Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ruminations on the use of new 'social media'

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Editorial Section
Moncton Times & Transcript

I spend a lot of time online. Ever since I got my first computer back in the 1980s, I've always been interested in online ventures, businesses, blogging and communicating with others. Since the arrival of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, however, the time I spend on the computer only seems to be increasing.

Social media have taken over the way I communicate to such an extent that my home telephone rarely rings anymore. No, it's not because I've suddenly lost all my friends (sniffs armpit to check for deodorant), but because I'm constantly communicating with them in other ways. If it isn't updating Facebook with the minutiae of my life, it's making YouTube videos or spending time with my new obsession: Twitter.

Why would anyone need to call me to say "Hi"? I'm always online telling everyone what I'm up to. And if you're not online, just pick up the Wednesday paper and you'll probably read about whatever has just happened in my life that may be somewhat interesting to you... like a sick cat (who's now better, by the way) or yet another Valentine's Day spent eating a tear-stained frozen dinner for one.

Oddly enough, I'm so busy telling people what I'm up to that no one needs to call me to ask what's new. I've never communicated so much in all my life, but actually speaking to another human being on the telephone seems to have taken a backseat to Facebook status updates or 140-character literary works of art on Twitter.

I'm not the only one who's taken to online social media forums to spread the word on the most recent happenings in their lives. I'm only one of hundreds of millions of people around the world who regularly use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. Organizations regularly use Facebook groups to keep their members and communities up to date with what's going on. The site has become an indispensable tool to any person or organization serious about any online presence.

Blatant self-promotion alert: You can even join fan pages for your favourite singers, actors, entertainers... even newspaper columnists! (Hint: Search for "Brian Cormier's Readers and Fans" in Facebook and feel free to join. I give away a new car to every tenth new member... well, not really... but we can pretend.) Although most of the nearly 200 people who've joined so far are personal friends (I know where they live, so they had no choice but to join), I've been pleasantly surprised to find many others I don't know, but who read Hump Day or one of my blogs.

Keeping in touch with others, however, is always a balancing act. I certainly update my Facebook and Twitter way more often than most sensible people, however I hope that I succeed in not being too frivolous. But even if you're posting great content, there's a limit to how often you should tell everyone what you're doing. Just this week, I had to hide the status updates of a Facebook friend who was updating way too often, even for me.

And if you know how often I update, that's like getting a telephone call from Adolph Hitler to tell you that you can't come to his birthday party because you're not a nice person.

As much as Facebook and other social media can be a tool for promoting yourself and increasing your visibility and credibility, it can also pretty much let the world know that you are a huge tool. I've sat there shaking my head at what some so-called social media and communication gurus have posted -- having been motivated by either anger, frustration or just not knowing how to use the technology. Yeah, if you click on 'send,' everyone is going to see that you hate Aunt Minerva's corn chowder (forgetting that she's on your friends list and will see this), or that you think your boss is an idiot (guess who's also on your friends list?).

There are also people who "vaguebook," a term used when people update their Facebook status with emotional riddles. "Can't take it anymore." "Can't believe this is happening." "Can't please anyone." "Had enough of this garbage." "Wish I could do more." There are people on my Facebook list who are pros at this. Of course, what would you do if you saw a status update like that? You'd ask, "What's wrong?" "Are you OK?", etc.

Basically, vaguebooking is a cry for attention. I tend to ignore those updates like the plague, so they'll be waiting a long time for any attention from me. We're not in elementary school, after all.

Then, there are those who invite you to every obscure event going on in the city. I swear, if I get invited to one more knitting trade show, I'll scream. I'm exaggerating, of course. And no, I don't want to be a Facebook 'fan' of every company in town -- especially companies that I have never set foot in. One person has invited me to be a fan of a company in town at least five times and I keep clicking 'no.' I have no dealings with this company, have never done business with them, and likely never will if I get one more fan page invitation. Enthusiasm and pestering are close cousins. Know the difference.

While social media is an essential part of communicating in today's society, it's still a balancing act. If you update often, make sure the content is helpful, funny or informative. Respond to people who interact with you. If you never update and simply lurk around to see what others are posting, you'll likely be deleted from people's lists. I removed close to 100 people a few weeks ago. Some of them hadn't updated their status in a year. Social media needs to be, well, social. And if I'm sharing, I expect others to share, too -- at least a little bit . . . even an iota.

And remember, don't be too self-serving, even if you have a Facebook fan page like "Brian Cormier's Readers and Fans" that could use a lot more members.

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