Social circles are complicated


People are naturally social creatures. That’s what makes social media such a powerful concept. Social media channels allow human beings to sort themselves into groups and factions seamlessly, and maintain intimate relationships at greater distances than ever before.

But as anthropologist Herbert Spencer describes in his theory of the social organism, society is a system of interrelated parts that operate interdependently. Social media users understand that concept intuitively, and segment their relationships accordingly.

For instance, you are not the same person at work as you are among friends on a Friday night. The things you talk about, the vocabulary you use and the friendships you maintain in different contexts are the products of years of learning how to interpret relationships cues. From flirting to non-verbal communication, the way we present ourselves to others is constantly shifting based on whom we are talking to, and why.

The current social media environment has evolved to reflect this reality. It is made up of a number of independent social channels (FacebookTwitter,LinkedInFoursquare, etc.) that allow users to create and maintain separate and distinct parts of their identity with different social circles. For example, your friends are on Facebook, but you find business colleagues on LinkedIn.

This disconnect creates complications for anyone attempting to use social data to connect with customers or prospects. Where do you find the most appropriate audience? Do marketers need to maintain an ever-increasing number of individual social channels? How can we create a system that is scalable?

How Google+ Makes Social Networking More Confusing

The Google+ approach aims to simplify managing relationships, but ultimately fails because it works against people’s natural behavioral patterns. This is why Google+ faces an uphill challenge to adoption. Google+ allows users to define their own “circles” of contacts, like “High School Classmates,” “Family” or “Classic Car Fans.” The platform seeks to merge distinct interaction groups together into a unified experience. Users spend time creating the circles they want to share with, a tactic that helps push information into your contacts’ streams.

But the system breaks down once you try to consume content from a variety of different sources in your own stream. Suddenly, college roommates are mixed in with professional contacts, or people you’ve never actually met. This requires additional cognitive effort of the user to filter content by relationship, rendering the experience frustrating and confusing.

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