Putting the ‘social’ into social media

A recent article from the BBC saying that ‘40% of the messages sent via [twitter] are “pointless babble” put me in mind of a post I wrote a while ago for the lovely HomeMade Digital.

The below is an extract of that – with some extras thrown in for good measure…

The beauty of Twitter is that it’s an opt in society. If you don’t like it, don’t come. And if you don’t like how or what someone tweets, don’t follow them. This principle means that the businesses, charities and individuals who are tweeting for the sake of it, or are tweeting irrelevant drivel, will very quickly find it’s just not worth it; there won’t be the followers to justify it.

Aside from this though, during my trawl through the somewhat incestuous world of blogs about Twitter (trackbacks, click throughs, hat tips, head nods and the like make it a giddy rollercoaster of 6 degrees of geek separation at times) I noticed a common theme. To whit, that new Twitterers should start off by tweeting about themselves, while they ‘get used to it’, but that they should quickly progress to tweeting about more ‘interesting’ things if they want to survive.

Now, here’s the thing – and it comes back to that fundamental principle of an opt in society. Or, as I prefer to call it, Mary Whitehouse Syndrome. If you don’t like it, don’t watch. But don’t tell other people what they can and can’t watch, and don’t tell the producers what they should and shouldn’t make.

© herdarkmistress

© herdarkmistress

People engaging with social media should be able to engage with it in any way they like; if they want to set up a TwitterFeed from their fridge door, so that every time they eat something it’s automatically posted on Twitter, let them get on with it. It’s not our place to mock or ridicule them for that, just don’t follow them if you don’t want to know the minute they begin to make a ham and mustard roll.

Another way to look at it is this… When my friends in the real world (yes, I do have some) come round, I’m not expected to spend the evening churning out a constant stream of interesting things I’ve watched, read, listened to, or otherwise consumed in some digital way. Part of the conversation I have with them will certainly be about that, particularly if Hollyoaks has delivered yet another ‘oh my god’ storyline that week, but it won’t be the whole conversation. I’ll also tell them about what I’ve been up to at work, maybe what I had for tea, how I’m feeling, and other banal details of my life.

That’s what makes them my friends. And that’s what makes seeing them social.

According to the BBC, the study found that only 8.7% of messages could be said to have “value” as they passed along news of interest. I think they’ve missed a fundamental point here, which is that the beauty of twitter is its ability – through hashtags and search – to bring together disparate and unknown individuals around a common cause, hobby, or news event. I tweet about all sorts – what is babble to some will be of ‘pass along’ value to others, and even if they don’t pass it along, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to them as individuals.

If half as much effort went in to a project that took the vast numbers of people valiantly defending the NHS, protesting at elections in Iran, or sharing their love of tea in twitter, and brought those numbers and that passion into a world where policy makers and corporations couldn’t dismiss it as ‘babble’ – then we would be getting somewhere.

Then we would have the chance to take the ‘social’ parts of social media, and reuse it as social change. And that really would be worth studying.

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One response to “Putting the ‘social’ into social media

  1. C-

    oh the irony of defending babble, with a recycled blog 😉

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