Social Media and Web 2.0 (the second coming of the web rockstar slash social media guru)

(03:43:47 PM) friend of mine: i hate web 2.0 or whatever
(03:43:51 PM) friend of mine: social media is the downfall of our society
(03:43:52 PM) friend of mine: mark my words

I was reading this post by Modern Nerd, a piece that aims to ground the grandiose visions of many self-proclaimed “support ninjas, web rock stars, and sandwich artists.” While it is true that there are many web designers calling themselves rockstars, ninjas, or even rockstar ninjas, over the past couple years the number of “social media gurus” has increased exponentially.

Enhance the customer experience by facilitating authentic conversations

One of my favorite websites, The Oatmeal concisely describes some of the problems with these trends.

The Onion, another favorite read, has been publishing strikingly relevent articles recently. The best part of that article isn’t necessarily the content, but the way in which the content is wrapped by buttons for Digg, Buzz, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. There’s even a Twitter feed on the side, which for some reason is right below another box highlighting recent and popular posts. However, seeing as I have my own twitter feed highlighted on every page of my own site, I can hardly point a finger. Instead, I’ll just follow with a link to the New York Times article on Foursquare, which also has buttons for social networking, albeit only Facebook and Twitter. In satirizing the newspaper’s coverage of tech news, The Onion seems to have either forgotten or ignored the fact that the point of all writing is to be read, and what better way than by writing about current trends (as in the NYT) or by providing efficient mediums for promoting that writing (as done by The Onion).

Maximise buzz by driving word of mouth from relevant influencers

For some (see top quote), social media represents a collapse of civilization. It used to take a phone call or letter to contact someone. The phone improved on the letter by allowing longer conversations in a more convenient time frame. Voicemail improved on that, with the ability to leave the equivalent of an auditory letter. The receiver could listen at their will, and reply when they had time. Email came along and reverted some of the face-to-face aspects of phone conversations, but bringing with it the ability to write longer messages. Instant messaging followed up email, improving the response time and face-to-face abilities of email, and dramatically reducing the level of effort required. Typical instant messages are less than 10 words, and frequently contain abbreviations and acronyms. Instant messaging was then finally displaced by wall posts and tweets. Text messaging was in there somewhere, but that’s a whole other ballgame, and I don’t even really like baseball.

Harness social currency to drive buzz

Tweets started out, as email did, as a way to communicate more effectively with people not in your immediate vicinity. However, more and more both technologies have been abused to an outrageous point. The scourge of spam seems to be a never-ending battle, and Twitter is plagued by its own success. While Twitter was an essential part of highlighting the Iran voting story a while back, it is also essential to highlighting some of the more inane and pointless.

Twitter satisfies the third and fourth levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which comprise the struggle to belong and feel significant. From every angle, Twitter seems designed to exploit these two levels. Let’s start with the basics. Twitter exists primarily for users to post snippets of 140 characters or less. These snippets can be directed to the public at large, sent to a specific user (either publicly or privately), or tagged with a “hash tag.”

The mere act of posting a tweet fulfills certain needs.  This is further enhanced by the number of followers one has.  With less than 40 followers, someone is usually just tweeting to close friends and acquaintances.  However, once a twitterer gets above a certain point, followers start to change.  They start to transform from individual people into statistics.  At 1000 followers, you are no longer sending a personal message to your friends.  You are now broadcasting ideas and opinions to strangers at a level once only achievable by professionals.  This changes the entire dynamic of tweeting.  For a brief period, I was mirroring my tweets as Facebook status updates.  When I was doing this, the actual content and direction of my tweets was much different.  Instead of posting personal updates to my Facebook and interesting tidbits to my Twitter, I now had to find a common ground between the two.  I didn’t want my mom (an avid Twitter follower) to read my Facebook updates, and I certainly didn’t think my Facebook friends would find my thoughts on web user interfaces at all interesting.  For some strange reason, just changing the audience of who I was posting to changed how I felt about what I posted.

The ability to respond to others’ tweets also fulfills the esteem level of the pyramid. Unlike emails or even Facebook wall posts, twitter replies are by default public on the sender’s page, and neither has to even be a follower of the other. In this way, the sender can make himself feel significant without actually being significant.

The hash tags are one of the most brilliant parts of Twitter. When enough people put the tag in a tweet, the tag becomes a “trending topic,” visible on the home page. This advertises to all of Twitter that this topic is important, thereby causing more people to tweet about the topic, raising it even further. By participating in this global exchange, individual users can feel a part of something bigger than themselves, especially if a celebrity decides to respond.

These topics are elaborated on in The Psychology of Social Currency, a great post that tries to further explain why social media is so addicting and necessary for some. Essentially, it all boils down to a perceived benefit to posting on Twitter and sites like it. While there is no physical incentive, the fact that you can reach an audience of over a thousand people while wearing boxers is truly either a sign of the downfall of society, or the next great leap.

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