Thursday, 11 June 2009

Trust the Old Farts to Evaluate the REAL Value of Participation in Social Networking

Comment to Gaetano Pollice's article on OMMA today: Focus: Boomers Crashing the Social Media Party

It's the undercurrent of articles like this that I find fascinating. When I was a kid, stamp collecting was all the rage. In fact, my friends and I, like youth in any era, were contemptuous of anyone who WASN'T into stamp collecting. Those others simply weren't on the leading edge, they weren't participating in what we judged to be a worthwhile expenditure of our time.

Decades later, all that energy, time and money that was invested by hundreds of thousands of people into stamp collecting is just... Well it's gone, evaporated, of no real consequence. It was a popular hobby trend that passed out of favor -- a way of spending time, of MAKING time, to participate in a hobby that is no longer considered cool.

What few commentators say about the involvement of the more mature and seasoned generations in blogging, Twitter and social networking is that they are a different sort of 'filter', they bring a different set of evaluative brains to these social/technology experiments. Facebook has already seen the wave of time-spent on-site amongst the more mature set of 'invaders' drop off. Busy professionals see SOME measure of merit in blogging to share ideas and raise their professional profiles, less so with the way Twitter is currently being used (the jury is still out on what real value there is in sharing 100 comments a day about either your choice in breakfast cereal OR quantum equations -- I'll wait for the published paper re: the latter). The mature users are quicker to apply a cost-benefit analysis OTHER than a 'popularity index' or 'volume of posts index' to these new ways of spending time on what are really not much more than trendy hobbies.

The contemptuous undertones I'm seeing in so many "Social Media Marketing" posts/articles is wearing a bit thin with industry professionals who have the experience and analytical ability to see long-term value, or not, in trendy new hobbies. I believe we can look to the older participants to judge what the underlying value of Facebook (allows me to stay permanently in touch with my lifelong collection of acquaintances), blogging (allows me to maintain a record of my most insightful thoughts and share them with like-minded professionals) and Twitter (allows me to publicize my blog posts to a large audience at no cost to me).

Yesterday, Lon Safko on FastCompany.com posted what I thought was an entirely self-serving "10 Commandments of Social Media" (a plug for his book) that would have seen all of us, as individuals and companies, spending 24 hours of every day posting frenetically on all these media in an effort to beat out our competitors/colleagues with the quantity and frequency of our 'participation in the online conversation'. Where is the quality in this? Where's the real value? What contribution is anyone making who is spending so many hours doing this instead of working at a job that actually makes a difference in terms of analysis and the creation of new concepts and advancements in technology?

I'd suggest we should look to the experienced professionals for their evaluation of these so-called 'social tools' before writing them off as nothing but hangers-on who are ruining the potential of these experiments. Friendster is dead. SecondLife is a fascinating technological experiment that was an interesting hobby for a while. Show us old farts the REAL value in these latest trendy 'hobbies' and we'll be more than happy to either make worthwhile use of them, or leave a generation who 'invests' so much of their time engrossed in video games. That's not an implied criticism, it's just a choice we all make about how to use the time we do not spend working at our jobs.

Some media are ripe for injecting advertising into them, others are simply communication media like telephone connections or IM groups -- they are useful for monitoring conversations and listening carefully to consumers' issues with our brands and their interests in general, but they are not suitable for marketing efforts. Yes, there's a youthful 'party' going on via social media, and forgive the parents/grandparents for checking in on what's going on, but don't try to convince us you're hard at work with all that time you're spending socializing! In the end you'll find we won't spend long enough at the party to ruin it for the youngsters -- we have to be up early tomorrow to get some work done.

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