Social Media and Natural Selection


July 3, 2012

At the core of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is the concept of natural selection. According to Darwin, the struggle for existence will favor individuals with some variations over those without, and thereby change the frequency of traits within the population. According to Darwin, the traits that create an advantage for those individuals who leave more offspring are called adaptations.

In order for adaptation to occur, the trait must possess what Darwin called heritable variation, or variation that can be passed from one generation to the next. It must also confer an advantage to the next generation in the competition for resources.

So, if we buy into Darwin’s idea, natural selection can occur in a population when a few factors come into play:

  • There must be a struggle for existence within the population
  • There must be a development of traits that pass from one generation to the next, increasing the frequency of the trait in the population
  • There must be a competitive advantage at stake, causing morbidity among the portion of the population that fails to develop the trait

When assessing the modern business climate in light of these factors, it is clear to see that the process of natural selection is about to occur as it pertains to new media participation.

First of all, anyone attempting to start, grow or manage a business these days is well aware of the struggle for existence. This struggle has, in fact, become so fierce that entire practice areas of the law have evolved in most countries in an attempt to limit or restrict competition. Anti-trust laws prevent the formation of monopolies or oligopolies, and governments impose tariffs or subsidies to limit or prevent pure competition or prevent the loss of domestic competitive position.

Secondly, to the generations who participated in the development of the new mediums, the traits required for their use had to be discovered, learned, practiced and developed. But, for the rising generation of digital natives, the traits have arguably been inherited – second nature, a daily component of modern existence. Ask anyone from the Net Generation (a.k.a. the Generation Z) and they will tell you that blogging, facebooking, unfriending and tweeting are all regular verbs in their vocabulary. In fact, usage of these terms have become so mainstream that modern dictionaries not only include them, but have canonized definitions for each.

Finally, it only takes a hard look at statistics such as the rate of social media adoption among internet users, or the percentage of U.S. executive reporting measurable sales and marketing advantages from social engagement to convince one of the dangers to business health that are eminent for those who fail to adapt.

By my estimation, the new media phenomenon clearly measures up to the three criteria outlined by Darwin in his concept of natural selection. Time to get fit.