My generation came of age in what I would call the sweet spot for social media understanding. Young enough to care (and to “get it”) but old enough to have perspective. Those who will grow up with Facebook accounts will never know what it was like not to have them, just as I grew up never knowing a world without cable television. And thank God for that. But having been there before allows you to remove yourself from the equation a bit, and look at a new technology, or any major change, through the prism of “before and after”. What effect has this really had? What has changed?
My first experience with social media as we recognize it today was with MySpace. For anyone who never used it, MySpace was like Facebook only way more open, way more customizable, and way more conducive to creepy stalking. I suppose someone in the world is still on MySpace (as of this writing, the website still exists) but these days MySpace is like the Blockbuster of websites: everybody used to use it, and even though it’s technically still around, nobody’s been there since 2006. Facebook came along with a more controlled platform, with more effective privacy controls, and effectively killed it.
What I found interesting was how quickly and completely MySpace was killed. It seems that in certain areas of social media, the network effect creates a tendency for natural monopolies. The only useful network is the one where all of your friends are, so once Facebook membership surpassed MySpace, it was all over. That’s why I’m skeptical about Google+, I started an account but only knew two people who had it. I haven’t logged in since. Twitter is another example of this. It’s so successful that you would expect competitors to start popping up, but Twitter beat everyone to the punch and signed up everyone you’d ever want to follow. Good luck beating that.
Personally, I’m a huge Twitter evangelist. I originally tried it a few years ago, and like many others, I didn’t get it at first. I wondered why I needed a separate website for what was essentially just a Facebook status, so I canceled my account. I came back to it in 2010 and finally figured out the point of the whole thing. As Twitter’s homepage says (or at least used to say), “Follow your interests.” I’m a huge soccer fan, and in this country news about soccer, and other people follow it, can be difficult to find. By joining Twitter, within a matter of days I was able to create a constantly updating news stream with some of the best information and discussion about my two favorite teams: New England Revolution and Liverpool FC. I even found a group of Boston Liverpool supporters who meet at a pub in Cambridge for every match. No matter what your interest is, you can find a group of likeminded people on Twitter and be among the first to hear when news about it breaks. It’s been incredibly useful for me, and I’m hooked. (Follow my class Twitter @BCRyand)
So I come into the discussion about social media as a believer. I’ve used MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and dipped a toe into Google+, and I’ve seen what they can do as a user in my personal life, and as a consumer. Now I’m interested in what they can do when it comes to marketing. In this blog, I intend to look at the marketing aspect of social media, and since I work in the non-profit field, I’ll explore that dimension as well. I’ve seen some companies use social media to create real value for customers, and I’ve seen others waste the opportunity. I have some insights that I think could be useful to those who aren’t yet Twitter pros, and I look forward to learning a few things from the comments as well. And if I end up throwing in a bit of soccer talk… sorry.