Getting social with Nathan Barley

Bobbie Johnson from the Guardian has had it with social media. It’s easy to sympathise.

“Listen. I have blog. I use Twitter. I idly flick through lists of people I’d forgotten I ever knew on Facebook. I’ve even got a MySpace page, although I don’t like to talk about it. They are great ways of connecting people, and they’re very exciting when you start using them, because they allow virtual contact in ways that are analogous to – if not the same as – real life. You know, communicate with people. That old thing.

Nobody talks about people down the pub laughing about Bale’s expletive-laden bullying as a “social drinking sensation”. They don’t call people giggling about it on the phone as a “social telecommunications sensation”. They call it joking, or they call it gossip, because that’s what people do. Whether they do it online or offline, down the pub or on Facebook doesn’t matter. “Social media” is mainstream – we don’t need to claim any more victories for it.”

Quite so. I’m at a point where I roughly agree with Bobbie as well. I’ve probably spent as much time as anybody hyping up ‘social’ media tools. It was a convenient term, much like ‘new media’ was back in the emerging days of the internet.

It has now crossed into the mainstream. That, I think, we can safely say. But, as Bobbie points out, having Christian Bale’ s rant pinged around Twitter doesn’t act as proof that it’s taking over the world (such proof, for what it’s worth, is pretty easy to accumulate elsewhere).

Wadds wrote last week about the change that was coming in Twitter and other forms of social media (I’m still using the term as it’s convenient) and I think we’re seeing it now.

Now, unless I’ve completely misread his column, I don’t think Bobbie’s calling for the death of social media; rather that he wishes social media people would stop banging on about how great social media is on social media sites.

Christ, I feel incestuous just writing that last sentence.

There reaches a point where, in any technology or movement or whatever you want to call social media, where it edges onto the mainstream and suddenly everybody is an expert on it.

And, as ever, with any kind of new, erm, thing (sorry, I’m casting about for words here and can’t find the right one) there is a lot of bullshit. And a lot of people who get involved for little discernible purposes other than to self-promote their usually overhyped wares.

We’re probably at this stage now.

Now, this isn’t a post where I run screaming at Twitter yelling “YOU’VE CHANGED AND I DON’T LIKE IT” on my part either. But the site – and many other bits have become a mite trying at times. Largely because of the jargon and the self-promotion and the self-satisfaction and God alone knows what. [Insert your own examples here. I’m tired, ok].

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Social media is still important. It is, and will continue to, make an impact on our lives – how we view, consume and engage with both the media and the world in general.

But the likes of Twitter et al are also communication tools. And just as we all use our mobile phones to communicate in different ways, the same could be said for these assorted sites. They are a way of communication. No more, no less. How you choose to use them is up to you.

So, with that in mind, it’s not a surprise that PR (and journalism and the like) is naturally drawn to Twitter. After all, PR is a communications industry.

And, just with any new development, there will always be people in an industry who cotton onto it quicker than others. I guess you could call these people experts.

Whatever title you give them, these will be the people leading the way in training, enthusing and helping their colleagues or industry get the best out of the new technologies.

What’s quite interesting is some of the best people I know in this area have gone quite quiet over various social media outlets (God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t stop writing the term. I’ll stop it soon, I promise). And that’s probably as good an indication as any that social media’s moved into the mainstream.

It means that they no longer need to shout from the rooftops and are probably getting stuck into work and training and other such things. They’ve not moved on, they’ve just got more on their plates as every area tries to get a piece of the action. And this is a good thing, probably.

No doubt there will now be a slew of blog posts in the coming months claiming social media is dead (we’ve already had this with blogging). It’s not. It’s evolving.

Those who start proclaiming the death of social media are probably either trying to get attention or acting like the cool kid at school who spends ages raving about a band only to disown said band when everybody else realised how good they are. This isn’t the same as fatigue or frustration, which is what Bobbie appears to have.

I still love many aspects of social media. It’s integral to a lot of what I do. Twitter is increasingly useful for work, is a daily essential, I’m using wikis a hell of a lot more and I’ve only just realised how useful Tumblr can be.

But this does not mean I need to run around letting the whole world know I’ve just created a new wiki (although I’m as guilty as anybody of pimping my blog over the assorted networks).

This probably comes across as quite a jumbled post, but I think that’s a reflection of where things are at currently.

Social media tools are being absorbed into the mainstream but the principles guiding them are not new. Gossip is gossip, news is news, no matter how it becomes so. And talking about these wonderful new tools is easy. Doing something with them is considerably harder.

Twitter – and other sites you can lump under the SM umbrella – is useful, fun and interesting. Going around declaring yourself an expert in this probably isn’t. I removed the phrase social media enthusiast from my profile a week or so ago because I realised it made me sound like an utter wanker. And, frankly, I don’t need any extra help in that department.

I’ll finish by lifting Kat Hannaford’s comment from Bobbie’s piece, because it’s delightfully ranty, and pretty much spot on. And she’s one of my favourite, funniest Tweeters:

“Twitter and all the assorted other social networking brainfuckery has sapped the joy right out of the internet in recent months, and it’s taking all my willpower not to tell people to sod off, stop embarrassing themselves, and crawl back to the nook at Shoreditch House that they crawled out of.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go look at pictures of cats to reinstall a glimmer of hope within me about the benefits of the internet.”

Amen to that. Pictures of cats will still be popular no matter what stage of the web we’re in đŸ™‚


4 Responses to “Getting social with Nathan Barley”

  1. 1 danworth February 4, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    All very true. Twitter has reached its tipping point, Gladwell would say, and now it’s everywhere. The best thing about Twitter is that companies can come to you with what they think you want to know / will be interested in, not you having to remember to go to them.

    So if you have book companies (ebury, penguin etc) and sports sites (bbc, guardian) and google sightseeing, and gig venues, all telling you, with links, about x y and z, you’re going to see a lot more, learn a lot more, and be made aware of a lot more ‘real’ events too, than if you had to remember to go to each site, and then find what you might be interested in. That’s why Twitter is so good.

    Plus, it encourages people/business to be open, themselves and active. A twitter that isn’t managed might as well not exist because you’ll never see it.

  2. 2 Kerry Gaffney February 4, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    You are so, so right, and I’m just realising how difficult it is to write a comment without throwing in jargon, like we need to step outside the echo chamber, but we do.

    Think I might have said this before, but the great Douglas Adams once said “Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.” That’s what the problem is with social media, its a phrase that describes something we still haven’t got to grips with fully, once we do then it will just be media or the way we always used to do stuff, just over a wider variety of channels

    Btw I hate using the phrase social media too – just wish I was clever enough to think of an apt replacement.

  3. 3 Dina February 4, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Fair dos Gary, I would probably agree with you here except for one small point. There are still people out there who haven’t a clue what the heck Twitter, DELICIOUS, StumbleUpon etc is! Really, it aggravates me every time because I then have to start explaining and they give me this look of “what’s the point again?” and it gets tiring. The funny thing is, it’s not the people you would think who keep asking me these questions, seriously my newspaper’s web editor looked at me in tired confusion when I mentioned Twitter the other day.
    We may talk about it to death on the social media (grr!)platform but the jargon is still not widely used, just ask a good cross-section of people. Actually I’m going to Facebook that right now.

    PS you were asking before about advice for young journos, simply: learn to drive, learn the basics behind website management, coding and social media, and for the love of god take up smoking it’s the only 3 minutes of quiet they will get!(Lol, seriously, don’t endorse the last). x

  4. 4 Michal February 4, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Ha. Good post. Strangely enough I also called myself a social media enthusiast or something similar on Twitter until I realised that the only reason I wrote that was because it was ,er, a social medium. I don’t call myself an email enthusiast in my email signature, so why define myself by the medium I use on Twitter?

    Having said that, I still haven’t found a succinct way of saying who I am on Twitter. I keep modifying it. Which is fine. After all your CV doesn’t stay the same all the time either, does it?

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February 2009

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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