Following a very interesting post-podcast chat with David Jones and Doug Walker, which I really wish I had also recorded (I will take Donna Papcosta’s excellent advice on that next time), the pair made a couple of remarks that really got me thinking in an “existential social media dilemma” sort of way. As in “what are we all doing here?” I’ve noticed an increase lately in posts that seem to deal with “inside baseball,” and have wondered if, while they are all interesting to those of us playing, such discussions don’t undermine what we’re trying to accomplish in this space.
Perhaps it is my voyeuristic point of view that has me thinking in this manner; I am not a public relations operative, after all. Instead, it’s my job to report on and discuss what is going on in the social media space as it relates to communicators. I try and keep tabs on the “big stories” as they develop so I have some interesting tidbits to discuss on our weekly Radio Roundtable, and cool article ideas to pitch to writers. Occasionally, the “big stories” that get everyone talking have nothing to do with the communications business, and everything to do with personalities; gossip, really. Instead of discussing an interesting case study or the latest hot new web application, we end up, as Eric Eggertson aptly pointed out this week, “navel gazing.”
It’s not a cardinal sin, and we are all guilty of it on occasion, myself included. You could argue the entirety of this commentary qualifies. And last week I dedicated a portion of my podcast with Jones and Walker to the ongoing kerfuffle between Shel Israel and Loren Feldman. While I think the discussion was an interesting examination of personal brands and how best to handle online attacks, was it really “significant” in the grand scheme of things? No, not when compared to world events, or the presidential election–but how important has inside baseball and gossip become to the social media community? And how important should it be?
Jeff Pulver remarked at a recent Social Media Breakfast in Boston that social media is actually anti-social. He meant that when you’re Twittering or fiddling with your iPhone or sticking with the folks you know already at an event, you miss out on what it’s supposed to be about–building new relationships. I think sometimes the navel-gazing stems as a result what Pulver is getting at–we are all building our personal brands, and to do so there must be a least some measure of self-serving qualities to this, right?
As a somewhat offbeat example, take the case of the actress and writer who aired out the dirty laundry surrounding her divorce on YouTube. What struck me as most interesting was not the glee with which the soon-to-be divorcee revealed her husband’s alleged infidelities, but what it was she hoped to gain from doing so–it seemed purely an exercise in self-satisfaction.
Consider this explanation from a psychiatrist:
“We’re at a critical moment where people are turning to public broadcasts to express private thoughts,” Dr. Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Thursday in New York. “But I don’t think it’s connecting people necessarily. I think it’s disconnecting them from their own life stories.”
The blending of personal and professional lives that takes place in social media is both wonderful and harmful. It can lead to fulfilling, rewarding relationships, but might also lead to the accusations of cliqueishness and the petty personal attacks. My purpose in this writing is not to tear down, but to offer suggestions to improve (and that applies to me as well).
I think the best step would be to focus on inclusion and positivity. Evangelism is ever more important, and I should hope that personal melodramas and bickering wouldn’t “scare off” any potential new contributors. For my part, I plan on trying to reach out more to new voices, rather than relying on my existing network.
What other steps can we all take?