Monday, January 5, 2009

Time Enough for Social Media (Subtitled, "When Real Life Crashes Into Social Media Life")

Last year between March 4th and November 17th, I created 199 posts for this blog. Then for almost eight weeks, I was unable to find the time (or perhaps motivation) to author additional content.

What happened? Work at Fullhouse picked up as clients and prospects made their 2009 plans. Time and energy was required for the busy retail season by the stores owned by my wife and me (Metropawlis Pet Boutique and But more than anything, life happened--my inner musician urged me to spend more time with my keyboard, good times were shared with family and friends, games were played, and media was consumed (movies, television, and online series such as the terrifically entertaining "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long.")

This experience provided me a fresh perspective on Social Media. No, I have not had my confidence shaken; I still firmly believe Social Media will continue to change the way humans communicate, share information, and form relationships (with each other and with brands). Rather, my break from blogging has caused me to appreciate the diversity and richness of Social Media because in that eight-week period, I didn't give up Social Media; I just gave up blogging.

While I was silent on, I was still eagerly making noise on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites. I didn't stop sharing information, links, music, movie and book reviews, news, opinions, and observations; I just didn't find three- to five-hour chunks of time to research, compose, proofread, and post to my blog.

Because blogging has been around for so long (and because companies love the control of blogs), it is often the first thing that comes to mind when conversation turns to Social Media, but blogs and Social Media are clearly not one and the same. Blogs are a part of social media but increasingly are a smaller part of the Social Media pie.

Back in the late 90s when the term "blog" was first coined, Social Media consisted of a few product ratings, some personal Web site tools, and a couple infant Web log services such as LiveJournal and Blogger. Today, the concept of Social Media includes documents (Scribd), video (YouTube and Break), music ( and imeem), Social Networks (Facebook and MySpace), livecasting (qik), and most notably in the past two years, microblogging (Twitter). (For an easy visualization of the breadth of Social Media, I highly recommend Brian Solis's terrific "Conversation Prism".)

The point is that I stopped blogging, but I didn't stop sharing, communicating, and networking. Blogging satisfies a set of needs for me, and I found these needs were ones I could set aside when other priorities and demands required attention. But there were other needs that could not be put on hold, and I found no matter how busy I got, I always had time enough to participate in other aspects of Social Media.

What I learned firsthand is something I've been writing about on this blog for some time: Social Media isn't a single cohesive thing--it doesn't satisfy an individual or even small set of needs for people (or brands)--and woe be to the strategist or marketer who oversimplifies the complexities, nuances, and diversity of Social Media.

With the launch of a new year, I hope to continue to find time to explore the way consumers experience brands in a new social world. As always, your input is appreciated--after all, this blog isn't "social" if it's just me doing the talking!


Mike said...

I find your observation that social media is not a "cohesive thing" interesting. I agree. My impression is that many of us who grew our careers in the 80's and 90's are use to "linear thinking." We've been trained in cause and effect and out of habit that can transcend our work life. Of course when we go to social gatherings we go non-linear -- following the energy. But, at our desks or with laptops, the notion of "command and control" can still pervade behavior. Social media is different -- it's non-linear in the same way as live social gatherings where people tend to follow the energy and gravitate toward the interesting. It's very refreshing in that way. My sense is that we'll continue to see a whole range of tools and innovations around tuning and focusing social media to specific interests. FriendFeed is one example. It should be a very interesting year from that perspective. In 2009 I expect we'll see social media become more broadly adopted and varied, but at the same time there will be tools to help sift and organize content. It should be interesting!

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Mike. Interesting observation about the "linear thinking" in the past. I agree, and I think the linear thinking is what contributed to the "dot-com crash." Too many people seemed to think the Web was some sort of cohesive, easily-prescribed thing--one sort of person thought the Internet model was magazines (content sponsored by advertising on the side), another thought the model was malls (the 24/7 collection of stores that never close), and another thought it was about aggregation (portals, walled gardens, etc.)

None of them were completely wrong, but none were completely correct. As a result, even though content, e-commerce, and portals are workable concepts, a bunch of content, e-commerce, and portal sites closed in 2000 and 2001. The hard lesson learned (and being learned again in Social Media--see Pownce) is that success is a matter of details, nuances, and strategy and not merely linear thinking!

In other words, in Social Media terms how many tools do we need to share 140- to 160-character bits of info with each other? The tool or very few tools that succeed won't do so because their idea is sound but because they execute on the right combination of details, nuances, and strategy!