Booking from Facebook

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An interesting factoid from life in the advertising trenches concerns the social media habits of teenagers: Coca Cola, anxious to jump on the social networking bandwagon, commissioned a study of teenagers that found their core attitude towards developing a social media presence to be “defensive”.  That is, they felt at risk for losing social status if they did not have an online identity which displayed the proper combination of coolness and connections.  This study further characterized todays teens as overscheduled and stressed.  The agency’s response to this research was to whip up a campaign based on the fizzing sound as a can of coke is cracked open.  Pressure relieved and now you have a minute to yourself.  Not a bad treatment for what it’s worth.

Does this attitude occur in adult social media consumers? Steve Tuttle’s article “Why I Quit Facebook”, along with some other commentary I’ve seen recently, focuses on the banality of “status updates”, short posts where users share whatever thoughts are crossing their minds at the moment.  To me, the subtext of these self-centered messages is a strategic attempt to bolster an online persona and, by reflected LCD-light, increase the status of the user.

In real life, at a party for example, the person who corralls me to tell me that their kid ate an entire bowl of cereal would properly be deemed a “bore”and would be most-likley avoided.  A status-updating (and status-enhancing) Cyberbore faces far fewer consequences than their flesh-and-blood counterpart because they are easier to ignore, and because, in my humble opinion, there is a tacit understanding that posts to newsfeeds are not intended to establish connection, they are intended to advertise.   Although there are token updates in which users wanly express non-hegemenous attitudes, the vast majority of posts hew tightly to a woman’s magazine Weltanschaung: “Joanie just did 2 hours of Bikram and never felt so refreshed, Namaste!”.

I have even seen meta-updates to friends about the number of friends obtained:  “John Doe just added friend number 1,000!”.  This is Onkga’s Big Moka,  writ in pixels. –  the display of a fitness indicator, a cyber-peacock’s-tail. The poster not only indicates that they have the social capital to get 1,000 people to click “Accept”, but they have the energy and focus to monitor and broadcast this.

It’s nothing new that people are always advertising and cloaking their intent in normative memes (“community” or in Huffington’s case, “concern for family”).  The interesting question to me is: “Is this an efficient form of self-promotion?”  I don’t think so.  While some people invest a lot of effort in creating online personas, the audience is fickle.  In order to join an online community, the average user faces a relatively low cost of admission and can leave just as easily.  As the founders of Friendster can attest, and with apologies to  “Project Runway”:  “In social media one day you’re in, the next day you’re out”.  This is the nature of the internet itself, low investment with rapid-switching (e.g. hyperlinking).

OK, let’s investigate fashion as an analog.  Is it a more efficient means of advertising fitness?  It takes energy to seek out fashionable clothing, resources to obtain it, and resilience to withstand the social attention and occasional opprobrium one obtains from wearing it.  It’s an effective fitness-indicator albeit one with greater investment and a lesser reach.  Alternatively the impact of a social media presence is broad but shallow. It seems to me that maintaining a fashionable real-life persona takes greater sacrifice, affects fewer people, but affects them more deeply.  Critiques about the banality of fashion precede those of Facebook posts and probably arise from a similar anxiety – keeping up.  Most people don’t want the pressure of figuring out what is in fashion, or of persuading
1,000 people to electronically approve of them.

The establishment of an enduring community on the internet would require that a social networking mechanism demand greater investment by users, and impose real consequences for their non-participation or departure. Entry would have to be more akin to a barn-raising than to watching Google Auto-Fill complete an online registration form. In real-life communities based on shared sacrifice, such as a farm communities, self-promotion is often viewed with skepticism.  Perhaps the emergence of this attitude is a bellwether for the viability of online communities as well.

  1. fb is intended to be light-hearted fun. u take it 2 seriously imho.

    maybee u don’t “get it”? 😉

  2. John Scalzi has the only good explanation I’ve ever seen for Twitter and its status-update ilk, at http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/04/03/reader-request-week-2009-8-twitter. Excerpt: “Fact is, the reason Twitter is so popular is that people like all those banal little messages that skitter across the service. For the people you know – friends, family and co-workers – those ‘I’m eating fruit now’ messages take the place of the little, not-especially-notable interactions you have on a daily basis that add up to a familiar and comfortable sense of the world and your place in it. When in fact you can’t see those friends, family, etc on a daily basis, these banal tweets still group them into your daily, unremarkable life, and in doing so make them seem closer and therefore more of a part of your world.”

  3. My feeling is that these little in-person non-notable interactions have valuable incidental and accidental qualities while Tweets, et. al. are specifically constructed.

    It can be argued that social interaction is what gives life meaning (see Yalom’s “deep social connection” as a bulwark against death-panic), yet more and more of it today consists of this kind of substitute. The prevailing media attitude though is that technology-based social connection merely extends face-to-face interactions (hence Scalzi’s “take the place of”) instead of, as I see it, being a watered-down alternative.

  4. eKrap » Booking from Facebook – The Facebook News - pingback on September 9, 2009 at 4:58 am
  5. I think the key phrase is, “When in fact you can’t see those friends, family, etc on a daily basis…” The tweets aren’t taking the place of anything, they’re filling a void caused by geographic distance.

  6. I don’t know of any research that has investigated whether new means of communication crowd out older ones. My intuition is that new means do, especially if they require less effort. For example, it’s rare these days for one to write or receive an actual letter. This isn’t because Tweeting is “better” than letter-writing, it’s because it’s easier. If Tweets are merely an additional channel though, I’m prepared to view them in Twittery innocence.

  7. If you had a Twitter feed and posted things like “I’m eating fruit now,” I would read it with pleasure.

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