Social Media is STILL Stupid

About one year ago, I wrote a tongue in cheek post entitled Social Media is Stupid. (Click the link to refresh your memory. Go ahead, I’ll wait…it was a short post.)

The inspiration for the post was from the inimitable Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb back in May 2008 where she outlined how social media could be used to support social causes such as the victims of the Chinese earthquake, tornado victims in Corvida, charities, social causes, news gathering and social good.

Well, the stupidity of social media is rearing its head once again, this time in Iran. Iranians inside the country, and millions around the world who support those who challenge the recent elections, are blogging, posting to facebook and using twitter to coordinate their protests.  By using the hashtag #iranelection, all tweets on this topic can be organized and searched on a moment’s notice. (Go to search.twitter.com and enter #iranelection to see how it works.) Even though the government has attempted to shut down texting and internet access, enterprising citizens have figured out a way around the roadblocks.

The next time you hear someone who has never used twitter, or any other new media tool for that matter, but who has a fully formed opinion peppered with such enlightened observations like, “Why do I care what you had for lunch today?”, fill them in on what I’ve written about here.

We are in the middle of a worldwide communications revolution, folks. facebook and twitter may not be the standard bearers on into the future, but how much more proof do you need that things have changed forever?

A few thoughts on the future of facebook

I probably spend more time thinking about facebook than actually using it. My thoughts usually examine the business and professional applications of this now ubiquitous service. It has seen phenomenal growth with over 250MM users worldwide, 70% of them outside of US.While it makes sense for certain kinds of businesses to have a presence there, the most important consideration with facebook, as with any other tool, has to be WHAT are you trying to accomplish and WHO are you trying to reach? Frankly, when we’re talking about 250 million active users of virtually every demographic group known to mankind, you need to make a pretty compelling case why you would NOT want to be on facebook. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Mostly, though, I wonder about its future. Will there still be a facebook in 3, 5 or 10 years? Will it merge with another service or fall out of favor and cease to exist altogether? If it is still around a few years from now, will its identity be the same as it is today, or will it start to show its age and therefore be deemed not as cool? And if it loses its cool factor, how will that affect its long term viability?

Will the youth continue to be its driving force? Will generation after generation continue to populate it and keep it growing? Now I can’t prove this, but I’ve heard kids tend to be a little fickle, and the next shiny technology object attracts all the attention…for awhile.

As a broader concept, there is an entire generation of people who are growing up living their lives online. It’s completely normal for them and they don’t call it “social media.” They call it “life.” Nevertheless, i suspect that in fairly short order, we may see a drop in usage of some of the more life revealing tools such as facebook for one reason: people need some time alone.

At some point in every person’s life, you need some time to be by yourself to collect your thoughts, think about who or what you want to be and just generally disconnect for awhile. When I was in college, they called it “semester abroad.” I’m only half kidding here. I think high levels of scrutiny, whether they are self-inflicted or not, retard personal growth. We are already seeing a decline in usage among the 55+ demographic, when less than 3 months ago, they were the fastest growing group. There may be different factors playing into this trend, but I have the feeling that we may see something of a fall off in usage among the 21-29 year old age group pretty soon. If anyone reading this blog is over 30, think back to those years of your life and they can probably be characterized as a period of discovery: a couple of different jobs, a few moves, a couple of girlfriends/boyfriends. In other words, a period of normal human growth and self-discovery.

Having said all that, I would come back to this one point. Let’s assume that in 2015, facebook and twitter, currently the two most talked about if not most used social media tools out there, cease to exist. Perhaps they merge or fold or turn into something else, but they’re no longer around the way we know them today. It won’t matter. And here’s why: the game has changed forever. Our expectations in terms of how we communicate, how we share knowledge, information, our global positions and our photos has changed forever. facebook and twitter (along with a raft of other tools too numerous to mention here) have enabled that shift and now the horses are out of the barn. We cannot go back to the old way.

Don’t understand the difference between writing on someone’s wall and “liking” something? Can’t figure out an @ reply versus a DM? It doesn’t matter. It’ll take you 20 minutes to learn just enough to be dangerous on either service. But, more importantly, you will understand that the nature of privacy has changed, that Google never forgets and that there is a hell of a lot of good that can come from two-way or even multi-party communication.

Could it be that the “party line” telephone of the 1930s and 40s was the crowning achievement of communications technology? Everything that’s old is new again.

Blogmonday

OK, so it’s Tuesday, but yesterday was a holiday. This is the fifth Blogmonday, the brainchild of Mark Story. The idea is to try and mention a couple of blogs that we we consider hidden gems, spread some link love, and help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

So today, I only have a couple of blogs with the caveat being that one of them provides constant food for very deep thought, so it counts as one-and-a-half blogs.

Conversation Agent is authored by the incredibly prolific and impossibly intelligent Valeria Maltoni. I cannot understand how some people can consistently generate such thought provoking, well-reasoned content on a daily basis. She never mails it in and it is a true must read. The focus tends to be on how customers and communities have changed marketing, communications and PR, but there is a lot more there, too. She’s just smart. And it’s fun to read what smart people write. Period.

My other pick is Inside Facebook. As I, and other marketers, turn to facebook more and more as a tactic in an overall social media strategy, this blog keeps you up to date on what’s happening at everyone’s favorite online hangout.

Check the mothership for more #blogmonday recommendations. That’s all from this county for now…

What do women want?

I don’t know. This is not that kind of a blog.

But I CAN tell you what women are doing online: the same thing as everyone else.

According to a study released recently from BlogHer, iVillage and Compass Partners, women are turning to blogs and social networks in ever increasing numbers as their primary source of information, community interaction and entertainment.

This shift is taking time away from reading newspapers and magazines, watching TV and  talking on the phone. Of the women surveyed who participated in some kind of social media activity, over half either read or wrote blogs, 75% were on Facebook or some other community-based site and 20% were using Twitter. Not surprisingly, women bloggers were at the leading edge of social media participation.

The thing is, I read studies like this and I kind of scratch my head a little bit. First of all, it’s not immediately clear if this news represents a shift in behavior among women, or if internet uptake has been the same among the sexes. It seems to me that the Internet is there for all of us and we all pretty much use it the same way: educate ourselves about the things we are interested in, interact with friends or network for business, and research reviews and opinions before we make purchases.

Findings like these ought to be titled “Women Are People, Too.” Make of them what you will. (This just in: Women use computers. Film at 11.)

What’s the deal with podcasting in 2009?

I was in San Francisco last week for two conferences (this one and this one). At one of the evening get togethers, the conversation turned briefly (and I do mean briefly) to podcasting. It went a little like this:

“So, how come no one talks about podcasting anymore?”

“Because it’s not new anymore. Everyone’s doing it. It’s totally mainstream.”

I guess I agree and disagree. A couple of years ago when I launched the company, I anticipated that podcast production would be a big part of the business model. With my years of experience as a video producer and director, it seemed like the next logical step in the evolution of online media creation. I was, and continue to be, a HUGE consumer of podcasts, many of them courtesy of NPR. But I was wrong about the production part being a big segment of my business. Aside from my own, we only produced a couple of others.

But back to the topic of podcasting and NPR…Tom Webster from Edison Research had some interesting stats that he presented at IMS. 43% of Americans are aware of this thing called podcasting, up from 22% just three years ago. And about 27 million Americans listened to a podcast in the last month. Chances are, a lot of them were from NPR.

While stories about the contraction of mainstream media outlets abound, an underreported story is how much NPR has grown, thanks largely to their bear hug embrace of new media. They consistently have several programs in the iTunes top 10 and traffic on NPR.org grew 78% from 2007 to 2008. There has been some internal conflict from member stations that they are essentially cannibalizing themselves. NPR member stations have to pay the mother ship for programming, but if all that programming is available online on matter which affiliate you listen to, you might be less inclined to give during pledge drive time.

Or maybe not. According to a recent article in Fast Company, the NPR audience “is perhaps more ready than most for the radical concept of paying for the content they consume… When we had to announce layoffs and cuts in December, there were comments on some of our stories: ‘How can we help? Where’s the give button?’ There’s a sense that the organization is leaving money on the table. People would like to contribute more to this service that they adore and depend on.”

Compared to traditional media, podcast audience numbers are still small. Yet, as we say over and over, it’s not about the quantity of your audience, it’s about the quality. 50,000 highly motivated listeners (or viewers) is preferable to 1 million indifferent ones.

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Second Blog Monday

Mark Story, the author of a great blog about using social media for PR functions, had an inspired idea a couple of weeks back called Blog Monday. Picking up on the Twitter convention called Follow Friday where people recommend other Twitter users that you might want to follow, Mark thought it would be a good idea to give exposure to some of the internet’s “hidden gems.” (You can see his first post here.)

I was proud to be included on the inaugural roll call of must follow blogs and, in keeping with the tradition that Mark is trying to establish, I wanted to recommend a few blogs that I really get some value out of in the hopes that you might, too.

I think this is a better idea than Follow Friday for one reason: on Twitter, people will just cram as many people as they can into a tweet as suggestions of who to follow. Like most things on Twitter, that technique lacks all context. It would be much more beneficial if you told me WHY I ought to be following @mcdopeincredible and @djfresh. Posting BlogMonday recommendations allows us to tell you WHY we think you might like the content, something Twitter does not really allow for. OK, digression over. Here’s my list:

Podcasting News– Something of a misnomer since it does not just cover news about podcasting. Rather, it does a better job of what I try and do on my blog and that is, offer up news, data and trends about social media adoption but with a healthy dollop of analysis as to WHY you should care that podcast use is up 22% this year.

Media Emerging by Scott Hepburn- Scott also blogs about marketing, PR and advertising with an interesting take. You might not always agree with him, and that’s fine with him, but he will always give you something to think about or tell you something you probably didn’t know.

The Brand Box– Amber Naslund’s essential blog that does one thing REALLY WELL: she constantly presents real life examples, tips and guides to making social media work. She recently became community manager for Radian6, but that has not diminished her drive or output in any way as it pertains to consistently offering up A-1 content on her blog.

The Fail Blog– A lot of you probably know this one, but if you don’t, go ahead and subscribe. A hilarious break in the day with funny pictures videos that depict, well…examples of fail.

I realize my recs are a little social media heavy but, hey, that’s what I am about. Thanks to Mark for starting this and I hope it continues to grow. Finding good content online can be hard so if someone can do the heavy lifting for you, you would do well to take advantage.

Oh, and I made it through this entire blog post without cracking back on Mark for being a Red Sox fan. He is a good guy, but nobody’s perfect.

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Bit.ly- A very cool URL shortener

Every once in awhile on this blog, I try and throw out a helpful tip or link to something that I have found during my never ending mining expeditions across the Internet.

There are several URL shorteners out there, but I think bit.ly separates itself from the pack for a couple of reasons. (By the way, bit.ly is the URL. There is no .com or anything like that. Just type in bit.ly into your browser.)

The main reason bit.ly is ahead of the curve, in my opinion, is because of their stats feature. If you include a shortened link into a tweet, into Facebook, an IM, on your blog or in a blog comment, you get real time traffic for the links you send out , stats and trends, along with location data (e.g., 10 people in the UK clicked). For marketers, this is fantastic information. If you are trying to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry, this is also invaluable. Normally, if you send out a link  you have no way of knowing how it might be resonating with its recipients. Now you do.

Twitter integration is another excellent feature of bit.ly. You can post tweets directly from the bit.ly interface so you don’t have to move in and out of whatever Twitter client you use, cut and paste, etc etc etc. Nice. And while you’re logged into bit.ly, you are presented with a list of your most recent activity, all in one place.

You can drag a bookmarklet into your tool bar so that every time you are on a site that you want to shorten, you just select it, hit bit.ly in your tool bar and you’re done.

GM Andrew Cohen sees an ad-supported destination site as the most interesting future iteration. “By aggregating data across millions of bit.ly users, the platform can be leveraged to track the most popular articles on the Internet, discover the most persistent memes, and measure the velocity of the hottest trends. Today, we’ve got a simple prototype at www.bitlynow.com.”

Give it a test drive.

Online reputation management- a growth business?

I’ve been thinking a lot about where we’re all going to be in several years after we have posted to all our blogs, tweeted our way to a fare-thee-well, left comments, posted pictures and done all of the things we think of as commonplace in today’s world. I am around more and more students and I try to think about their futures, even if sometimes they don’t! Job seekers, those coming out of school or those trying to reposition themselves in our slowly recovering world economy, are also in my thoughts.

The trouble with living your life on the internet is that sometimes you wish you could take things back, just like in real life. The mistakes you make, the pictures you take, the things you say- they can become permanent digital artifacts. It’s easy to leave tracks, but tough to cover them. Five or ten years ago, if you did something dumb at a party, it wouldn’t end up on the Internet for all to see. (I’m looking at you, Michael Phelps!)

This is why I think online reputation management will become such a growth industry in the coming years. Social media is so new, we’re all figuring it out in real time. There is no history to guide us and, let’s face it, we don’t always exercise perfect discretion in life. The reputation management business is not new, but it mostly focuses on institutions, brands and larger entities. (Here’s a good link to John Jantsch’s blog.) I see more companies, widgets, programs and other solutions popping up to help individuals as we move forward.

What do you think? Is this a service you would pay for? (You don’t have to get too specific about WHY you might use such a service…) What are your thoughts? Please post a comment.

A tool is not a strategy

I often get asked about how things work: Twitter, Facebook pages, blogs, podcasts, etc. Social media is so much in the news lately, and the results of an effective social media strategy are in evidence everywhere you look.


But it’s important to remember that a hammer doesn’t build a house. It is a necessary tool, but that’s all it is. Same idea applies to Facebook Pages, Twitter, blogs, or whatever combination of tools you might assemble to help get your message out and connect with people. People will often say to me “We want a Facebook page.” To which I normally respond, “That does what?” Very often, that is where the conversation ends.

Creativity, honesty, added value, humor- these are the things that will bring people to your brand. Technology is just an enabling device.

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Where is the real danger online? It might be offline.

I recently finished reading a great book called “Born Digital- Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives” by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. It is a terrific, and necessary, analysis of those born after 1980 into the digital world, who they are and what the world that they are creating might look like. It is an exhaustively researched book that touches on so many topics that are becoming ever more important in our digital age. Topics such as privacy, identity, gaming, the impact of the internet on how we learn and how we create and, of course, safety.


Many of the long term effects of the issues the authors touch on are unknowable and will only be revealed with the passage of time, but the authors are to be commended for approaching these subjects head on and searching for answers. If you were born BEFORE 1980, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book.

Mr. Palfrey is a faculty director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and he chairs the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which recently released the results of their year-long study about internet safety submitted to the 50 state attorneys general. The results might surprise you and the report is available for download.

Obviously, what resonated with me most was their recommendation that “Parents and caregivers should: educate themselves about the Internet and the ways in which their children use it, as well as about technology in general…”

Responses like this one from Illinois are not helpful, in my opinion. The Internet did not CREATE predators or scam artists or bullies or identity thieves, but it sometimes takes an unwarranted amount of the blame because it’s an easy target.

This is not a blog dedicated to book reviews, but every now and then I come across one that I want to share.

More information about the Digital Natives project can be found here.

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