Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Social Divide

We live in a new world today. We are hanging out on Facebook, sharing our wisdom on Twitter, posting links on Google+ and building our professional networks on LinkedIn. The new world of social communities is great - it allows us to keep in touch with our friends and network with people who share our interests. We can hardly imagine the world before social media - it has become a part of our lives. Right?

Well, not so fast! I am again and again reminded that there are many of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances who don’t participate in any of this. They are not on Facebook, they don’t tweet, if they don’t work at Google, they are certainly not on Google+. If these folks happen to have an account on any of these networks, it usually doesn’t include a profile picture and no activity has been posted in well over a year. Social networks have clearly no appeal for this crowd.

This is not a generational issue. It is not a demographic issue - at least not by the traditional ways of defining demographics such as age, gender, race, or income. It is also not that these folks aren’t social. In fact, many of them are very sociable and have a strong network of contacts and friends.

I suspect that anyone who has not embraced social media yet is not likely going to do so anytime soon. They can’t be forced. For every rational argument pro social networking, they have a rational argument against it. They usually state security and privacy concerns, they say that it is all a waste of time or that it is all about self-promotion. But I suspect that they simply are not interested because it is not “their thing”. There are simply people out there who are choosing not to participate in social media.

Whatever it may be, we might be witnessing the emergence of a new social divide. It just may happen, that our future society will consist of a social media class and the anti-social media class. This is not the first time this happened. We have presumably left behind a few people in the past. When Gutenberg invented the press and popularized books, not everyone started reading them. In fact, literacy is an issue to this date. When email replaced letters, not everyone embraced this trend and there is a portion of the population keeping the postal service on life support today. The same thing might be happening to social media.

The next time we use sweeping generalizations about how the nature of work has changed due to social media and how social software revolutionized customer engagement, we should remember that there is a group of people choosing not to participate. Perhaps they will be forced to join in eventually. Or maybe, the social networks need to step it up and provide services compelling enough to attract these folks.


  1. Good points Lubor. Humans are inherently social and will interact with others through a channel that is most valuable to them. Social media just increases the available channels and removes geographic and some temporal barriers. But if a person can meet f2f, call, or email all the people they want to and get the kind of social interaction they 'need', then social media provides no advantage.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Martin. Indeed - it is a big world out there and many people have different values and preferences.

  2. Thanks for the interesting post Lubor. I think I would fall somewhat into the group of folks you are talking about (note: no picture) and I work for a technology company and consider myself fairly educated and pretty intelligent.

    I don't have a Facebook account and have no desire for one. I don't feel a need to connect with people I knew 20 years ago and haven't stayed in touch with. I also consider it a waste of time based on the amount of time I see friends and relatives spend on it.

    I have never tweeted and don't even know how. When this was newer, somebody at work tweeted? about everything: they were getting coffee at Tim Horton's, they were walking through the parking lot...I wondered why they just didn't walk instead of wasting time tweeting about it and wasn't their employer concerned about all the time they spent tweeting during the day?

    I don't even know what Google + is.

    One of my few concessions to social media is LinkedIn as I do see its value from a business and career standpoint and it can be kept professional. I also enjoy sites such as Trip Advisor where I score over others opinions before making any travel arrangements.

    There has been a lot of talk lately about hiring companies asking job applicants to provide their Facebook logins and passwords so they can look around in your account and learn more about you. I prefer to keep my private life private - and by not having Facebook I have nothing to worry about in this area. I would not be happy if someone insisted I show them my LinkedIn info but at least there wouldn't be anything there I would be worried about.

    I have a word of warning to those companies whose strategy is to engage their customers primarily through social networks or just specific ones - you need to realize that you are limiting your customer base. There are companies I am interested in that only post information or special incentives on Facebook or Twitter. There hasn't been a deal yet that was good enough to get me to change my mind - or at most I went to someone that did have an account and asked them to print off the deal for me. Furthermore, my opinion of such companies is impacted as they are not willing to provide me with what I want in the way I want to consume it. However, when you open up your marketing and are more inclusive to include LinkedIn, email, web, etc. then you are going to capture more interested parties and create more customer loyalty as you've given your customers the choice of how to engage.

    1. Many thanks for your comments, Crystal. Obviously, I do realize that different people have very different attitudes about social media. I'll might continue trying to "convert a few more souls", though ;-)

  3. As I see (and feel) it, Social is another tool (tech but not new). It's your choice, not your capability, to take advantage of it.
    Thank you.

  4. I would fit into the category of those who have opted out of Facebook due to privacy concerns. I keep a linked-in account but that is only my professional persona. I got a bit creeped out when I was reading the Globe and Mail online and found their facebook widget was reporting on stories that "friends" of mine had read. That meant that FB was keeping a record of what *I* read. I find that as much a violation of civil liberties as in the United States where the CIA would come into Libraries and want to audit what books people were reading.
    It didn't help the case for social media during the Wiki-leaks scandal when the DoJ in the US was subpoenaing logs and account information relating to anyone remotely associated with Wiki-leaks via Twitter.
    In other words, I have dramatically reduced my online presence in Social Media because of concerns of how a current or future government may use this information, which the content providers have been all but too willing to comply with a pushy government.