We all have close friends and family members with whom we spend a lot of time. We spend a lot of time with them because we have a lot of affinity with them. We think in the same way and we have the same interests as them. Incidentally, they are the people in whom we have the highest level of trust. These people constitute our strong ties.
We also have other acquaintances with whom we spend less time. They are people with whom we have some affinity and trust but at a lower level than our strong ties. We can call them our weak ties.
While it is natural that we pend time a lot of time with people with whom we have greater similarity, we shouldn’t ignore the impact that it has on our perception of reality. Since our strong ties have views and opinions that are similar to ours, they will interpret all the things that happen in their life in more or less the same way that we do. Therefore, when we exchange or share opinions with our strong ties, we are seldom sharing or exchanging new ways of thinking. By sharing opinions with strong ties, we are merely reinforcing what we already believe as being the right way to interpret events in our lives. In such a setting, social media becomes an information cocoon, meaning that it merely serves for clustering together people with similar ways of thinking.
Weak ties on the other hand have much less in common with us. Sharing views with them will therefore lead to us being aware of new ways of thinking. In my view this is precisely where social media can be useful. Social media offers the possibility to maintain a lot of weak ties without spending too much effort in maintaining them. By being able to maintain a lot more weak ties that we could traditionally, social media give us the possibility to add diversity to our thinking. It can be used to escape information cocoons. In this regard, using social media to strengthen relationships that are already of strong nature is counterproductive.
Another implication of this concept is that high profile social media users such as top bloggers, gurus, celebrities, etc. should not be followed too much on social media. These people already have strong presence in traditional media and their views are highly promoted. Sticking too much to what these people say will have the same effect than sticking only with close friends and family members: we will be exposed to the same perspective of reality whether watching TV or reading blogs.
The real benefit from social media comes from the possibility to explore different paths of thought with little expenses. When using social media, if people follow what is already in the mainstream media, then little gains will come from this new communication platform.