About that 24/7 party going on in your computer: the social media timesuck

I came across this interesting analysis of Google Buzz, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace courtesy of boxcarmarketing (and here, if you’d like to follow on Twitter as well/instead).

While I don’t agree entirely with the analysis by Jeremiah Owyang, former Forrester analyst, now Altimeter Group partner, I couldn’t agree with him more when he says Twitter is ‘being treated like a chat room’ by most marketers, ‘not a marketing platform.’ I do think the SWOT portion in particular is less than comprehensive, and I’d like to quibble about the line re ‘Usage by tech savvy, media, and celebs.’

Why quibble about that? (At this point something I’d written got lost between drafts; I’ve tried to reconstruct it in the rest of this paragraph. Just, you know, to make sense!) It’s not that I disagree that – I’m going to call them geeks, not the ‘tech savvy’ because if you own a computer for personal use you’re tech savvy, media and celebs have the largest number of followers, tweet the most and make the greatest use of Twitter. It’s just that I don’t necessarily think they make the best use of Twitter. Most media outlets still automate their tweets, don’t interact with their followers, and don’t get that it’s an interactive medium. Ditto many celebrities. And the geeks – well – again – there’s a lot of navel gazing and infighting amongst Twitter’s earliest adopters and most vehement proponents. And Twitter’s growth isn’t coming from these people; it’s coming from the non-geeks who are beginning to realize social media presents an opportunity. (That’s not quite what I said the first time but it’s what I was trying to say – and where did it go to anyway – between-draft limbo?)

Twitter’s greatest strength is actually the power it gives the user to customize her/his own experience with the medium. Trending topics notwithstanding (you don’t have to even glance at them), what makes it a brilliant platform is the fact that it allows you to listen to and connect with only the interesting people at the party and pay no attention whatsoever to the egregious bores, the time wasters, the hysterics, the gawkers and the ambulance-chasers (no, I don’t mean personal injury lawyers, I mean the people who thrive on fomenting controversy/scandal/gossip).

Your Twitter experience will undoubtedly be entirely different from mine, and that’s the beauty of it. I follow a diverse and fascinating group of: global media outlets and journalists; scientists; quilters; authors; Vancouverites; local folk; PR, marketing and social media types; publishers; museums; people I know in real life; people I don’t know in real life; people I’d like to know in real life, and people I probably wouldn’t care to meet. At one point I was following people on Twitter so I could keep my eye on them for competitive intelligence reasons. I’m not doing that any more. Life is too short.

I should also point out that I’m an extremely fast reader (although I retain little), and that I assimilate information well via print and text. My aural comprehension is almost nil. But I actually got through an average of 2500 pages of reading a week in third year university as an English major. I know there are other people like me.

One of the best points in the analysis cited is the boilerplate: ‘Everyone has a morning ritual…I invest two hours reading, thinking and blogging each morning. I hope this helps you cut through the noise – if it was helpful, please pass it on, email to colleagues, tweet it, and blog about it.’

This may well not be your idea of a morning ritual (it wouldn’t be most people’s – long hot showers and gallons of coffee would probably be more like it; getting yourself, your children, and your pets cleaned, dressed, fed and dispatched is usually part of the equation too).

Social media is probably not your area of expertise. If it isn’t – and if you haven’t got the time or the will to adequately research it – it can be bewildering, pointless, ineffective and exhausting. This great post by Mhairi Petrovic of Outsmarts lists some of the pitfalls of social media and provides some great suggestions on how to avoid them.

Of these tips, I’d have to say ‘develop a strategy’ is the most important. I’d also add: hire a consultant to help you develop your strategy. Unless you don’t value your own time at all, getting caught up in the never-ending party on your computer is going to leave you short on sleep, frustrated, lacking in perspective, and probably no closer to achieving your agreed-upon goals. No consultant worth his/her salt is going to pretend they can help you achieve an impossible goal – or fail to tell you when your expectations are unreasonable.

This week on Twitter I’ve watched a major UK cell phone provider make a horrific mess of customer service by over-reliance on Twitter as a way to deliver customer service. I’ve also seen two major media outlets deal ineffectively with a spammer and watched friends who did something good get their feelings hurt and become embroiled in a small but pointless controversy that’s undoubtedly interfered with their productivity today.

Time is time and money is money. I’ve always contended that since time is the one truly non-sustainable and non-renewable resource we’ve got, my time is as valuable to me as yours is to you, regardless of our respective incomes or hourly rates. While Mrs. McCooeye, Grade 8, was right when she wrote on my report card, ‘Ruth would get more out of Reading Club if she put more into it,’ there was a presumption on her part that I wanted to get something out of it. I didn’t. I just wanted to read. But if you’re investing your personal or your corporate time (and your organization’s resources) in social media, you’d better want to get something out of it, i.e. have a goal. At the very least you should make sure you’re not doing harm to yourself or your organization via social media.

How can you find the right consultant? Ask people you know who’ve used one. Check their blogs, their Twitter feeds, and their LinkedIn profiles. See if you like what they have to say about their areas of expertise and if you like the way they conduct themselves in the public mediums in which they engage. Ask a consultant you’re considering using if you can talk to or email some of her/his clients. Try to get some idea of how the consultant works best – and if your organization/project fits in with the consultant’s interests and expertise. Compatibility matters almost as much as expertise. Put in the front end time to find the right consultant so you can work smarter rather than harder.

I know that last sentence may seem not only counter-intuitive (consultants are supposed to be vying for your business, not the other way around, right?) but wrong-headed. If your budget is big enough, the detailed RFP route may still be the way to go. It’s a process I no longer participate in, because I’m not willing to spend a week’s time researching and writing a proposal, and I’m neither interested in nor equipped to work with large companies on megaprojects. But that’s just me.


About ruthseeley

Ottawa born, Toronto educated, lived in the Lower Mainland and southern AB for more than a decade. Passionate about community, democracy, and good books. Fond of the Oxford comma.
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