Social media – reality vs hype

Personally, I know friends and family who tenatively signed up for social media, such as Facebook, at the urging of someone else, but ultimately do not find it compelling. Worse yet, for some people, social media is simply more noise in their already busy lives. Yet, many many writers online continue to promote social media as absolutely essential for modern living. So … what is the disconnect here? Is it reality or hype?

The primary disconnect lies in how different people use social media differently. There are millions of people who use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc just for fun, posting videos of their family vacation, or exchanging thoughts on matters that endure for mere minutes to maybe a week (then forgotten). Then there are tens of thousands of small buisiness owners who are trying to maintain their professional identity or “brand” on the internet. In truth, there is a broad spectrum of users. Most people do not have a critical interest in promoting themselves online. Most of the talking and writing is being done by people whose buisiness involves internet services and/or media, particularly independant contractors, consultants, and small buisiness owners who rely upon clients or simply fans. But if you sell tires at a local auto mart, “social media” is mostly hype.

In a recent blog post, photographer Jim Goldstein made some very good clarifying points regarding social media, particularly for visual artists. He contrasts different types of online networking. Static web sites are oriented around posting content, to which viewers might possibly leave comments or ask questions. Blogs are a part of that, perhaps encouraging more reader feedback. Podcasts are similar, though there seems less of an option for leaving comments/feedback. Discussion forums provide more of multi-person conversation, where participants can periodically pop in and see if anything interesting is being discussed. Although Jim does not mention it, there is another style here, the digest; a forum may optionally send to you a digest topics that interest you. Ultimately, down the far end of the spectrum, you end up at Twitter, a gumbo of communication streams that never stop.

“The interesting thing about Social Media and how to get the most out of it is to change ones mindset from merely posting content, but to talking to your target audience about your content.” – JG

My own perspective is that all these tools are just that, tools. Not everyone needs every tool, though some writers seem to suggest it is so. If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, Twitter is probably not for you. And if you’re looking for work, Facebook may not be the most effective tool.

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