Online Communities

...and an odd sociological phenomenon


I just read an interesting article about online advertising that had a couple of fascinating (to me, anyway) sociological commentaries.

Written by an advertising expert named Richard Levy, this article was about the online community Facebook and its new initiative to allow companies to use members to advertise to each other.

Here’s how it works: If you really like a company’s product or service, you can give that company an endorsement (“I really like Brand X! It’s the only kind I buy!”). The company can then send your endorsement in the form of an advertisement to your online “friends” in Facebook. Your endorsement makes you what Facebook is calling a “Fan-sumer.”

So I’m sitting here wondering, “Why on earth would someone, for free, allow some business to bother their friends with an ad, complete with their picture and endorsement? For FREE? Why on earth would someone do that? How does this benefit them? Why would anyone take the time and energy to do this?

Then Mr. Levy made an observation as to why people will, no doubt, sign up to do this:

“Doubtless Facebook members will register as fan-sumers even without needing an incentive. The “Of course I’m important” culture of online communities dictates that any participant’s opinion is cherished. Dissemination is its own reward.”

In other words, there is something that motivates humans to help advertisers on Facebook and post on message boards and comment in chat rooms and give their opinions about things, as illogical as it is to spend the time and energy to do it. IT MAKES THEM FEEL IMPORTANT. As foolish as that motivation is, it’s a real phenomenon. The “reward” of being seen (or at least feeling like you’re being seen) as an “expert” about something makes them feel good about themselves.

Mr. Levy also made one more point I found interesting. He noted that, nearly 120 years ago, W.S. Gilbert penned the line “When everyone is somebody, no one’s anybody.” In other words, when everyone, no matter how much they ACTUALLY KNOW, or what their life is REALLY like, is considered to have equally valid opinions and authority and observations in the “Of course I’m important” culture Mr. Levy so aptly describes, then we’re all reduced to the least common denominator of mediocrity…or worse. This is similar to the “tall poppy syndrome” we’ve discussed before. In the democratized online advertising scheme Facebook is setting up, a person who has no real knowledge about something, and perhaps totally dishonest motives, can “endorse” it just as easily as a true expert! So what value do these “endorsements” really have, anyway?

And in the same way, with online message boards and chat rooms, ANYBODY can have an opinion and can say whatever they think about any given subject, and present themselves as an “expert,” when in reality they may have no life whatsoever, and may know NOTHING about what they “so confidently affirm.” (1Tim.1:5-7)

Silly creatures, aren’t we? :-)

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