Social Media and the New Culture of Sharing

This morning as I was running, I listened to Episode 99 of the Catalyst Podcast. It was an interview that Brad Lomenick did with Charlene Li, author of the new book, Open Leadership.

Two Twin Sisters Drinking from the Same Glass with Different Straws - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #13312193

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One thing in particular grabbed my attention. Brad asked her what has changed in the last two to three years in terms of social media. She said,

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What has happened over the last three years is that we now have a culture of sharing that didn’t exist three years ago … Now we think and act very differently because of these technologies. The societal change that has happened is that we share more.”

I think this is exactly right. I have watched the shift in myself, my family, and my friends. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe that social media promotes narcissism. It certainly doesn’t reward it.

I am sure there are exceptions, but people who are “takers” are not successful at attracting followers, fans, or readers. Instead, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs reward “givers”—people who are generous and share.

The implication of this cultural shift is that the more generous you are, the more you will succeed online. In other words, the more you share:

  • the more followers you will attract
  • the more people you will influence
  • and the more conversations you will lead

Here are four quick ways you can share more meaningfully with others in your social media channels:

  1. Share recommendations. Provide links to the things you find most insightful or meaningful. This can include blogs, news articles, books, music, and movies. Increasingly, “search” is becoming personalized. People are letting their social media networks do the filtering.
  2. Share your expertise. Whether you realize it or not, you are an expert in some field. You have knowledge and experience that you likely take for granted. But your expertise could be a big help to others. Your followers will appreciate it.
  3. Share your contacts. The days of holding these close to your vest are gone. If you don’t know the answer or don’t feel like you can help someone, try to connect them to someone who can. This makes the concept of “six steps of separation” practical and more useful than ever.
  4. Share your empathy. Sometimes people just need your empathy. You can remind people that they are not alone. All by itself, this is an act of generosity. My brother-in-law recently found himself in Intensive Care. Gail and I shared it with our social networks. We experienced an amazing outpouring of love and prayer.

This is just the tip of the iceberg I am sure. Other people willingly share their resources, encouragement, and even humor. What about you?

Question: Do you think that social media are shifting our culture?
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  • ronedmondson

    Yes, it is changing the way churches connect. I get far more emails and connections through Facebook these days than I ever do by email. We can wish it was all personal, but culture is what it is. Honestly, I'm far more effective as a minister with social media.

    Plus, without social media I would have never met you and missed out on the investment you've made in my life!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Ron. I am so grateful we met via social media. In fact, I am finding that my closest friendships today are ones that were initiated or are maintained via social media.

  • M1ssDiagnosis

    I agree. But one thing that I don't understand is why I can share info on my status – on natural health, for example- and I get a lot of positive feedback. Yet a friend of mine shares the exact same info and gets blasted by her friends. Why do you suppose that is?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’m not sure. It might depend on the context, the wording, or the person's credibility.

  • Michael

    I think that it is definitely helping. I echo Ron's opinion: it is helping churches connect. Because of connecting to a pastor in Wichita, Kansas, I was able to find a church for my sister in law who desperately wanted to develop her relationship with God. I wrote about the story today actually, which is funny. But because someone shared a link on twitter for a book I connected with this pastor. I love the impact that sharing has made on my family.

  • guest

    I agree social media does not create narcissism, though like any media it enables a further dissemination of whatever the user might do in offline life. But I think 'popularity' in social media can sometimes result from the same thing it results from in other media– entertainment value. If a person who is otherwise a 'taker' makes their posts entertaining– deliberately or accidentally!– they may then become 'too funny to unfriend', as the Failbooking site puts it….

    • Ben Lichtenwalner

      I agree. As I share in greater detail below, I think social media reflects the nature of individuals on and offline in a new channel. Some takers just want another avenue to take. However, many givers, like Paul mentioned below, find ways to give to an even broader audience.

  • Paul Sanduleac

    I'm sure social media is shifting our culture. Most of the shift is done in the wrong direction, because people start spending more time online, instead of spending the free time with God in His Word. Also, more and more this creates a dependance on the web, similar to "if you're not aware of the latest stuff on Facebook, you're dumb and retarded."
    On the other side, it opens a door to share all kinds of testimonies with the world. You can share the Gospel with somebody on the other side of the world, without even leaving your home.

    • Ben Lichtenwalner

      Great points on the balance of the pros and cons. Thanks for sharing Paul.

    • Chris Lewis

      I think this is a great point Paul. If I hear what you are saying, to put it another way might be: In trying to keep up with what is current, and making sure that nothing is missed, more time is spent online. This results in less time with physical, face-to-face relationships, and therefore disconnection. But a false sense of connection arises, defined by how many friends we have on facebook or followers on twitter, perhaps. Very interesting.

  • adthroop

    Social media is becoming increasingly essential in more people's lives. I think that is can be a great thing at times and at others a bad thing. I have read some amazing things from people on twitter, blogs and other social media but I am also read too much from some people. If people use social media to do better in the world then thats great. But some share a little too much about themselves and it's sad to see at times.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You probably have a point. In a sense, social media is like having a microphone: it amplifies what you already are and extends the reach.

    • lauradroege

      I've encountered the "reading too much" about other people thing on Facebook. Because of the newsfeed, I now know what "groups" my friends like, and sometimes the groups reveal certain prejudices, political opinions, etc., that I find disturbing. I'm also disturbed that they now have a microphone to extend the reach of their prejudiced attitudes.

  • Ben Lichtenwalner

    Your question is spot on – it is shifting our culture, but not necessarily establishing a new one. For example, if you were a "taker" before, you're likely a taker in social media circles as well. If you are a "giver" offline, you're also likely one online. However, social media is broadening our capacity and strengthening our ability to promote the culture we always valued. A couple examples:

    1. Leadership: Leaders who are authentic and transparent have always been valued. Prior to social media, the platforms for establishing authenticity and transparency were constrained by audience and delivery mechanisms. Social has changed that and exposed us all to the best of authentic and transparent leaders.

    2. Business: As consumers, we've always felt an affinity for brands with which we associated on a personal level. Prior to social media, mass marketing was the primary method for delivery of your branding message. Now, brands can have a mass dialog with their consumers and establish more intimate communication, strengthening these affinities.

    Social media is definitely a great evolution of our communication methods. We now have a solution to the demand from cultures for greater breadth and depth. Thanks for stirring the topic Michael.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is a great comment, Ben. (You should turn it into a blog post.) It will be interesting to see how we view this ten years hence.

  • Jeff Brown

    Very timely. As I read this post, I couldn't help but be reminded of the chapter in Seth Godin's book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? called The Powerful Culture of Gifts. In it, he says, "People who take gifts but don't give them find themselves temporarily ahead of the game, but ultimately left out."

    I've heard many who have thumbed their nose at, say, Twitter because they see it as narcissistic (not having tried it most times) but, like you, I agree that narcissism is not rewarded.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is a great quote from Seth. It’s kind of like spamming. Spammers get results, but they don't realize the damage they are doing to their brand.

  • Becoming Mrs. Dial

    I do believe we are seeing a culture shift as far as social media goes. As a consumer, and a Gen Y consumer at that, I now expect nearly every business establishment I encounter to be on Facebook or Twitter or maintain a blog. I'm dumbfounded when I can't find them on these networks. Even more so if I can't find them online at all. It will be interesting to see how this media will continue to evolve…

    • lauradroege

      Agreed. I'm searching for a literary agent, and I've been amazed at the number who have NO web presence at all: no website, no blog, nothing. They're listed in the Writer's Guide to Literary Agents, but I have to wonder why they don't bother to give any information about themselves on the web.

  • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    Agreeing with you and reading your blog has influenced me to be more generous.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Barbara. Seth Godin and Tim Sanders have had a similar influence on me.

  • chrisvonada

    Absolutely! The opportunity to expand your network is wide open to anyone, and it's all about giving and sharing. These are the folks that shine. Since I started writing a blog I can run across friends on the street and they give me the biggest smiles, something that I've written touched them in a special way. It positively broadens the depth and length of ones reach and ability.

  • Rick Yuzzi

    I gave a presentation at a convention this week about using social media to improve marketing and customer service efforts. The audience was a group of execs and marketers from small telephone companies. At the end, when I asked for questions, one of the GMs basically said we were going to hell in a hand-basket because of the way people are now socializing. He said he'll be in an old-folks home soon, and by God, his kids better come visit him, and not tweet him. He definitely sees our culture as shifting. For him, it's in the wrong direction, with face-to-face communication suffering. For me, social media provides more chances to communicate with people I know well, which shouldn't interfere with face-to-face interaction; plus, it expands communication with those I don't know that well, or haven't seen in years and would probably never touch base with otherwise. I also now communicate with people I never would have known if it were not for social media. I have a new group of people that I can learn from, and provide value to, that I never would have been in touch with before. That is the culture shift for me.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, social media have expanded and enhanced my face-to-face communication. I can say unequivocally that it has deepened my most important relationships.

  • Dawn Herring

    It's amazing how much the social media networks show up on the news and in commercials. When I first joined Twitter, it was so cool to here about how this network was bringing news to the people before the news hit the airwaves.
    I appreciate the relationships I have built with others who have similar interests. The effects of word of mouth are dramatic on Twitter as well as Facebook.
    As a writer, the social networks give me opportunity to share my blog posts and journaling news which can benefit those who follow and friend me.
    I appreciate the benefits of social media both personally and professionally.

  • @g9ine

    "I don’t believe that social media promotes narcissism. It certainly doesn’t reward it."

    I agree with what you said. Social media doesn't "promote" narcissism. However, I do believe that social media is attractive to narcissists. It gives the narcissist a new mirror to admire himself with.

    Social media also can be a beacon calling wounded people to seek the affirmation they don't get anywhere else, which in itself isn't a bad thing, but by itself it is. Affirmation, belonging, relationships: all good. Social media as the soul source of affirmation, belonging and relationships: very bad.

    I like what you said in bullets two and three. They are definitely big shifts in thinking.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Social media can certainly be abused. But overall, I think the effect is positive. Greater transparency. More accountability. Great sharing.

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  • Marc Millan

    You know with all the talk about how social media separates people I never stopped to look at it this way Michael, you are absolutely right. We have so much more access to people and people, I think in general are more accessible in terms of how they think and live, which without social media we would have never discovered. Thanks for sharing. :-)

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  • marksnewton

    I could not agree more. My business partner and I met through Twitter and many of my most meaningful relationships started as an introduction through common connectedness, all inside social media. I take many recommendations from friends and associates I know through social media and often times, turn first to these places for input than in other life streams.

    "Cultural shifting" (not replacing) is the more appropriate interpretation of what this has done for many. At the speed of Internet (and trust), I think this will only continue, and even accelerate, as reputation management emerges over time.

    Thank you for this great post. You have highlighted solid reminders for all of us!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Great comment, Mark. So many of my most meaningful relationships today started out as social media contacts. In fact, I have people now living in my physical neighborhood that I first met on Twitter. Sadly, I am also finding that I am losing touch with my friends who aren't on Twitter. That's one I need to figure out.

  • Sean Sabourin

    What a great read. Thanks for posting Michael. I have been giving a lot of thought lately about this same topic. Are we consumers or contributors? I am still trying to build my site and as someone who is still quite new you are always going to check your stats or to see if someone has made a comment or whatever. I wonder if most people are consumers or contributors?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Consumers or contributors. Great distinction!

  • WomenLivingWell

    OH yes, it is changing so much. When I was a kid we were all watching the same 3 channels on tv and everyone was talking about those shows. Now there are 100's of channels plus millions of youtubes. You can bet that if you link a youtube to your facebook most likely others haven't seen it yet – there's just so much out there now – but social media makes it all move and go – anyone can make an impact now if they do what you said – if they are willing to be "generous".

    Great post!

    • Michael Hyatt

      The great thing about generosity is that its own reward. Even if it didn’t work, it would be worth it.

  • Geoff Webb

    I don't know if social media are shifting our culture so much as amplifying it. The good is getting better and the bad is getting worse. Which is great as long as you have the right filters!

    It is making our world flatter, evening the playing field if you will. I think geography, social position, resources, even financial capital are increasingly neutralized by social media and the interactive web. And I love living in a world where generosity is rewarded – it's so freeing. Now we just have to keep spreading the word!

    • Michael Hyatt

      “And I love living in a world where generosity is rewarded.” I love that, too.

    • Ben Lichtenwalner

      I like your point on filters – how true. This is another benefit of social media – how easily we can filter the bad out, or more likely, only let the good streams in. Certainly not everywhere, but I'm not following Mr. Negativity.

  • Brandon

    I think that social media does bring good, but it can also bring bad… I think that Christians use social media to connect with others and minister to others, but the lost use it in a complete opposite way… Through blogs, you can share a broader spectrum than email…

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your comment, but I don't think you can stereo-type Christians and non-Christians in that way. I know plenty of people who aren't Christians who are incredibly generous and other-centered. Likewise, I know Christians who are self-centered and narcissistic. While I am a Christian myself, I love the fact that social media connect me to all kinds of people that I otherwise would likely never encounter.

      • Brandon

        True… I didn't mean it to stereotype though. Sorry if it came across that way.

  • mary

    I think it is interesting that you can post and no one actually knows what your real life is like. Did you stay in your marriage? Are you judgmental and biased? Are you seeking God actively? Are you non-self-righteous? On the other hand, how great that we get to influence people who obviously are not at all interested in God yet. just another tool for God to display His glory!

  • Mickey Hodges

    I think I missed your post before this evening because I was busy making your very point with some people at lunch and at a professional mixer late this afternoon. The one additional observation I might make is that some of this appears to be generational as well. I have run into many baby boomers (my generation, I might add) who complain about "not getting anything out of it." Totally the wrong attitude when approaching social media, and the Internet in general. The younger generations don't appear to have this fear of giving/sharing that many boomers demonstrate. Maybe I'm wrong, but I was embarrassed to think that maybe "It is more blessed to give than to receive" is something my children embrace far better than I (and my peers) do.

  • Julie

    You may be interested in the article "Attention Economy and the Net" written by Michael H Goldhaber in 1997 (available on at…. I think it was fascinatingly forward thinking for 1997. It is a long article, but you may be particularly interested in the section titled "Advice for the Transition" which uses publishing as an example.

    Abstract: "If the Web and the Net can be viewed as spaces in which we will increasingly live our lives, the economic laws we will live under have to be natural to this new space. These laws turn out to be quite different from what the old economics teaches, or what rubrics such as "the information age" suggest. What counts most is what is most scarce now, namely attention. The attention economy brings with it its own kind of wealth, its own class divisions – stars vs. fans – and its own forms of property, all of which make it incompatible with the industrial-money-market based economy it bids fair to replace. Success will come to those who best accommodate to this new reality."

  • Laurinda

    We sure do share more. Because of this I also think people are conscious of being caught on camera. I'm seeing a shift in behavior at social functions towards conservatism even among non-Christians. You don't have have a facebook account or twitter account to be mentioned or have video/picture go spiral without your knowledge. People are wising up to this. It's just something I'm noticing.

    Other than that, I love the transparency that social media allows!

  • John Richardson

    I went to a social media conference in Chicago call SOBCON earlier this year. This conference started out a few years back as a meetup and brainstorming event for bloggers. This year it had expanded to all types of social media and the conference was predominantly business people learning to communicate better via the social web. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook had an immense presence at this event. It was amazing to see a room of 150 people all on laptops, listening and tweeting out what the speakers were saying. Some of the people were doing business, selling products, and promoting themselves all while listening to the keynote speaker. It was strange at first, but the atmosphere soon caught on and the #sobcon Twitter stream ended up going fast and furious.
    It was communication… but at a faster speed, with more people, using multiple senses. I made contacts with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I would read a tweet about something I was interested in and at the next break was talking face to face with that person. I had a chance to meet Chris Brogan, Steve Farber, and Liz Strauss. All dynamic speakers who have embraced the new medium with open arms. If you get a chance, go to a social media event and experience it firsthand. It will definitely blow you away!

    • Michael Hyatt

      The first time I experienced that was at the “Tools of Change” (O’Reilly) conference in New York City two years ago. I heard Chris Brogan speak. He had a live Twitter-feed going on the projector while he was speaking. At first, I found it disconcerting. But once I got in the groove I found it pretty interesting.

  • Suzie Eller

    This is so true. It's so much more than just trying to get the word out. It's building community. It's relational. As an author I heard the word "platform" for several years and struggled with it because the last thing I wanted to do was to market Suzie, but when I see it as reaching a broader audience it's exciting. I get to engage and connect with real people and have real conversations. It takes us out of the bubble that we can fall into when we are in ministry. Thanks for such a great post.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree. Building community is the key thing!

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  • Cassandra Frear

    Good post. Insightful. Smart. Savvy and aware.

    I'm tweeting it! :-)

  • bdentzy

    Yes and no. I agree with you that it has increased sharing but I believe that's largely because these technologies decrease the transaction cost of sharing (they make it easier). But what I don't see – at least I don't see it yet – is an increase in the sharing that actually costs us something. Especially the things that cost us a lot. But maybe that will change too. I sure hope so – in me and in our culture at large.

    • Michael Hyatt

      The place I see it is in the 20 and 30-something people I know in my company and neighborhood. It seems like they are always doing some mission project or helping the poor. Maybe my experience is unique, but I have been inspired by it.

  • Dennis

    I don't think social media necessarily promotes narcissism, but we should be cautious not to replace one overly-generalized vacuous term for another. We could easily interpret generous as a euphemism for self-promotion.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Can you elaborate? I am not sure how “generous” could be a euphemism for self-promotion. Maybe you could furnish a few examples.

      Regardless, thanks for your comment.

      • bdentzy

        I think that Dennis might be referring to people who "give" to "get." Something like "giving a donation" for "promotional consideration." Like any system, it can be worked if we want to manipulate it.

        But I'd say that most are simply generous.

        • Michael Hyatt

          Ah, that makes sense. Seth Godin refers to this as the difference between a “favor” and a “gift.” The former is done, hoping that the recipient will reciprocate. The latter is done without any expectations at all.

          Good point. I certainly know people who engage in social media in this way.

          • Dennis

            bdentzy explains my point nicely. Thanks you!

            I am hesitant to call generosity a shift in our culture as much as another (exciting) element in an already complex social arrangement. Especially when the idea of generosity is paired with the idea of success, as it is so often paired. I think some of the other comments have mentioned the same sentiment in a more succinct way. Thank you for your response.

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  • Daniel Decker

    Agreed. I think it's really about an underlying sense of community, sharing just being the byproduct of it. We're becoming closer in some ways… we're becoming more transparent in a lot of ways… we're becoming more focused on WE instead of just ME. Community only works when we contribute to it in some way. I think this "contribution" is where the sharing comes in. The closer we become the more we're realizing that sharing is caring. :)

  • John Richardson

    As a speaker, the thought of facing a room full of laptops is somewhat disconcerting. At SOBCON, I had a chance to talk with Steve Farber afterwards about his experience as a presenter at the event. He shared that it was really important to grab everyone's attention right up front. His presentation used powerful slides with key words and compelling graphics (similar to your presentation at Catalyst West) combined with a very powerful speaking voice. From my vantage point, he immediately made an impression on the audience. You could actually see the Twitter stream slow to a crawl and then pick up a few minutes later with Tweets echoing his slide titles. Even though Steve was physically speaking to the 150 people in the room, his speech was given a play by play to thousands of Twitter users following the #SOBCON hashtag. Steve gained a lot of Twitter followers and his message was spread far outside that meeting room. Very effective!

  • lin

    Depends on what your definition of "share" is. There is far less impact with internet-based, "virtual" sharing than with real-life, tangible sharing. The latter involves an actual sacrifice. I think the "culture of sharing" created by the internet is mostly based on selfishness(I'll give so that I can get) rather than true sharing(I'll give so that someone else may have). Just my $.02.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Maybe it depends on what you are looking for—the old question, “Is the glass half full or half empty?”

  • Jody Hedlund

    I can vouch for every word of your post, Michael! It's incredibly true. You get back what you give in social media. In other words, the more we give, the more blessed we are! For example, I've put a link on my website giving away my Character Worksheet. I've had so many people tell me how much it's helped them. In turn, I've made some great new friends and followers.

  • Anne Mckevit

    These days are really different from the days of three years ago. I always try to share my thoughts and some potential business ideas with my followers. I think it is very much effective to my followers.

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  • Jake Coventry

    Another great post. Social Media is shifting culture no question. How much I am not sure. Social Media is basically just people online sharing their life, which is a culture shift big time.

  • Ally Spotts

    I totally agree. For all of the dangers and pitfalls of social networking, some of the most valuable friendships and connections I’ve made in the past year of my life have been orchestrated via blogs, facebook, twitter.

    In addition, much of the information that I depend on to do what I do every day – comes from blogs, facebook, Twitter…

    AND some of the most satisfying and fulfilling moments of my professional and personal life come when I am able to share what I know with other people, start important conversations, etc…

    Like with anything, there are two sides to the story. But this is a perspective that I think is too often ignored. Thanks for bringing it to light.

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