A look into how social media connects us, why we need community, and questioning the algorithm.
Connecting via social media
Social media has gone through many different stages. At first it was all about connecting with other students or coworkers. Then the focus became about networking with possible friends and job opportunities. It quickly turned into a marketing frenzy for businesses and the well known “Boss Babe” to increase their sales. However, Zhu et al. (2015) stated that in recent years people are using social media as a way of finding connection again. Consumers are looking to belong and feel apart of a community.
But what is it about social media that makes a person feel connected on social media? And why is that something that’s so desirable?
Sites like Facebook and Instagram allow people to send messages back and forth (Zhu et al., 2015). The benefit to messaging through social media is that it allows friendships to continue to grow despite how many miles stand between them. Carrying on a long distance friendship in the past was exponentially more difficult than it is now. Friendships through social media, in turn, has become desirable due to the flexibility and the easy access to social media.
What is homophily?
One reason why people have become so attracted to using social media to connect with others is because it is filled with an endless supply of fan clubs and small group. People are naturally attracted to others that are like minded. This is refered to as homophily (Boucher, 2015). This is more obviously seen with high schooler or a ”clicky” job environment. Those that love to workout, run for fun, or do crossfit tend to stick together. While the people who love watching movies or playing games can be found gathered up swapping movie quotes.
Simularly, homophily can also be found throughout the many social media channels. Between all the ”mom groups”, ”boss babes”, ”fitness gurus”, ”cozy gamers”, and so many more! People naturally gravitate towards others that share a common interest (Boucher, 2015)
Is Facebook the reason we’re friends?
Have you ever been scrolling on Facebook or Instagram as you notice a post made by an old aquantence? This sparks your interest and you choose to reach out to them. Maybe you make plans to grab a cup of coffee. Next thing you know it's years later and you're best friends.
Have you ever wondered, if you never saw that post from years ago you might have never gotten back in touch, leading to the friendship you have now?
How much control does the algorithm have over who we connect with and who we become friends with? Bulut et al. (2010) discusses what he referes to as "Friendship Based Routing". Eccentially, Friendship Based Routing is when they use a system that takes already astablished friendships to then "create" new friendships through mobile social networks (Bulut et al., 2010). I personally have seen specific ads or past connections pop up on my Facebook feed and have wondered if it was a coincidence or the algorithm?
Boucher, V. (2015). structural homophily. International Economic Review (Philadelphia), 56(1), 235-264. https://doi.org/10.1111/iere.12101
Bulut, E., & Szymanski, B. K. (2010, December). Friendship based routing in delay tolerant mobile social networks. In 2010 IEEE Global Telecommunications Conference GLOBECOM 2010 (pp. 1-5). IEEE.
Zhu, Y-Q., & Chen, H.-G. (2015). Social media and human need satisfaction: Implications for social media marketing. Business Horizons, 58(3), 335–345.