , .
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