The Theory of Social Relativity

Do Social Networks Provide Basic Human Needs?

In the wake of Facebook’s IPO hitting the market last week to less-than-expected results, many a critic have popped up to express why they feel Facebook – and by association social media – is merely a passing fad. While some have points with merit, and others with points ranging from “I just don’t like Facebook” to “I don’t understand it, so it must be useless”, it’s probably no surprise that I stand firmly in the belief that all of them are simply, well, wrong.

No Passing Fad

To date there are over 200-some social networks across the web, all targeting a specific niche. While some only have a few hundred users and others reach well into the millions (near a billion for Facebook), I believe all of them, and social networking itself, fit conceptual requirements to creating a self-sustaining online ecosystem.

If we are social beings by nature, then a social network is simply the catalyst to our nature.

According to Facebook, every 60 seconds there are 510,000 comments, 293,000 status updates, and 136,000 photos uploaded to the network. Almost 50% of 18-34 year-old users check Facebook when they wake up, 28% before even getting out of bed. Yep, I’m guilty there too. Twitter sees similar numbers, where 50 million of its 225 million users (more than 20 percent) use the real-time platform daily.

As these numbers continue to grow exponentially, social networking becomes more and more a part of our daily lives. So, what causes these urges, this need to document and share our existences on social media?

Take Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human Needs” theory for example. You might find social media associates very closely with its merits.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs and Social Media

Pyramid Games

1. Physiological: While Maslow’s first and most important tier embodies the physiological needs every human must have to survive (breathing, food, water, etc.), I’ll admit that social media has a hard time fitting in. As much as some may make it seem, you don’t have to tweet or share pictures of your cat on Facebook to survive.

That’s not stopping Facebook, though, which very recently introduced the “organ donor” feature for user profiles in hopes of helping those in need of organ transplants find someone willing to donate.

Who knows what they’ll think of next…

2. Safety: Tier two, Safety, is the overall feeling of security we have in relation to our lives, employment, property, and so on. Social media has found itself on both sides of the fence since Facebook came about in 2004, both as a cost-effective medium to save businesses from bankruptcy (a la Twitter Stories), and becoming the epicenter of massive scandals revolving around user information and private data.

Some data even suggests thieves are using social media to target potential victims – or their property – who share their location in real time. No matter which side of the fence you agree with, it’s hard to deny social media is playing an active role in this tier.

3. Love/Belonging: Love. “After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs are interpersonal and involve feelings of belonging, friendship and love.

Social media perhaps lends itself most to this tier as millions of people communicate, share thoughts and feelings, and interact with each other all day, every day. Even those who feel they don’t fit in anywhere can easily find others online who have the same interests as they do. You could even fix a long broken relationship (below).

4. Esteem: The fourth tier expresses the human need to be respected, both by others and themselves. We all want to be valued in some way, shape or form.

Social media exemplifies this need through Likes, retweets, +1s, number of Followers/friends, +K points, channel subscribers, up-votes, stumbles – you get the idea. I wrote a blog about this a while back that references Sigmund Freud’s “id” theory.

5. Self-Actualization: The fifth and final tier of Maslow’s theory is self-actualization.

It pertains to what a person’s full potential is and realizing that potential through questions of morality, creativity, problem solving, acceptance of facts, etc.

Social media, especially for branding, has been exploding in this category. It allows businesses and individuals to be much more than a static brand, pushing their products and counting profits.

Customer service has never seen so much opportunity and potential. Some companies, like Dominos, have gone above and beyond, going so far as to depend on social media to completely restructure its products and business model.

Social media marketing has allowed businesses and brands to build a personality and have conversations with their consumers, and it’s given rise to social creativity on sites like YouTube and Twitter where some users and videos have become sensations overnight.

Take It Away Now

What does all this mean? In short, social networking isn’t going anywhere. Much like the radio and television, social networking, for those of us who partake, has already taken hold of so much of our lives that without it we simply wouldn’t be the same – and it happened in a fraction of the time. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a whole other blog altogether.

So, what’s your take? Would you say social networks have improved our quality of life – or are they destroying it? Does social media really fit Maslow’s theory, or am I just making it up?

Practice a little self-actualization yourself and let me know in the comment section below.

Above pictures are credited to Ticsyformacion.com & Lombok Design