Social media tames the money taboo
Do you feel more comfortable discussing your finances online?
Money. Sometimes it seems it's all we ever talk about. The economy, unemployment figures, Wall Street bonuses -- all are major topics of conversation. But when it comes to discussing our personal money issues -- credit card debt, student loans, retirement savings -- Americans can be pretty tight-lipped.
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Anecdotal evidence from the dining room table suggests that people would rather talk about their sex lives than discuss personal money matters, even with intimates, friends, and family.
What's preventing these conversations from happening? Embarrassment that one is handling one's money poorly, or is making considerably more or less than one's peers, is one answer. Security fears are another. Meanwhile, there exists a wealth of knowledge that we can share with each other about money and finances if only we could cut through the awkwardness and be brave enough to talk openly about those topics.
That's where social media comes in. At its worst and most clichéd, social media can seem little more than a cacophony of voices dissolving into the void. As social media takes enormous strides forward and evolves into action-based trends (witness the rising credibility of certain bloggers, the use of the Internet during Barack Obama's presidential campaign, the massive Haiti relief fundraising effort on Twitter), the opportunity exists for people to move substantive conversations about money online. Plainly: Social media can be harnessed for the greater common financial good.
Not only are money-related conversations happening on social media, but for many of us, it's the most comfortable environment in which to talk about certain taboo subjects. If I'm a 22-year-old recent college graduate who's working as a waiter while trying to make it as an actor-musician, I might not be terribly interested in reading new government data or academic economic papers describing why it's in my best interest to start a Roth IRA ASAP. In all likelihood, I am spending a good portion of my day online, chatting with friends and family, reading the news, and looking up restaurants and entertainment options. It just might help me better manage my finances were I to learn how the people I work with spend their money, how much those in my peer group are putting away for retirement, what kind of debt they're carrying, and what expenses they're being forced to cut back on.
If one positive outcome of the economic crisis is a push for more corporate transparency, it's worth suggesting that the need for financial transparency also works on a personal level. That is, if Americans were to be more forthcoming with each other about their personal financial experiences and bring that conversation online in a safe and secure way, it could usher in a new era of personal financial understanding and responsibility. The model of real people talking about their real financial goals, challenges, and problems online -- backed by powerful quantitative data -- could yield unparalleled social good. Who knows? We just might be able to crowd source the solution to the financial crisis.
Social media is where many of our most candid conversations are happening today. Used properly, it would allow for a kind of communal conversation about money that's simply not happening with one's friends and family. We're living through unprecedented economic times, and informed conversations around money are crucial. A little socialization might help the awkward dollar find its voice.
Microsoft is one of the founders of Bundle.com.
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