Monthly Archives: June 2011

I Am Not a Very Nice Person. But Social Media Can Help

When it comes to being a “good person” – you know, making the world a better place – I am well intentioned. I am also lazy and forgetful. Three years ago, I proudly walked in a local Breast Cancer Awareness walk. It was great! I walked for an hour with neighbors and my dog and could just sense that my involvement had brought the world one step closer to finding a cure. The following year it was entirely off my radar. I should have donated the same sum of money regardless of whether or not I walked an hour long loop around downtown, but it didn’t even occur to me to do so. It’s an embarrassing confession that I would never bring to light if it weren’t to make a point.

My sense of connection to a charity directly influences my desire to donate time and money. Fundraising is crucial to charity survival. I want to be passionate about a worthy cause. Simply scribbling out a check seems detached and cold. I should be doing more, but I have a job, I have a husband. I have dog fur balling up in corners somewhere. “More” of anything is nearly impossible. And so I do nothing.

People want to feel involved, committed, and attached. It’s easy to feel this sense of camaraderie for an hour long walk. But sustaining that feeling takes work. Social Media engagement can foster individual connections to a cause during the rest of the year that’s void of fundraiser walks. Spotting posts in your newsfeed builds your familiarity with the organization and awareness of the cause. It can give a face to a disease and share the stories of someone affected.

Social Media takes the momentum of an annual fundraising event and creates a constant state of charitable activity throughout the year. One Breast Cancer Awareness Facebook page posts discussions, informs about advances in research and encourages members to involve their friends. They even feature a button where one free click helps fund mammograms. Social Media plugs people into a community and a network of caring.

Displaying your “like” of a particular charity is akin to displaying a pink ribbon on your key chain or wearing any number of colored rubber wrist bands. A Social Media connection both displays our pride in and support of a particular cause, but also serves as a status symbol, advertising our characters and our priorities. It’s not that people are inherently selfish or heartless. But they are busy. They have things to do, things that are ultimately less significant than curing breast cancer, but much more immediate. Most genuinely want to help charities, but must feel a connection to the organization first. They need to feel like they did more than just cut a check. Something as constant and immediate as dog fur. Social Media plugs participants into a continuous state of support rather than relying only on a spike in participation for notable events. It powerfully spreads awareness and keeps the message moving between 10Ks and galas. It explains why Breast Cancer Walks are so successful. For one day, participants feel like the most charitably involved people in the world. Social Media can keep that dedication going long after the pink t-shirts have been handed out.

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Facebook and Twitter Users Have Been Known to Get Around

Can you imagine Steve Jobs using an Android smartphone?  Me neither.  Betrayed Apple fanatics far and wide would crucify him if their heads didn’t explode at the mere thought of it.  If the concept of Jobs touching a competitor’s product seems so improbable, on what planet does it make sense for Facebook to have a Twitter page and Twitter to have a Facebook page?

As each other’s greatest adversaries, is it a respect thing?  Are their networks so widespread that not having profiles on each other’s networks would be like ignoring each other at a dinner party?  Perhaps they are recognizing each other as worthy competitors, like boxers bumping gloves before a fight.  Of course, after Facebook got busted planting negative Google stories in the press, it seems unlikely that Zuckerberg is all that concerned with propriety.

What’s so interesting about Twitter’s site on Facebook and Facebook’s site on Twitter is that for such innovative and tech savvy companies, their pages are pretty uninspired.  It is not uncommon for Facebook to go four or five days without tweeting.  Twitter’s Facebook page is no better – limited posts, no photo albums.  It uses only the bare bones Facebook features.  They don’t even bother modifying their wall.  At least Facebook features a couple jet silhouettes on their Twitter wall.  What little jet silhouettes have to do with Facebook, I’m not quite sure, but at least it’s a small attempt at customization.

Obviously both networks are there out of some sort of obligation.  They are on each other’s sites, but they don’t really want to be there.  Their pages are not out of respect for each other.  In fact, it’s not for their benefit at all.  It’s for yours.

Let’s revisit the preposterous concept of catching Steve Jobs using anything Android.  What is the major difference between Apple fanatics and Social Network users?   Apple supporters are in a committed relationship.  They are a devoted, stand-by-their-brand group of people – willing to wait in line for days prior to a product launch just to be the first to have the new iAnything.  They have chosen Apple and will stand by their choice no matter what new Android feature is unveiled.

Apple fans are brand monogamous while Social Media users flirt with every promising networking site that comes along.  Facebook has over 1 million followers on Twitter.  Twitter has over 700,000 fans on Facebook.  That’s just a tiny reflection of the total number of people cheating on one site with the other.  Most users are pretty brazen about their Social Media disloyalty sending Direct Messages to new Twitter followers that read, “Thanks for the follow!  Let’s chat on Facebook!”

Twitter and Facebook recognize that subscribers use both platforms and are not ready to choose one over the other.  Their bland pages on their competitor’s websites are their attempt to prove to you that they are okay with the fact that you are dating them both.  Realistically, they are each other’s direct competition and they don’t want you to have anything to do with the other.

This lack of tech brand loyalty is new and unchartered territory, forcing companies to be cordial and interact with each other’s brands in unprecedented ways.  Social Network subscribers are tough to tie down.  They are all about free love and using whichever site feels good at the moment and few are whole heartedly committed to one or the other.  Facebook hates being on Twitter.  Twitter doesn’t want to have anything to do with Facebook.  But they pretend to make nice for your sake as if to say “We don’t mind if you date other people.  We’re totally cool with that.  Watch how cool we can be!”

David vs Goliath: How Niche Social Networks are Kicking The Giant’s Ass

Sometime this week we will experience a first for Twitter.  You will be able to (Drumroll please…) tweet photos!  Well, actually you’ve been able to share photos all along but now it won’t require a third party app to do so.  And yes, this is still big news even though sharing photos has been a component of the Social Network landscape since the hay day of MySpace.  As each social site grows, they continue to adopt each other’s’ winning features – much to the detriment of their individuality.

Say my alma mater, Santa Clara University, decides to have an alumni event at a San Francisco Giants game.  Do I Check In using Facebook or do I use Foursquare as I enter the ballpark?  Do I post pictures of my $4 hotdog to my friends on Facebook or for thousands of Giants fans to envy on Twitter?  At the end of the game, after a triumphant Giants victory do I share my elation on Twitter, Facebook, or maybe LinkedIn under the SCU Alumni group.  I should post it to the SCU Alum Facebook page.  No wait, maybe their Twitter page with a #SFGiants.  Oh crap, doesn’t SCU have an Alumni page on Foursquare?

In an attempt to compete with each other, the Social Network titans are actually diminishing the distinctions between each other.  The wake of this homogenization has given rise to what may be the next generation of Social Media: the niche market.  There are now dedicated sites for everything from dolls to beer.  If you’re an avid reader, you may have more luck visiting goodreads than asking your Facebook friends for a book recommendation.  Aspiring designers who dream of one day hearing Project Runway’s Tim Gunn telling them to “Make it work” should check out BurdaStyle (no hashtags required).

Instead of emulating the big boys of Social Networking, Path has gained notice by emphasizing their dissimilarities.  The second question in their FAQ section is “How is Path different from Facebook and Twitter?”  It won’t allow you to have any more than 50 friends, which quickly eliminates self-promoters and anyone collecting friends and followers like baseball cards.

Niche sites offer a highly concentrated experience for the user – quality over quantity.  Rather than broadening the scope of their services, the big names in Social Networking may be wise to focus on specialization.  Would it be so awful if they just stayed in their respective lanes and committed themselves to what drew users to them in the first place?  Why can’t Twitter be used primarily to compile news and information from the masses?  What’s wrong with only using Facebook to share your vacation photos with friends and family?  You could Check In on Foursquare and further your career on Linked In.  After all, no one wants to meet their boss in the same place where friends post comments about their party antics, and people don’t want to seek professional advice on the network where they gripe about their boss.

The titans of Social Media aren’t leaving their thrones anytime soon.  Even Path asks you to follow them on Twitter.But as the distinctions between networks blurs more each day, they should start viewing the niche networks to size up the incoming competition.

Image courtesy of http://ow.ly/auoPv