People with more friends tend to live longer. It makes sense, right? After all, we value human connections very highly and associate them with success and well-being. But that’s in the real world — what about in cyberspace? Do Facebook friends and Twitter followers count, too? A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) says yes.
So social media marketing is good for an insurance agency–and it could be good for the agent, too? Potentially! The findings have interesting implications for anyone who spends time on social media.
The study, completed by William Hobbs, Moira Burke, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, compared California public vital records with 12 million Facebook users and non-users, using de-identified data to reach their conclusions. They looked at several factors, including friend request activity, post content and frequency, and messages sent. Their data shows some intriguing trends.
Going into the study, the researchers knew about statistics showing that those with greater offline social connections tend to be healthier people with less risk of illness. Having friends, they knew, lowers stress and provides a stronger support system during difficult times. It also motivates people to engage in healthy behaviors, improves immunity, and reduces inflammation. “However, nearly all of this work has been conducted in the context of real-world, face-to-face social interactions,” they said. With Facebook now boasting around 2 billion users, they thought that it was about time to learn if online social interaction had the same effects.
What they found was significant. On average, the study concludes, “the risk of dying in a given year is about 12% less for Facebook users than non-Facebook users.” So what do Facebook users do differently?
How Can Social Media Help You Live Longer?
It turns out that social media users are just being…well, social! Researchers saw the most significant decrease in mortality in those who posted more photos or received more tags — indicating that they had offline social interactions as well. On the flip side, online-only behaviors, such as posting statuses or sharing content, did not show a similar decrease. In fact, people who posted a lot of status updates actually showed a slightly increased mortality risk. In contrast to these, messaging showed no change in mortality at a moderate amount. But it did show slightly increased mortality at extremely high or low levels. Bottom line: Posting photos and having conversations with your friends over messenger seem to be the healthiest social media behaviors.
One particularly interesting finding: users who accept more social media connections (AKA friend requests) showed a lower mortality risk. If you accept that having more social relationships is an indicator of better health, then this makes a good deal of sense. However, it also showed that there was no link between decreased mortality and initiating more friend requests. In other words, accepting more friend requests is good, but friending more people is neither good nor bad. “What matters,” say the authors, “is not the tendency to seek out friends — it is the willingness of others to seek out and establish these friendships.”
Insurance Social Media Lessons
Predictably, the real benefit of social media could be that social network activity tends to promote more real-world social interaction. According to the researchers, “To the extent that online social media platforms like Facebook provide an opportunity to maintain social relationships, they may also indirectly provide people with greater capacity to receive social support and encourage socially-motivated behaviors that may prevent illness.”
So all your liking and tagging maintains and strengthens relationships you’ve already established. Basically, interacting with your friends online is a good thing — as long as you still make time for them offline, too. (For insurance agents, this is easy to understand. The referrals and leads you get on social media have to convert into real-world interactions and sales!)
Or course, it’s all about having a healthy balance. The study ultimately showed that the lowest mortality risk came to “those with high levels of offline social interaction and moderate levels of online social interaction.” Our takeaway from this is that social media continues to be a great tool to cultivate and maintain relationships — whether those are with your friends, or your clients!
–By Mallory DuPuy