Of course, the Web didn’t invent social networking. A social network can exist in the physical world in a variety of situations. Wikipedia (which itself is a social network) defines a social network, as of June 2008, as:
. . . A social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of inter-dependency, such as values, visions, idea, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, conflict, trade, Web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes.
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Wikipedia then goes on to explain more about social networks: Research in a number of academic fields has shown that social networks operate on many levels, from families up to the level of nations, and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals. While social networks date back to the exchange of meaningful grunts at community cave gatherings, the term has increasingly become part of our vocabulary as more social media sites and applications have been introduced on the Web.
Social Media is the umbrella term used for all of the Web tools and applications used to socialize on the Web. These tools include social networking sites, message boards, blogs, wikis, podcasts, instant messaging, online forums, photo and video sharing, e-mail, and more. Social networking on the Web, however, differs dramatically from practically any other social networking community in history, in three distinct ways. First, it allows people to communicate with others while maintaining their anonymity. In many cases, this anonymity has allowed people to develop a separate “cyber life” persona, often times far different from the person they present themselves to be in a “real life” social setting.
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In his online book The Psychology of Cyberspace, John Suler, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor at Rider University, writes:
It’s well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, and express themselves more openly. Researchers call this the “Dis-inhibition Effect” It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes people share very personal things about themselves. They reveal secret emotions, fears, wishes. Or they show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. We may call this benign dis-inhibition.
On the other hand, the dis-inhibition effect may not be so benign. Out spills rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats or people explore the dark underworld of the Internet, places of pornography and violence, places they would never visit in the real world. We might call this toxic dis-inhibition. Dr. Suler notes that there are many reasons that the anonymity of the Web permeates the individual user and alters their behavior, including the sheer invisibility offered by the ability to hide one’s name, age, and other vital statistics; the cathartic effect of being able to vent one’s feelings and then leave an online conversation or situation as quickly as it takes to close a browser window; and the equalization of status in an online environment.
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You might ask, “So what?” So people’s behavior changes when they go online. This isn’t a psychology class; it’s a Web marketing class. However, at its very heart, marketing is the study of behavior, and online marketers (and Web developers) need to understand the subtleties of behavioral change in their audience when trying to reach someone through an online effort.
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