Last week I heard on the radio that over 35,000 people had signed an online petition to repeal Virginia’s new driving laws in just two days. On day one, this little blogger alone had received two emails and seen at least five Myspace bulletins posted about it. So, think about it…if everyone is emailing it, posting it on blogs, Myspace, Facebook, wherever – and generally just passing it along to their networks…then really, the number of signatures received should be no suprise. (By the way at last count it was almost up to 93,000.) Also note that the petition is linked and available to share on Blogger, Facebook, Digg, del.icio.us, slashdot, and all the other usual suspects.
Now, the real question is how many of those forwarded emails and postings do you see and dismiss? Yet, what about the ones that do matter to you, that do make a difference and call you to action. We’re bombarded with hundreds of messages a day, so it really is significant when something makes it through and your brain clicks and says hey, I’m going to jump into action (signing a petition) or pass it on to others. That’s the million dollar question for marketing professionals and public relations executives. How do I make my message heard? And, best case scenario, repeated?
Personally, I find social networking fascinating.
Many people shun it as a waste of time, too “stalker” like and unsafe (as far as posting semi-personal information, some post more than others). But, at its core, social networking is an important communications tool and will continue to be used as such. For example, it gives credibility to companies, brands and advertisements. Let’s say that you’re a company that creates a really great ad. It’s funny, hip and has a great tagline. (Think of the “priceless” MasterCard ads from a couple years ago. Or the Ford Model fashion/style tips I’ve seen recently on Youtube.) So, you post it on Youtube. Someone finds it and forwards it in an email. Someone else picks it up and posts it on their blog. Someone else posts it on their Facebook. It has a viral effect, and soon enough, your ad is being emblazoned across the internet, and your brand is being picked up. Your search engine optimization skyrockets, and your website hits go through the roof. All from posting one silly ad online.
It’s more than that too, there have been many articles over the past couple weeks about Facebook’s drive to become the “social operating system“of choice. Facebook could take over the world, so to speak. It has the potential, if they play their cards right, to actually compete with Yahoo and Google to become a credible internet resource. The newsfeed function on Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Myspace bulletins) is especially interesting when mixed with the applications. I can now see which one of my friends liked what movies, are going to what concerts, and are reading what books. Other friends of mine can cross post their blog postings (though, since I try to remain anonymous, I prefer not to do that) and thus increase their blog readership and traffic. I see when people break up, get engaged and get married. I see when friends get a new job, are looking for a place to live, and where they like to vacation. What better credibility is there than word of mouth?
I think this sums it up nicely:
“The real value proposition of social media is that it connects people on a deeply human level with hundreds, thousands, even millions of networked people across time and geography. Social networks, empowering core constituencies of passionate users around targeted, niche market content, are emerging as a powerful media marketforce.”
However, social networking can be powerful in another way. It can also have a negative effect. Some people I know hate social media. They agree it has its place, but think that overall it’s not healthy for society and there’s a possibility that people are less social overall because of it. While you may come across random people or rekindle past relationships that you woldn’t have otherwise, on the whole it seems like social media sites make it easier to immerse yourself in social networks you already have and limit people from meeting new people outside those networks. A lot of people who are into social networks and are on them all the time also feel isolated, in a strange paradox. I agree with this, and of course online networking cannot account for an in person meeting. You don’t get your “warm fuzzy feeling” and establish a good rapport after a meeting from reading someone’s profile. However, social networking can be utilized to maintain those good relationships after a physical point of reference has been made.
In addition, I think social networking is even changing the way we communicate with each other. People carry on entire conversations on Facebook walls that could take place on the phone. People instant message each other instead of talking face to face. A Myspace comment here and there can count as “keeping in touch” and a text message is a usually acceptable form for question and answer, even conversation. The nuances of real human interaction are lost. Of course, there comes a point when “real” communication needs to occur. But, I think there is a whole new hierarchy of communication, even in the dating world. OK, so he or she leaves you a Myspace comment, it’s not as personal as a text message, which isn’t quite as bad as an email, but that’s a step below a phone call. A one night stand has the potential to never really be a one night stand, if you’re friends on Myspace. Although the relationship can continue into nothingness and go nowhere, the fact that you can see what the other person is doing (and leave said Myspace comment/message) contributes to keeping the connection “warm” so to speak. Instead of the person dropping off completely, they are still there in the back of your mind, and in arm’s reach (or so it seems). It gives a false sense of intimacy, and creates a negative precedence for acceptable communication.
I could continue on in about a hundred different directions about this, but really I just wanted to say to keep your eyes open. Social networking is interesting, it’s exciting, and if the momentum keeps up, it will soon become a way of life. The real question is, does social networking have what it takes to last? Is this the top of the bubble about to burst? I wonder if, when there are kids age 15-23 who have “grown up” using Facebook and the like, if they will burn out by age 28-30 and tire of it. It can be exhausting to keep up with and maintain, and unless you are technologically inclined (or interested for that matter), it will be hard to stick with it. But, for now…social networking is, well…hott.