GenX Think Tank: Social Media’s Impact on Relationships

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For businesses and brands, social media has been instrumental in connecting with audiences, building brand awareness and encouraging customer loyalty. Those use-cases have been well documented, but what about the impact of social media on personal relationships — specifically when one person in a committed relationship is much more active on social networks than the other?

GenXers watched the evolution of digital media and social networks shift from being pure communications tools into vital marketing and customer service channels. They saw the rise and fall of the internet chat room, #IRC channels, and the arrival of Facebook and Twitter on the social web.

To really understand the role that social media plays in the daily lives of GenXers, and to probe how participation in the social web affects interpersonal relationships, we turned to our panel for their insights and perspectives.

Our panel included:

  • Hessie Jones, CEO of ArCompany.
  • Brian Carter, author/speaker/consultant at The Carter Group, a mid-range GenXer.
  • Lisa Konopinski, middle school teacher, younger GenXer and my better half.
  • Jure Klepic, digital strategist and partner at KGB Global, a mid-range GenXer.
  • Doug and Karima, KGB Global co-founder
  • Charlene Jaszewski, communications consultant and writer and self-described social media junkie.

You can view the hangout in its entirety here.

If you’ve been reading these summary posts or watching the Hangouts online, you know that reacting to prominent research regarding internet usage trends between the generations is often a starting point for deeper discussion; Hessie set the stage with several key findings from Pew Research.

  • The internet, cell phones, and social media have become key actors in the life of many American couples— the 66% of adults who are married or in committed relationships. Couples use social media in the little and larger moments of life — and have discussions about when participation is necessary and vital vs. when to abstain.
  • 10% of internet users who are married or partnered say that the internet has had a “major impact” on their relationship,
  • Fully 72% of married or committed online adults said the internet has “no real impact at all” on their partnership.
  • 25% of married or partnered adults who text have texted their partner when they were both home together.
  • 21% of cell owners or internet users in a committed relationship have felt closer to their spouse or partner because of exchanges they had online or via text message.

One common thread quickly emerged: recognizing — and openly discussing — the potential negative pitfalls of online communication, both personally and professionally.

Brian Carter stated:

I found that I have to use whatever anybody’s else’s favorite form of communication — sometimes that’s email, sometimes that’s social, sometimes that’s public social. There are some people who will not talk to me unless it’s on Facebook Messenger.

To combat the temptation to remain always connected and accessible, establishing firm boundaries means more work gets done and more stuff gets created. When work takes us online and into the social networks, it’s easy to get drawn into the conversation vortex and lose all sense of time and purpose. Not surprisingly, the feedback loop of likes and comments on Facebook triggers the same stimulus centers in the brain as dopamine.

Charlene has noticed entire conversations between friends shift from the phone to text messaging to Facebook Messenger or on a Facebook status update, reaffirming once again that social media usage is habitual and ubiquitous for those who see value in them. When applied judiciously and mindfully, social can — and does — accentuate positive points of connection for GenXers and others alike.

It’s Just Life: The Why of Social Media

What drives social media participation among GenXers is varied and diverse, and the panel touched on a number of these during the discussion. For those who telecommute or freelance, conversations on social channels replaced the traditional water cooler discussion that comes with working in an office. In other words, it’s less about driving business or audience development and more about the simple act of connecting with people independent of platform or channel.

Forging deep ties through social media channels is a byproduct of interaction, but it happens organically when similar interests and experiences combine — and when we can collectively distinguish between self-serving or self-promotional activity and authentic conversations.

Brian spoke brilliantly for the marketers in the group, saying,

As social media marketers, we do stuff in order to get people to have a reaction. I don’t want to be that reactor, I want to be a creator.

Digitalism escapism is a real thing, and it can be a source of friction and conflict between those in committed relationships. Optics matter, and there was agreement among participants that what is shared online can’t be viewed holistically. Even the most casual social media user knows how to elicit a response vis-a-vis the way they interact online. This particular panel was comprised primarily of marketers and entrepreneurs who viewed social media through a strategic lens — with two exceptions: Lisa and Doug are both married to “power users” who spend more than four hours per day on social media.

Lisa noted she uses social media as an opportunity to connect with friends and family separated by geography, saying that it took some time to understand how I (her husband) used social media as part of my work and professional development. As a casual user, she’s more concerned about missing opportunities to be present and empathetic “in real life” as opposed to missing out on valuable information or learning through social media.

Having open and honest dialogue about how a significant other is using social media is important, a point first brought up by Doug and reaffirmed by everyone on the panel. Inappropriate or potentially destructive use of social media exists, but GenXers seem particularly attuned to addressing issues and points of conflict before they jeopardize the relationship between committed adults.

False Intimacy and the Comparison Trap

Social media feeds a basic human need to connect, share and communicate, but Jure brought up an interesting tidbit: when conducting ethnographies of social media users, he discovered even the most casual user began optimizing the content of their status updates to leverage trending topics. Unpackaging this insight further reveals narcissistic and ultra-competitive behavior.

This panel of GenXers was acutely aware of the negative implications of social media, but recognized social media wasn’t the root cause of interpersonal strife; rather, social media made it easier for people to misrepresent themselves, cheat or assume different identities.


  • GenXers aren’t fearful or dismissive of social media’s impact on relationships, but they are interested in the long-term implications.
  • The psychological impact of social media competition needs further study and inquiry; anecdotally, teachers like Lisa are concerned about social media during adolescent development when self-esteem issues tend to surface.
  • When inappropriate use of social media occurs, it usually points to deeper, systematic issues — in a relationship, in organizations, or at an individual level.
  • Boundaries and limits require constant attention and open dialogue between people in a committed relationship.


Photo credit: Intersection Consulting via photopin cc.

0 thoughts on “GenX Think Tank: Social Media’s Impact on Relationships

  1. JoeCardillo says:

    Fascinating episode. Some of the way X-ers on the hangout describe social media is similar to how a 17-year old recently described Instagram to me. She was talking about social signals on Instagram, and how both the like or lack of as well as how quickly someone likes or responds to something you do signifies the depth of the relationship or your overall popularity. Have a feeling that’s in operation more than people might admit in other generations, too.
    Also I think the immediacy / intimacy thing is not well understood. First to respond holds a certain value, but it also often incentivizes less thoughtful responses. This has less implications for “your cat is ever so LOLZ” than it does for deeper human expression like “trying to figure out if I need to change careers because I don’t feel fulfilled.”

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