Putting a price on social networking

London, N19
20/05/2012  •  476 words

This week, Facebook floated on the stock exchange at a value of $104bn. Allow me to put that number in perspective. If you were to stack that many dollar bills in a pile it would stretch nearly 7,000 miles into the sky. If you laid them out on the ground, it would cover 400 square miles, well over half of Greater London. End-to-end, they would stretch around the world nearly 400 times.

When we use big websites like Facebook and Google, we rarely consider that they exist in order to make money from us. People have invested in developing the sites because they believe we will turn a profit for them, usually through sales or advertising revenue. Under the #digidisciple tag we’ve often discussed how important social networks are to us, but perhaps we should be discussing how important we are to social networks?

With some rough rounding, the basic answer to that is easy enough to calculate. We know that Facebook had about 900 million active users last month and a value of roughly $100bn. Assuming that my amateur mathematics is correct and the exchange rate hasn’t tanked overnight, that makes each ‘active’ user worth about £70 of Facebook’s value.

While the headlines scream about the value of Facebook, then, don’t forget that you, the user, are its most valuable asset.

It’s almost six years since Time Magazine named ‘You’ the person of the year, but the title is now more deserved than ever. Individuals, their friendships, their interests, likes, passions and views are now recognised financial commodities. And while you might be squeamish at the thought of your personal profile being traded on the stock market, understand that the tech industry is only just beginning to cash in on your social life.

Beneath the finances, there is an important lesson here for Christians living out lives of faith online. This industry allows us an unprecedented platform for connecting with people and we are well placed to make the most of it. We can build relationships and communities more easily than ever, reaching out across every conceivable divide. We can discover common ground and debate our differences with people who are half way across the globe or sitting in the adjacent room. How many opportunities do you have online to love your neighbour? To act mercifully? To advocate justice? To witness to Christ? The potential for our social networks is hugely valuable.

It shouldn’t take a flotation on the stock market to show us how valuable our social networks are, but I suspect that many of us need reminding once in a while. Digital networking can seem so frivolous, so easy, pointless even. Take heart and recommit – if you are worth £70 to Facebook, how much more valuable is your digital profile to your discipleship?

This article was originally written for the Big Bible Project.