Social Media Is Not A Business Opportunity; It Is A Human Opportunity.

I’ve been thinking about 57 things this week. Specifically, the 57 comments left on my Facebook status update of a week ago, announcing the birth of my son.

57 expressions of congratulations. The number itself isn’t really all that important. In fact, there were dozens of other comments on Twitter, my blog, via email, Facebook photos, etc. It is WHO said it, or rather, the context in which I know them, that matters.

It included some of my closest friends and relatives; some folks I sat next to in fourth grade, and barely spoke to then or since; people I worked with awhile ago, that I never actually met in person; to quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Geeks, sportos, motorheads, dweebs, dorks…” and the like.

And every single one of them mattered to me. Not just because they said something nice to me, but because we were still connected.

I am considering a world my son will grow up in. One where he doesn’t lose connections. Where connections are easier to maintain. When there is less social pressure to send holiday cards each year, and that regardless, you can still congratulate an old acquaintance on the birth of their son, 20 years later.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what this all means. Social media is no longer a big story, we all know it’s important on some level, and reshaping our world on some level. Recently, we hear a lot about businesses are trying to “leverage” social media to move the needle in business metrics somehow. Maybe it’s not direct revenue, but reducing customer acquisition cost, extending marketing dollars, enabling deeper research and the customer data that could not be captured in another manner.

And, you know, that’s fine.

But I can’t help but feel that there is still a human opportunity that is entirely untapped. We have these powerful tools of connection, yet we still live our lives largely the same. We suffer through disease, through disaster, through hardship, and social networks are on the periphery of dealing with those experiences. We have important needs, for financial security, for emotional security, and social media is on the periphery of that. We celebrate, we learn, we dance, and social media is on the periphery of that too.

I love Facebook, yet I am always disappointed in how it prevents me from connecting. Twitter, the same thing. Their search functionality is almost non-existent. I can’t find people I already know on Facebook unless I know exactly which High School they graduated from, and which year. It’s difficult to find like-minded people on Twitter because their personality is broken down into 140 characters, and never put back together again.

We need to put the dots together.

The web is filled with so much useful information and connections. But they are spread among languishing forum threads, nine month old Tweets, blog comments, photos that aren’t tagged, and YouTube videos that aren’t connected to any of the rest of it.

I have been spending a great deal of time understanding how we learn, and how we grow. This is the direction I am moving into – for my personal life, and my business. Inherent in this is to envision not how we shove social media back into old business models, roles, and quantitative financial metrics. But rather, how we rethink the arbitrary financial metrics that our lives are run by, and use social media to consider how we strip away the layers that hold us back. The layers that keep us from connecting. The layers that keep us from learning. The layers that keep us from growing. In our personal lives and our business lives. Both individually, and as a culture. A world culture. A human culture.