Wednesday, July 13, 2011
G+ or not G+?
So G+ is a cleaner version of Facebook. I can see that. Is this what we need? Too early to tell. But what it doesn’t alter is a basic misconception that Facebook is built on.
I watch college kids use social media, and FB is the real world for them. My classroom, I realized last semester, is not an app and is therefore less real. Do I think this is good? Well, it makes teaching a lot harder, but I’m about to retire, and so I pass that one on to educators still laboring in the academic vineyards.
Friends vs. belonging. What bothers me is what keeps getting lost in the many social media worlds now available to us. It’s a sense of community. Real community is where you can't easily opt in and out without some accountability. There's a human need for that kind of belonging that FB, twitter, and G+ can’t or don’t want to replicate.
Each tries to sell you on the idea that you can have a make-believe social life in the absence of a real one. But when I’m one of your 200 online friends, I’m sorry, what we have is probably not a social relationship. Even longer lists of followers on twitter can mean even less. In neither case do the numbers reflect the existence of a community.
Now G+ has circles. Members of a real-world circle usually know each other, and they know you’re in the same circle with them. Social media get around that. They let each of us create a virtual social world of which we are at the center, wrapped in an illusion of belonging.
Realities and illusion. Social media want you to believe that you are not alone. I’m sorry again, the person who will have lunch with you, go to the movies with you, visit you in the hospital, or loan you their car is the friend who banishes loneliness. Ten to one, the rest are not.
I know, people know that already. But do they? Social media would never have taken off if most people already had enough real friends and a real community to belong to. The key word there is “enough.” There's always that desire for more. And community, I’d argue, is a word that’s lost its meaning.
Social scientists have noted for decades the increasingly isolated lives we live and the every-widening prevalence of depression. Many argue that the media isolate us even further. The young, who are the most socially mediated generation in history, continue to commit suicide in alarming numbers.
The need to belong goes deep. It’s tribal. Social media let you pretend that you belong somewhere, but only virtually. Viscerally, we know it’s a sham.
Selling. As a listener-subscriber to WIIFM (What's In It For Me?), I also see social media’s value if you’ve got something to sell. There’s a way to use them all as marketing channels. And it’s a generally understood rule, I believe, that for credibility a marketing message needs to be on every channel where there are likely to be buyers. So sellers not sold on G+, think again.
But I would add this caveat. Using social media for marketing can be risky business. I draw here on the philosophy of online marketer Seth Godin, whose blog I recommend. He would acknowledge that you need social skills to build credibility with prospective customers. You also need them to maintain trust with those who become your customers.
As in real social relationships, betraying that trust with insincerity, over-promising, or falsehood kills credibility and trust. There’s a fine line there that some folks in the blogs and on FB and twitter don’t seem to recognize. You don’t have to be online long to see social media used as little more than a home shopping network.
For me, the test of good-faith online marketing is a marketer’s generosity. That comes through in acts of giving and supportiveness. It’s also evident in the paying of attention. These are social skills that are also aspects of community.
So you can have success using social media to build a customer base, but the social grounding under marketing can easily be forgotten. Remember that you are piggybacking on a system of social transactions that runs far deeper than your business objectives. Abuse it at your peril.
So G+ or not G+? Depends on whether you can understand its limitations before trying to seize the opportunities you think are there.
Coming up: Oscar Micheaux, The Conquest (1913)