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An Experiment: Social Media Is All About Being Included

Earlier this week a devastating earthquake hit the East Coast. The damage was unimaginable for those who weren’t affected by the disaster. So, of course the first course of action for those who felt the quake was to get under their desks, in a doorway, or evacuate the building right? Wrong. The first thing people chose to do was update Twitter. And Facebook. In the modern day social media has become such an integral part of our lives we think first of notifying friends and family about what is going on in our lives. Which is great. But at the same time, it also seems to have affected our ‘flight or fight’ response. We’ve suddenly emerged in a world where a “wall” isn’t something that holds up the roof over your head, but rather a virtual way to represent ourselves. Most people get their news from a “news feed” rather than a newspaper. And a “friend” is now someone you barely remember meeting at that party but thought they were attractive.

And this brings me to my main point and observation: social media is not only about relationships and connections, but about feeling included. When an event like the East Coast earthquake occurs (yes, it was mild and almost hilariously so) people seem to think updating their social media profiles about being a part of the event, and checking in on Foursquare to the impromptu event, before doing anything else. It took Earthquakepocolypse just minutes to hit Epic Swarm on Foursquare. That’s 1,000 people checking in on a Foursquare event that didn’t even exist before the earthquake occurred in a matter of minutes. People feel the need to be included in an event, and to publish said inclusion to every channel possible to notify their friends and followers that they were, indeed, part of it.

…which led me to try an experiment. I noticed how quickly the ‘Earthquakepocolypse’ reached tens of thousands of check-ins and thought, “wow, people really want to be a part of something big. How can I take advantage of that when I’m in Atlanta, a city that wasn’t affected?” So I created the Foursquare venue “Missed Out On The Earthquake” and simply shared that I had checked in on it on Facebook and Twitter…once. The venue had no location tied to it, and had no description. A couple of my social media buddies checked in as well when they saw my tweet and I thought “hmm, that’s promising but still a small number.” I left it alone for awhile and within an hour or so the group had earned ‘Swarm’ status and reached triple-digit check-ins. The crazy thing to keep in mind is that this venue is about people who weren’t affected by the earthquake, and there was no advertising for it, and no reason for people to search for such a venue on Foursquare.

I was pleasantly surprised but certainly not shocked. My theory was being proven correct. A big event happens and people want to be in on what’s “in.” I was excited about the venue doing well, and was waiting to see how well it’d grow from there. After waiting another day the group has stalled at the final count of 268 total people checking in, with 277 check-ins total. That’s “Super Swarm” status on Foursquare for an event that was all about missing out on an event. I’m still not shocked, but it’s pretty crazy.

The ability to share content to such a degree, and so quickly, via social media has changed the way we think and act. It’s human nature to want to feel part of the group, but now we can fulfill that want with a few words and a click of a button. There is a dark side to social media that encourages elitism and exclusion, but it is not nearly as pronounced. Social media is changing the landscape of how people all over the world interact with each other, and THAT is something in which we should ALL be included.