Why People Join Social Networking Sites

What is the number one reason why people join social networks?

Original image by kamshots.

Go ahead and think about that for a second. Now say your answer out loud.

What was your answer? Networking, sharing, for a sense of belonging, to learn? Guess what, those are all good reasons but they are not the number one reason.

If you said community or relationships, you are partially right.

Top Three Reasons We Join social Networking Sites

1. Identity

The number one reason why people join a social network is identity says Shama Hyder Kabani, author of The Zen Of Social Media Marketing. It’s to showcase who they are. We join a social network because it says something about us.

And Kabani should know, she did research and her graduate thesis on why people join social networking sites.

2. Connections

The number two reason why people join social networking sites is to connect with others. We want to build relationships.

3. Community

The number three reason why people join social networking sites is community.

Establishing Identity

For nonprofits and organizations, it’s important to remember that people join social networking sites to showcase their identity first, build relationships second and then belong to the community. They don’t join a social networking site because of community. We often get that backwards.

When people like a page on Facebook, answer something on Quora, recommend someone on LinkedIn or tweet something on Twitter, they do those things not because of community but because of their identity.

“I love ____________ (insert brand name here),” says something about us. It establishes our identity. We say we love something because it ultimately says something about our self.  We don’t do it just to say something about the company. It is about us.

In other words, social networking really is all about me, me, me!

If business and organizations really understood this progression, they would approach their use of social media differently.  They would ask, “How can our brand, our organization, fit into people’s view of themselves.” They would build their marketing messages around personal identity.

That means asking, “How can our brand or organization be seen as cool? What incentive can we give people to make our brand or organization part of their identity?”

This is critical for organizations to understand. Traditional marketing strategies do not fit into social media platforms with success. Remember people join a social network because it is about establishing their identity, not to consume your marketing messages.

“Traditional marketing rules cannot be applied to social media because social media is not a marketer’s platform,” says Kabani.

The Paradox About Our True Identity

Here’s the troubling paradox about our identity. Most organizations and institutions usually banish employees from showcasing their personal identity. The organization wants employees to showcase the institutional identity. Our bosses often want us to keep our real, true identity under a psychosomatic lock-and-key.

At work, we put our institutional self forward. Inside organizations, we repress our social self as a matter of bureaucratic survival. The spontaneous expression of our true identity is considered inappropriate in formal situations.

This creates an ongoing tension between social networks and institutional organizations. And it highlights why social networks have been so popular. They are dynamic, heterarchical, horizontal, informal and spontaneous. Social networks challenge core assumptions about corporate management, democratic governance and organizational behavior. Basically, they showcase our humanness.

For organizations to be successful, they have to shift from institutional identity to allowing employees to showcase their personal identity. People are attracted to and want to build relationships with other people.

The Power Shift To Networks

The power has shifted. It has shifted from institutions to networks. And the power is given back to people who showcase their humanness, their identity.

What are some ways organizations can align their brand or services with a person’s identity in social networks? Why is it so difficult for organizational leadership to allow employees to show their true selves?

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  1. Great post. I think it is an issue as well. Companies that have addressed it head on are reaping the benefits. It is much easier to say “No” then to slow down and think about it and craft a social media policy that makes sense. I have seen some that give employees the liberty of being themselves within bounds. In a non-electonic way, a local bank started having their employees put a little note on their name tag like “I climbed Mount Washington” or “Go Yankees” and even that tiny departure from the traditional corporate culture made a huge difference and gave everyone something to relate to.

    Keep ’em coming Jeff!


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt. Jeff Hurt said: Why People Join Social Networking Sites #eventprofs #asaecenter http://ow.ly/3yMcC […]

  3. LizJJones says:

    It’s about trust. I think most organizational leadership are afraid that if employees show their true selves, the organization is at risk for some negative perceptions or something they can’t “undo.” They play the “better safe than sorry” game because they do not want to be accountable for what their employees say and do. It’s unfortunate, but I think leaders are coming around slowly but surely. As more successful case studies are identified, more leaders will loosen the grip, I think.

  4. Mike Burns says:

    I think a lot of poeple join because they think it is the thing to do…and then seldom if ever participate. Maybe a better title is “Why People should join….

  5. Jeff – the line that struck me as so true is “people join social networking sites to showcase their identity first, build relationships second and then belong to the community.” Given that, the real challenge is – how can an NPO build a community that allows people to showcase their identity and build relationships? Within an organizational social site such as a Facebook Page, this is really challenging. However, it can be done!

    Also, I think that you and @LizJJones also nail it when you speak of the problem of not letting employees show their identities within social sites.

  6. Mark Rechner says:

    Very good and timely bolg posting. We were just having a discussion about this earlier this week. We’re trying to determine the most beneficial balance between corporate and individual regarding social media. You are absolutely correct that people want to follow individuals.

  7. […] roadblock to adoption is how companies are using social media. Unlike traditional advertising and marketing, social media is about relationships, which take […]

  8. Sahil Bansal says:

    Individuals join social networking sites because they don’t have time in today’s corporate environment and they can not be physically present everywhere.During earlier periods also individuals did social networking within their families as their were large joint families and they did not felt the need to move out of their families to do social networking but in today’s world due to nuclear families and lesser time individuals like to connect through these social networking sites.
    Sahil Bansal

  9. […] pal Jeff Hurt, a prolific writer and brain, explains Why People Join Social Networking Sites. Oh, you thought you already knew? Well, you might be half right, but let Jeff take you a little […]

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