October 5, 2022

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Confessions of a (sometimes) Social Media Curmudgeon

Confessions of a (sometimes) Social Media Curmudgeon

I love social media, and think that the cultivation of two-way communication between businesses and customers, business to business, and just a general increase in interpersonal communications is a good thing. Sometimes, though, I realize that I don’t exactly fit the mold of a full-on advocate, and I’m okay with that. It’s good to maintain a somewhat critical eye–it’s kept me grounded and willing to ask the “O RLY?” questions when the echo chamber starts getting too noisy.

Among my more curmudgeonly attitudes are the following:

I don’t obsess about my numbers–any of them–and I find those who do a tad egocentric. I rarely pay attention to follower numbers on Twitter, I don’t remember what my Klout score is (it wasn’t high, I remember that much), and I didn’t notice that my Facebook friend number was stuck at 166 for some reason (my own FB-imposed Dunbar Corollary?) until I checked after adding a bunch of friends over the course of a few days and the number didn’t change. Unless I’m shedding friends at a 1:1 rate, there’s something wonky there. (I have no idea how long it has been like this.) A Wall Street Journal piece shows the pitfalls of allowing numbers to matter too much; there are some who have turned manipulation of scores into a game for fun and profit. Barf.

I’m rapidly tiring of the “hey, let’s crowdsource _______________.” Whether it’s the GAP logo recovery or renaming the Solid Waste Department, I would have thought that the pitfalls of this process would outweigh the benefits. Sure, once in a while you’ll get a hit–a really creative advertisement developed by a fan or something–but most of the time it’s going to be hit or miss. The potential issues with this process predate social media by several decades. In the early 70’s, the Scottsdale Community College allowed its student body to select the name for its athletic team. The Fighting Artichokes won, beating out the Rutabagas and the Scoundrels. If accompanied by voting, the system can be gamed. You want to crowdsource your brand’s logo, or advertising? Go ahead! But it’s not original anymore. If it’s not original enough, you won’t have many entries. Think for a moment about some of the issues that could present.

I don’t like “to be successful at social media, you need to ________________” prescriptions. Fill in the blank with any of the following: relinquish any semblance of privacy; Tweet constantly and consistently; have a unified presence on a number of platforms; post on your blog every day; cross-post the same content to multiple platforms–eh, no thanks. I take things my own way. I Tweet when I feel I have something to contribute, either from me or responding to someone else. I don’t link my platforms. My Facebook friends aren’t going to care about the same content as Twitter followers, because I’ve allowed each platform to grow organically and they definitely are two different audiences. LinkedIn is yet another separate audience–I see more commonality between Twitter and LinkedIn (for me) than Facebook. My combination is different than yours, and that’s okay. I don’t disclose too much personally on Twitter, a bit more on Facebook. My choice. It doesn’t make me “bad” at social media. Just different.

The random removal of vowels naming trend in social media sometimes gets on my nerves, along with the equally random inclusion of the letters “x” and “z” in product or tool names. Product naming has always been a bit of a mystery to me, so I suppose the social component is just another rung up the ladder. I’m sure Tide didn’t make sense to some people when it came out either…

I’m not gadget-obsessed. I attribute this to being intensely frugal, and rarely exposed to advertising. My television viewing is limited to BBC News America, some CNN, and a single magazine subscription to Food & Wine. I’m an avid reader, but resisted getting an e-reader because I couldn’t stand the thought of spending a lot of money on a device that I could break or lose (and then feel bad about it). Had I not won an iPad, I’d still be e-reader-less. And back to the frugal thing: all but one of the apps I’ve downloaded are free ones. Same with all but two of the books.

My last curmudgeonly attitude towards social media has less to do with social media than it does with those who oversell it. I get uneasy when individuals over-emphasize the role social media plays–in anything. Social media holds great promise, no doubt.  But for an indication of the integration into daily life, I look at the activity of those not involved in a particular social channel for work reasons. For example, most of my Facebook friends are not co-workers or those who work in social media. Some of them don’t post anything for months. I have no idea if they dive in and out to check and see what others are up to–maybe they do log on every day, maybe not.  A few don’t even have pictures associated with their profiles. A few friends have deleted accounts for privacy reasons. This speaks to something I’ve said before: For most people, the humans they interact with on a daily basis will come first. Real life comes first.

For now at least for many these are ancillary, not central, tools. If social media isn’t paying the bills–and for many of my friends, it is not–it is fun but non-essential. I have friends and family members who are not on Facebook. Fewer still are on Twitter, and can you blame them? According to a recent Pew Study on Twitter, only 8 percent of American adults use Twitter, and half don’t listen to a word anyone else says. I can’t stand it when I see posts about a survey that shows how many Americans still do not have a high-speed Internet connection, with the snide “who *are* these people?” comments worked into the blog post. For some, it is lack of access or funds. But for others–dare I say it–it just isn’t a priority. My uncle is one of those people; he uses the computer at the local library when he feels like it, and it isn’t often.

We lose a lot when we spend too much time reviewing the blog posts of those who only see the promise of social media. If we oversell it even to ourselves (maybe especially to ourselves), we could miss the signs of user fatigue, boredom, or moving to the next big thing. Find a way to force a more normal perspective on this stuff. Sometimes the 30,000 foot view is better than being in the weeds.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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  2. kimhoward@comcast.net'
    Kim Howard


    I think you are I were separated at birth. Your points are right in line with what I notice as well, despite my activity on social networks. I am completely over the crowdsourcing fad: it's simply management by committee. We all know that this old-time-yet-still-around method of completing any work is mediocre. I do love my iPad but the only reason I have one is because our office provided the staff with a technology grant. I still love curling up with a paper book, although I have recently switched my newspaper subscriptions to online only. I pay for the news in print form, so I don't mind paying for it online. Thank you so much for your candor on all of these points. Keep up the good work.

  3. ike@pigott.name'
    Ike Pigott

    There is nothing wrong with being a Skeptic, much like there is nothing wrong with being an Optimist.

    What is wrong is basing your business model on getting people signed on to something that has no promise other than hope.

    I forgive the eternal optimists, for they know not what they do. But I have little regard for those who are selling artificial sunshine.

    1. jared@fishnetmedia.com'

      I agree with you Ike, but skeptics aren't always treated just as those who challenge dubious tenets–they are sometimes cast as Luddites who just "don't get it." I believe in social media, but think that the overhype is getting darn close to a bubble. I think some are sensing this, and perhaps attributing too much to social media's influence.

      Take for example the situation in Egypt. This is being described as proof of social media's power–but, I ask: where would this be without the images? The television footage of what happened in Tunisia is just as important, if not more so, than the social organizing tools.

      1. ike@pigott.name'
        Ike Pigott

        Social media has NOTHING to do with what's happening in Egypt.

        For that matter, social media did NOT get Barack Obama elected president.

        Obama did it the old fashioned way… he went into Iowa, studied the caucus system, and surrounded himself with people who knew how to work it. He killed an over-confident Hillary Clinton in the polls, and he did it with non-modern organization.

        Email lists? Yeah, important but not the game-changer. What WAS different for the Obama campaign was the degree to which local field lieutenants were given discretion to operate within a wider strategic design. But that's not Social Media. That's not OMG A TWEET!!!

        I guess my "curmudgeonhood" is rooted in my background… I came to social media tools as TOOLS, because I had a very peculiar issue I wanted to solve. I figured out how to do it, and did it. And then a bunch of people started writing about it, as though I had solved Fermat's Last Theorem without even knowing how hard it was supposed to be.

        Sometimes I just don't get the hype. They are tools, and important ones. But no tool has ever done anything constructive without being wielded by someone who knows what they're doing.

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