Hot on the heels of my recent posting about the emptiness and loneliness that underlie the social networking technology phenomenon comes this story from The Sunday Telegraph.  

A British cleric, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, is quoted as saying that social networking sites are “leading teenagers to build ‘transient relationships’ which leave them unable to cope when their social networks collapse.” He added that, "Among young people often a key factor in them committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships."

If Nichols is right—and he may have a point—this development should be of great interest to life insurers. More importantly, however, any insurance entity considering social networking as a marketing channel needs to pay close attention.  

Why do I say this? Because the most effective marketing reaches people at the personal level, which is to say, it is about relationships. In the personal sphere, relationships are essential to good psychological health and well-being. At the same time, marketers, understandably, want to appeal to consumers at that personal level because they see it as the seat of motivation and decision-making.  

In this they are correct. What is troubling here, however, is the insertion of commercial input into the fragile world of emotions, and the resulting cheapening of relationships. Certainly anyone who pours real emotion and commitment into such cheapened relationships is heading for a fall, and the resulting pain may indeed have serious consequences.  

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social networking sites are the technological manifestation of our human need for connection. While I see them as woefully inadequate substitutes for such deep emotional needs, I can’t simply lay the blame for teen suicides, depression and other less-serious disaffectations at the feet of these channels.  

The social networking Web sites have provided an outlet for the desperate loneliness I cited in my previous blog on this topic. In this way, they may actually help some who can’t or won’t find relationships elsewhere.  

As marketers and businesspeople, however, we need to remember that playing with people’s emotions for our financial gain is potentially dangerous, if not morally repugnant. There is a thin line between selling and manipulation, and we owe it to our customers and ourselves to remember that every day.  

No, social networking sites do not cause suicides any more than any other communications tool. It is not the tool that is the problem; it’s the way we use the tool.

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services. He can be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

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