With all the hoopla around social media and software these days, I thought it might be useful to remember that there are some basic tenets that apply to social interaction, whether it occurs online or in a face-to-face setting. I’ll label those principles “The Seven “C”s of Social Interaction. They include:
Conversations: All social interaction is a conversation between two or more individuals. One person may dominate the conversation by speaking more than listening, but the most useful conversations generally occur between participants that are engaged in both modes. The conversation can be a one-to-one or one-to-many exchange.
Continuum: Social interaction takes place at a specific point along a continuum of time and information flow. Some conversations occur over an extended period of time, while others are brief, isolated exchanges. We are not part of all conversations in the continuum; we move in and out of specific conversations and the flow in general.
Container: Social interaction happens within a container. That may be a physical place such as a convention hall or a friend’s house. The conversation might take place in a digital space such as a threaded discussion area or an instant messaging application. The container might even digitize elements of physical interaction in a digital realm, such as in a virtual world.
Community: Social interaction most often takes place in context of a specific community. That might be a community of interest (e.g skiers, nuclear physicists) or one of purpose (i.e. project team, supporters of a charity). Communities may be pre-defined or self-forming. Communities may host scheduled events that serve as the locus of conversation or the dialog may be distributed over time but within a specific space (see Continuum and Container above.)
Currency: Most social interaction takes place because one participant desires something that another has. In order to obtain the desired object, information, feeling, or whatever, the participant that wants it has to trade some form of currency with its holder. That currency may be actual or promised information, action, recognition, or money. The type and amount of currency traded is negotiated during one or more conversations.
Credibility: The ability to get what one wants as a result of a conversation depends, in part, on the level of credibility previously established with the other participants (as well as the currency offered.) The more successful social interactions one has, in which promises are fulfilled and the other participants’ expectations are met, the more credible one becomes. Greater credibility leads to improved capability to achieve desired outcomes in future interactions.
Connectivity: One of the results of social interaction is that new contacts are made and existing relationships are refreshed. The more interactions in which we participate, the more connections we form, and the larger and stronger our network becomes. Being well-connected leads to an increased ability to deliver what someone else wants, improved currency with which to barter, and enhanced credibility. There is also an additional meaning in the context of online interactions; one must have access to a good physical communication network in order to participate in the conversation.
This list is my first attempt at codifying what I believe are the most important elements of social interaction — online or physical — into a simple framework. The ideas presented here are synthesized from many sources, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of the individual components. However, I can attest to the power of each based on the number and quality of the physical and online social interactions that I have participated in over the course of my life.
I will continue to refine and expand the framework, but wanted to publish it now to generate discussion and feedback. Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment. I will be grateful for your constructive criticism and suggestions for refinements.