This month the Atlantic asks “Is Facebook Making us Lonely” (c’mon, you just knew the answer would be ‘yes’, didn’t you?). As a life-long introvert, I’m used to popular culture extolling the virtues of being outgoing, gregarious and extroverted, while hinting that there’s something not quite right with people who prefer a little peace and quiet. While scholarly and interesting, I thought the basic premise of the piece was a flawed assumption that there existed an earlier halcyon era during which we all hung out together in person. Perhaps like that old TV show, “Friends”? I don’t know about you, but I remember life before the internet and don’t recall endless nights of scintillating conversation and deeply meaningful bonding. Mostly we just sat around watching TV.
Hello, Hello There
A while ago I wrote about a new hotel in my neighborhood that offers guests the chance to connect with fellow travellers and interact with the staff thru a hyper-local social network. Nowhere is the feeling of being “alone in a crowd” more profound than in a place like New York City where the sidewalks are packed night and day but you might never encounter a handshake, a smile or a friendly face. Yet, as this clip from one of my favorite old movies shows, it has ever been thus.
Where are you?
I have a theory that it won’t be until the current generation of senior management retires that we’ll really see how technology meaningfully change communications between companies and their customers. Where I work, for example, press releases, press conferences and newspaper mentions are still a strong focus of our communications efforts. I think those days are numbered because what really matters to any organization is to find (and get in front of) the audience wherever they may be. And newspaper reading just isn’t the place. Some people think that websites aren’t the place either. So…got any good ideas?
Posting diatribes is not my usual thing, but I’m going to take the low road and declare my real hatred of “instagram.” It’s not that I’m jumping on the bandwagon of those who say that Facebook will ruin it now that they bought the start-up for a cool billion (seriously ONE BILLION). It’s that I don’t really love sepia-toned, frayed-edge photos. I’m old enough to remember when those kind of pictures were the norm, and the delight we all felt when photography progressed beyond that phase for good in the 1970s. Here’s to hoping the instagram will go the way of the telegram.
Friendship vs. Facebook
When you read about “authenticity” and “engagement” in the context of social media, it’s probably a wise idea to keep an eye for a grain of salt to take with it. Of course, any organization –from the corner store to the multinational conglomerate– can create an appealing brand image through the products and service it offers. But there’s absolutely no data demonstrating that consumers are starting to consider these entities to be their friends. People may like fan pages on Facebook, review companies on Yelp, and pin up pictures online. But in real life, around the real water cooler, they’re talking about last night’s game or who got voted off their favorite show.
Facebook vs. Friendship
If you’re a social media nut like me, you can get impatient waiting even a few minutes to hear back from someone. Everywhere I go in New York City I see people wandering down streets and sidewalks in a texting frenzy. By contrast, my Mother just published a book about an ancestor, based on letters he wrote 150 years ago while in the Pacific Northwest, that sometimes took a year or more to get a reply. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty appreciative of my mobile company’s data network right now.
You Don’t Tweet
In my experience, most webinars achieve extremely low interactivity, so it didn’t bug me too much that this week my work team watched one on social PR that was pre-recorded. The most compelling nugget I got from it was that people are on Facebook because it’s the default place to go, not because they give a damn about social media. Whereas Twitter is a gathering place for communication-hungry nerds (like me) who’ll get their info anywhere. Lesson: you can mention Facebook on Twitter, but don’t mention Twitter on Facebook!
While my office is nothing like the set of Mad Men, this week one of my colleagues upstaged a dull, uninspired proposal I made by coming up with a truly brilliant suggestion for our public awareness campaign. Rather than my dumb posts and posters, she suggested having real patients share real photos of themselves and their loved ones, and then post them on social media with comments about why they wanted to live longer, healthier lives, and for whom. In a nutshell she captured what people do best (talking about their lives and people they love), and imagined a way to let them do it while helping our cause. [I can't post a link until we launch it in May.]
To Your Health!
How does 21st century technology impact your health? Aside from breathtakingly complex machinery like MRI’s and spectrometers, has the information revolution really changed the practice of medicine? While medical, political, and administrative leaders in healthcare debate how this works, most of us are already turning to the web for answers for everything from headaches to chronic care. But we should be wary of predictions that care will soon be automated. First and foremost because doctors are not really engaged in any two-way conversations outside the exam room.
Healthy Debate or Stony Silence
From a professional standpoint, I want to know how you think about the choices you have and how you reach the decisions you do. But marketers like me are far from all-knowing, and even farther from having the ability to react to what they do know. As I’ve noted above, in the healthcare world we often either don’t know how best to reach out, or are prohibited from doing so using social media channels. From a practical standpoint this means that consumers have a platform for asking questions and raising complaints, but at best they are engaging the broader community first, while those they most want to hear from are either silent or silenced.
According to Merriam Webster, a yelp is a “sharp shrill bark or cry.” Yet Wikipedia says that yelp.dot.com is “a social networking, user review, and local search web site.” So does “yelping” mean shrilly barking, or does it mean reaching out to friends and sharing stories? I’ve read that most website reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and I can see why. Who wants to get sued for going public with a bad customer service story? In the end, I like what New Yorkers have to say in this piece from Business Insider.
While dealing with a plantar fasciitis problem, I’ve seen five health specialists over the past three months. Inevitably, each of them gave me some patient education materials, while also mentioning that they assumed I’d “google” the problem as well. Naturally I had, and never really thought twice about it. But what if the diagnosis had been for something more serious, like heart disease or chronic depression. Google, after all, is a publicly traded information company, focused on profits rather than your personal needs. If you google a debilitating health concern, does that create a record of your health that may one day become inadvertently public?
Leave Well Enough Alone
Telling someone you’re an introvert is like admitting to a character flaw. People are quick to tell you that it’s not true or that it can be overcome. So recently I shared a vid from Susan Cain in my social media feed about the value of introversion, just to help people understand what makes me tick. So I rolled my eyes when I read about an airline that is now implementing a policy that is supposed to help the passenger experience by getting travellers to vet each other through Facebook. The New York times poked fun at this, and I have to agree. Not everyone needs or wants to talk all the time.
Who’s Right? Who’s Wrong?
This week my social media feed was packed with an interesting mix of people both lauding and criticizing a viral-video effort to expose a brutal African warlord. The issue was not about the despot himself, but about the motives and tactics of the organization bringing this story to light. By creating a compelling story, packaged effectively, many progressives felt that the emotional message (“we need to stop this killer, dead or alive”) belied a more complex concern about how to create a sustainable rule of law and justice in the region. Manipulating the masses is a tricky business.
Who’s Wrong? Who’s Right?
This week NPR highlighted a story that contrasted the huge gulf between the discipline of academic research and the equally hidebound world of online information crowd-sourcing. In short, a researcher who’s spent his career correcting misperceptions about a famous 19th Century trial found that he was unable to get his facts posted on Wikipedia. Although he tried to link his information to primary sources that backed him up, the wisdom of the crowd was that his efforts weren’t tenacious enough to be true. In the interview the spokesperson for Wikimedia was unabashed. Wikipedia is about “trying to get it right rather than get it fast“. By which he means, it’s about getting it wrong, and then about getting it right, later on. Yikes.
Just. Plain. Wrong.
Last week saw a convergence of two social media phenomena that are still in their adolescence: QR codes and location check-in services. And speaking of adolescents, the idea was to have young (or at least social-savvy) lovers scan a code on a condom wrapper as a means of broadcasting to the world their amorous adventures. My guess is that the people behind the idea are riffing off of the practice of “sexting” (texting while having sex). Call me old fashioned, but back in my day, making love properly required all of one’s attention, not to mention the use of all available hands.
Bang Bang, You’re (the un)Dead
Technology, like fame or wealth, doesn’t alter a person’s intelligence, it simply amplifies their experience. This was brought home to me when I watched, wincing, a YouTube video of an upset father dealing with his bratty daughter’s Facebook outburst by shooting her laptop with his revolver. Social media wasn’t the cause of either the daughter or the father’s behavior — it was merely the means of broadcasting it to the universe. The sad thing is that with over 30 million hits, it’s a meaningless incident which may shape the rest of their lives.
Disappointed? Watch this!
If you have watched as many video blogs as I have, you know that an overwhelming majority of talking-head style clips are boring and cheerless, regardless of the subject matter. It’s amazing, however, what a tiny amount of editing can do to create interest, draw the viewer in and drive a point home. This is so subtle that it can be easily missed. So I’ll link here to a great example of a clip that simply took the phrase “disappointing” and parlayed it into a highly watchable piece on why NJ Governor Christie’s veto of the gay marriage bill was wrong-headed.
Trying to pull up an image that I had seen a while ago, I did a quick google search on “social media infographic” and limited the results to “images”. What I found astonished me. Apparently the world has gone ga-ga for information graphics! I had no idea. Ironically, the piece I was looking for had to do with whether social media was ruining our minds. Personally, I think the answer to that question is “No, it’s just changing the way we think.” After all, I didn’t wake up in a cave and light a fire with two sticks this morning. To live in the 21st century requires using 21st century tools. Now pardon me while I go hunt some groceries online.
He Tweeted She Tweeted
This week I got into a losing argument at work with my very talented team. I stood alone in the contention was that it matters who follows you on Twitter. The majority view was that a follow is a follow is a follow, so it’s a waste of time to monitor (and edit) the list, even if it includes bots and spammers. My thinking was that your online reputation could be hindered if your fan base included people selling pills, sex, and god knows what else. An online search failed to yield a definitive answer, meaning my colleagues may well be right. I’d love to know what you think!
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Tech startups fail at an astonishing rate – many of them crashing and burning long before they ever have a functional business model or revenue stream figured out. So borrowing a page from the movie/television/theatre industry, some startups apparenly just look around for what’s working, and then copy it verbatim. A great article in Mashable at the end of January highlighted ten of the most “blatant social media design ripoffs“. It’s a fun read, but I wouldn’t bet any money on the copycats. It’s easier to attract investors than users.
Having finally received my “invitation” to join Pinterest, it’s taking me a while to figure the site out. The biggest barrier to getting started is that Pinterest requires you to have a Twitter or Facebook account and to be connected to at least one of them. That kind of bugged me, as I envisioned Pinterest either accidentally or intentionally spamming my friends. So I chose Twitter, since it’s much easier to be ignored there! I began by “pinning” (uploading) a photo of my very photogenic dalmatian taking a nap. And I got three new friends in just an instant! Now if only I could figure out how to create a board…
Girls in the Hood
One of the copycat sites noted in the article above promotes itself as a sort of Pinterest for the male gender. If that seems weird, well it turns out they might be on to something. There’s reason to believe that Pinterest’s users are almost uniformly women –97% according to Tech Crunch. If so, I’ve got to hand it to them because it’s a marketers demographic dream. In a consumer society like ours, the role of women in making household purchasing decisions is a well-established fact. Indeed, the entire web 2.0 economy may turn out to be the most gender-levelling phenomenon since female suffrage.
Green with Ivy
Speaking of making money off of the web, it was interesting to discover that two mega-celebrities decided to forego the usual let’s-make-money-off-the-photos-of-the-baby thing and posted pictures of their newborn on Tumblr. It says a lot about the waning power of tradition media. Instead, the couple has decided they’re much more likely to make money by selling merchandise, and thus are trying to trademark the little one’s name. I wonder if Jonathan™ is already taken?