I am most grateful to Nancy Burke Barr aka Mentor Mama for her guest post about Facebook. I value both her wisdom and advice. A lawyer in another lifetime, Nancy clearly argues on behalf of the Internet. I am impressed by her testimony, yet the jury on social media’s value is still out for me.
I would agree with Nancy that Facebook and Twitter are utilities that help people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. Statistics demonstrate Facebook is a part of tens of millions of people’s lives. I don’t believe, however, that social media can do more than plant the seeds of ideas or draw the attention of potential clients. In my experience, social media is not all that efficient or effective in fully developing big ideas or businesses.
Twitter appears to be designed for efficiency. Messages must be kept to 140 characters. To achieve this a language of abbreviations such as RT, #FF, and tiny.urls has grown up so people are able to convey larger messages within the confines of tweets. But, lobbing messages out in a constant stream of similar looking tweets doesn’t impress me as an effective way to do business. I expect that if I wanted to take the time to research it I could find data on how many messages must be cast into the Twitter stream before a real conversation or a potentially valuable contact is reeled in.
Facebook is more conducive for conversations. Facebook though more generous than Twitter also limits the length of a conversation. Here too there is a constant stream of conversation. The audience is much smaller, and limited to a group who are described as “friends.”
Both Twitter and Facebook provide the option to have more personal, direct conversations among specific individuals. Unless these people are online at the same time and actively involved in chatting with each, the messages may become disjointed as a result of the delay in time
Nancy likened Facebook to the Parisian cafe used by previous centuries’ literati. Facebook, she said, is a social hub available to “today’s creative elite with intellectual interaction, inexpensive access, and ease of exposure.” I would offer an alternative analogy:
Twitter is a fast moving train. A person with something to say puts their head out the window and yells. People within hearing distance of the train, those who are following you on Twitter, hear bits of a bigger message. If they are interested they can make an effort to seek you out and hear more of the message. Keep in mind that the train you are on is full. There are passengers yelling their messages out of every window. Someone who might be interested in your message may not be along the side of the watching the train (ie. reading tweets) when you yell out, so you’ll have to keep riding the train over and over and over again in the hopes they will get your message.
My husband likened Facebook to sitting on the front stoop of your neighborhood. It’s more relaxed than Twitter. Your friends can chose when to drop by for a brief conversation. One limitation is that the Facebook community is gated. You have to invite your friends and they must accept before you can talk to each other. As in Twitter there’s an element of competition. Everyone else in the neighborhood is seated on their stoops carrying on conversations. Unless you send a direct message to a friend, you have to hope your friends will take the time to read what you have to say from the news stream. If your friends are social butterflies, you have to compete with a lot of people.
In terms of potential, both Twitter and Facebook have merit especially when trying to reach a large audience. In terms of message content and exchange of ideas, Twitter potential is limited. Facebook’s possibilities are far greater. I don’t believe that it will ever substitute for the phone or person-to-person interactions.
Both Twitter and Facebook involve a good deal of upfront investment in order to establish a network of friends and followers. The dynamics of social media is one of diminishing returns. From thousands of followers only one percent are likely to be people with whom you converse. Many of these are people who are simply interested in selling you something. An very small percentage of the followers will be individuals with whom you’ll be in regular contact.
I have yet to see any concrete evidence that Twitter and Facebook can produce the kind of sales that one would expect from a platform with tens of millions of users.
Social media works well for those whose business is social media. For writers, and bakers, and candlestick makers social media is tool we probably shouldn’t avoid but it is certainly not the magical grail we all expected it would be.
Next time I’ll relate some of the tips I learned in NYC about publishing. Then I plan to swing back and discuss blogs.
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