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Fulfilling needs builds stronger social networks

Written by David Harry   
Wednesday, 21 January 2009 00:04

The Primary Motivators of Social Networking

[the following is a guest post from James Morris]

In a digital world where you are interconnected and inundated with messages and images, it’s important to identify and address the needs of those you are trying to network with, to be effective.  When it comes to social networking, are you making the right connection with your audience, or are you simply broadcasting to the masses? Are you giving back to the collective whole or are you just taking what you can get? By understanding your audience and making lasting connections, you not only build a following, but you will also be delivering your message in a more meaningful way.


Why should you care about social networking?

There are many reasons to become involved in social networking. A leader in this industry,, boasts thousands of different interest groups and reasons for making connections. Whether your interest is cars, cameras, dating, rare collectibles, industry affiliations, or any one of thousands of reasons to connect, chances are, there is a social network that caters to your interest.

Making a connection

For professionals, especially in the realm of marketing, the desire and the need to get involved in social networking seem obvious. The more connections you make, the more exposure your brand receives. It’s a numbers game. Achieving success to that end, however, is an entirely different subject.

The ‘social’ in social networking

The focus on my own blog has always been the professional standpoint of social networking.  This is also the case for networks such as  But professionals are certainly not the only people who use social networks.  And these people with different motivators for social networking, motivators other than financial security or promoting their brand, are the ones who are sometimes overlooked in the equation. But who are these people and what are their primary motivators? 

A superficial look at social networking will bring the obvious answers to why people become involved in social networks – to find information, to make friends, to escape reality.  The question we really want to explore is “What are the primary motivators for social networking?”

First, it's helpful to understand that term: “primary motivator.”  American psychologist Abraham Maslow conceptualized a hierarchy of human needs which, to put it very basically, states that what we need creates our reason for doing something.  Our needs are our primary motivators, and as needs are met, we can pursue other motivators.  The following graphic shows Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Maslow's hierchy of needs


Needs and Social Networking

Each of the needs depicted above has a solution in social networking in one fashion or another. Yes, even physiological needs can be met through social networking. Have you ever seen a group of homeless people gathered around a fire burning in a steel drum? I bet at least one knows where to get a free dinner. At least one knows where to get clothes. Another probably knows where a safe, dry place to sleep is.  And one will likely know where to find day labor. These people pull together their meager resources through social networking in order to fulfill their most fundamental physiological needs.

Social networking helps establish a critical bridge between our digital and our physical lives.  Of course we should not attempt to fulfill physiological needs directly through digital social networking. But other needs – safety, love, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization can be satisfied through this medium. Some companies go to great lengths and expense to convince us that their services do just that!  Here are some examples:

  • Safety: This could involve security of employment and resources, and even safety of health could be a consideration. Services like WebMD are a loose form of social network that can provide information that can improve (read: secure) your health.
  • Love/Belonging: This is a big one. It's also one of the hottest marketing targets because so many people are looking for love and companionship online. Dating services like are social networks where people pay and search for others with similar interests to fulfill that need for love and belonging. Free services, such as discussion forums, can often lead to that sense of belonging as well.
  • Esteem: This need can be fulfilled after prolonged involvement in a social network. Whether it’s through becoming a well-known figure or a top member on the "leader board," becoming a forum moderator, or reaching a certain number of posts, all can lead to fulfilling the need for self-esteem.
  • Self-actualization: Of all the needs, self-actualization is one of the more difficult needs to target in social networking. However, an observant eye will notice certain people who are "keepers of the flame," while others are the spontaneous characters, and still others are the true problem-solvers.  While some may want to ensure the integrity of a group or ideal, others may feel a deep need to bring personality and humanity to the environment. These are much higher level motivators and they can be very strong.


Observant social networking pays

While it may seem like many people only seek to fulfill their need for security of employment through social networking; many more are seeking to fulfill a different need. This is something many Social Media Marketers and companies overlook. Once again, many are just looking at the bottom line, the numbers.  The perceived mindset is to get the product, service, brand, or agenda to as many people as possible.  But that is not what social networking is really about. Those who take this approach are short sighted and are doing more harm than good to their brands.

A one-way relationship is unfulfilling and short-lived.  Find ways to develop your relationships through social networking.  Pimping your latest blog post, product, or offering might fulfill your own need for security of employment (read: money), but it doesn't give anything back to your network. Giving back by satisfying the primary motivators – the real needs –  of those in your network will exponentially increase your scope of influence and will help you build strong, lasting relationships. And building relationships is, after all, what social networking is all about.

... just something to think when being a social marketer.


Dave; James Morris is an internet marketer and all around web tech geek that can be found on Twitter and his blog; Feed the inner geek - I'd like to thank James for riding along and helping me add more diversity here on the Trail - if you'd like to guest post as well, get in touch!



0 # James Colt 2009-01-21 09:29
I'm tempted to call this article a "must read" for anyone who is at all serious about social networking online. The discussion about Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is very thought provoking, and very valuable.
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0 # Jeremy Rivera 2009-01-21 09:39
"perceived mindset is to get the product, service, brand, or agenda to as many people as possible"

I like that this trend is called to the mat. I agree that 1=1 connections are stronger than 1=x , especially when there are so many opportunities for real growth when you step out of yourself.
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+1 # JMorris 2009-01-21 11:14
Thanks for the opportunity to take a ride on the trail, Dave!

Thanks to everyone who joins in this conversation!

I believe we are entering into a more personalized era for the Social Web as a whole. If companies want to survive online, they have to meet the needs of those they are targeting.

This also applies to bloggers, marketers, SEOs, etc. The signs are all around us if we pay attention. Even giants like Google are becoming more Personalized. We need to learn from their example and redefine what is Social Media Marketing.
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0 # Peter Hamilton 2009-01-21 12:13
I totally agree that giving something valuable back to a social community of any kind is the best way to get something out of it. However, it might take a long while to realize that return. When building a social networking presence for a client, it can be very difficult to persuade any sort of investment that cannot bring a fast and significant ROI.
Of course this is the problem with any branding effort. It may not take effect for a while, and when it does, it might be very difficult to track.
As an individual with an Internet presence, I certainly see the need to understand and consider these ideologies, but it can be a little tricky getting a brand (especially medium sized) to commit to this type of social involvement.
I like what you had to say, JMorris, about following the example of companies like Google. Any other thoughts on how to convince clients of the real power of personalizing and giving back to social networks?
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+1 # JMorris 2009-01-21 13:34
Any other thoughts on how to convince clients of the real power of personalizing and giving back to social networks?

The key here is to draw attention to the relationships built in offline marketing. Though the two are two entities, a powerful argument for involvement is the established norm of offline marketing at trade shows, seminars, and conferences.

These events leverage social networking to raise brand awareness and adoption. While they are not online marketing, the basic concept is the same as using social media for social networking. You bring something of value to the event for free to entice an audience. Once you have an audience enticed and primed for a sale, then and only then do you make your pitch.

The value is what you make of it. If you draw attention to the relationships that the client can understand in their terms, then you increase the value of what you do. If your talk is decidedly web-centric and you do not connect with the client on their level, they will struggle to see the value in what you do.

For example. If you're approaching an SMB who specializes in "Kit Cars" that replicate famous cars of the past, then drawing attention to the vast network of retailers, suppliers and potential clientele that can be reached on social networks is good and will have value for the client. However, you should show them (with examples) that free video tutorials on how to assemble the vehicle and how to customize it adds more value to the social network and is an attractive way to increase brand awareness.

By publishing such resources for free, you are helping the user satisfy the need for Self-actualization. The type that would buy such an item tend to be more hands on. Therefore, they have a need to feel like they've accomplished something and solved the problem of building something of value. By providing information on how to accomplish this end, using your offering, you've not only added valuable content to the network, but you've also established a connection with the person using your resource.

Again, it's about building a relationship where you (the person wanting the user to take action) is offering something for free that adds value. The user will appreciate the effort and consideration in doing such a thing and will remember your brand the next time they need what you offer.
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0 # Rebecca Leaman 2009-01-23 11:33
While I've always been a big believer in the giving away of stuff-of-value as a relationship-builder, it hadn't occurred to me that what's happening on the other end is fulfillment of a high-level need (self-actualization): That 'feels true'. And when we can help someone to meet their needs, it's a big step toward building trust.

Now here's a thought: I wonder if more trust naturally accrues in a fledgling relationship when we're helping to fill higher needs (esteem, self-actualization), as compared to, say, the 'relationship' when you sign a pay cheque (safety) or share a sandwich (physiological) ?
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0 # Chris H 2009-01-26 00:51
haha it's so weird that I cam across this post because this weekend in class I had to give a presentation on Maslow's Hierarchy. I think it's total crap to put all aspects of life into a simple triangle but whatever.

I'm getting more and more into social media. It's the new hot thing on the next... well it's not really that new though... just more accepted than it once was.
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+1 # JMorris 2009-01-26 19:24

I would say that it is easier to gain trust when lower level needs are secure and you are building based on higher level needs. It's easier to trust when there is abundance than when there is not. This goes back to basic human instinct. When you're struggling to survive, it's dog eat dog out there.


Maslow's hierarchy is a simplified representation. I don't see it as a hard boundary for all aspects of life. Particularly in social media, it is more of a reference point for research, planning and development. A basic visual to keep you on the right path, if you will.
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