09/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Narcissism, Key Ingredient in Success of Social Media

That almost sounds like a headline from The Onion.

We hear more about the new paradigm in human communication that social media has spawned than about the real driver in the phenomenal growth of these sites: basic human narcissism. You know what the sites are: Facebook (FB), Twitter, YouTube, My Space, Flickr, etc. Certainly they do feed a need for communication and interaction, albeit of a different variety than dinner and a movie with a friend or that ribald college reunion that ended in Grey Goose-fueled embarrassment for one formerly uptight poli-sci major. You just can't get that experience on FB, though you can catch the instant replay, kindly shared in Technicolor by one of your "friends".

But these sites have allowed our narcissism -- inordinate fascination with oneself -- to be unleashed. That monster who craves attention -- or the child in us that didn't get the attention deserved -- is having its moment in the sun. The beauty in this new outlet for attention-seeking is that we can now get it without having to ask for it. We just believe that we are getting it, living in the fantasy that our blog posts are widely read (and funny!), our status updates of national importance and our Tweets breathlessly awaited. (We now pause for a short grammar break. Is it already "tweets", with a small "t"? Has the "T" in "Tweets" followed the path to fame of the "g" in "googling"?).

We are all published now. We all have a presence. We all matter. Social media allows us to express ourselves, show our accomplishments, applaud ourselves. This is done in a relatively safe environment where we don't risk negative feedback, unless of course you've allowed people into your network indiscriminately or just have really mean friends. We want to be known, and it's easier to risk this online, somehow. To allow ourselves to be truly known is the biggest risk we take in friendships and romance, fearing that we will be rejected once people see who we really are. But we tell you, fearlessly, in our blogs, tweets, status updates and emails with an openness many of us do not practice in our offline relationships. It's the digital equivalent of telling a stranger on a plane your deepest, darkest secrets.

I was a reluctant narcissist, but I'm getting the hang of it. An "early adopter" of FB, it was at first difficult for me to be self-promoting, having always looked down on those that engaged in rhapsodizing about self as lacking in humility. But there is a difference between healthy self-esteem -- and wanting to share information about your views, passions, and what makes you laugh -- and inordinate fascination with oneself. Hopefully I don't cross that line.

I've also realized that during these tough economic times I need to use social networks as tools for networking and to talk about both my marketing work and my writing. And I've shifted my thinking about FB being an exclusive enclave for friends. I've started searching for past contacts and work colleagues, though I still draw the line at "friending" people I've never met.

With anything that grows to immense popularity so quickly there is a tendency to pass it off as a fad. Though MySpace seems to be losing popularity -- and I believe some of that is due to migration to FB -- I think FB is here to stay, though daily usage may diminish in direct proportion to the lowering of the unemployment rate. But FB can still rest easy as there are new narcissists being born every day, taking their first wobbly steps into self-disclosure before blossoming into full-on self-obsession. That notwithstanding, FB and its brethren better figure out how to make more money, because they really haven't cracked that yet. And it better not be by starting to charge subscribers, a state of affairs that could instigate mass uprisings with global geo-political ramifications, so strong is the FB addiction for many.

So, Facebook friends, please stop me if I am going over the top, giving TMI, or just simply wasting your time. Or you can be kind and just "hide" me. I will be none the wiser.