In today’s world of mass communication we find ourselves interacting with social media networking sites all the time. The big guns: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Myspace. Yes, Myspace is gaining steam yet again with Justin Timberlake buying up a large portion of the ownership and recrafting the site to accommodate the musicians and artists of the world.
Social networking has become a driving force of our economy and our personal lives. In its simplest of terms a social networking site is an online website that allows people to connect into a group-based online community. Connections, are everything. Connecting with others on the same networking site is a way to expand your network. Personally, I have over 500+ connections on my linkedin account. These connections expand my network to just over 18,000,000 people. What exactly does this mean? It all really goes back to the idea of the algorythym. The larger my network expands, the more people on a particular social network will be exposed to my content.
Connections are like tree branches, spitting out in every direction trying to grab more and more connections in the cyberspace online community. The more connections a social networking site has, the more prominence the site itself has on the internet. What does this mean? It means that when you search for social media, those sites that host the most connections (and the largest networks) are those sites that pop up first in searches. An easier way to realize this prominence is to ask all of your friends if they are on facebook, or twitter, and with networks of over 500 million, the answer is most likely yes.
But, like any community, whether online or your hometown PTA meeting, there are issues that arise. One of the issues that social networking sites run into is called the Dunbar Number. The Dunbar Number represents something interesting. If the idea behind social networking is to build real, beneficial and interactive relationships with other users, then the Dunbar Number represents a figure in which we max out our capacity to engage in building a relationship with another user in our network. This number marks the point in which we can’t possibly build a significant, ongoing relationship with another user because our network and our ability to communicate with everyone is near impossible.
But, at the same time, with social media hogs like Tila Tequila, the idea of building significant relationships takes a back to seat to the benefit of expanding our networks. See, Tila was the first person on myspace to reach a million “friends”. And was she communicating with each of them? Of course not. There is not enough time in the day. But, the idea of making her known holds prominence over the idea of building a substantial, interactive relationship with her audience. We see a shift in the idea of the relationship. It becomes one sided to most. Tila posts what she is up to, her music, her thoughts etc., and her community can view it. But, for the most part if you write Tila a message, she won’t be responding anytime soon.
Then we see “The Law of the Few”. This is the idea that 20% of the online community is responsible for 80% of the content the social network sees. Social media hogs (see Tila). These three types of people are: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Tila would be a connector. Just connect with anyone who’s anyone. Mavens differ in that they act as specialists, or experts on a certain type of information. Personally, mavens, I feel earn their connections through educating the public. Salesmen are people that you see always posting a post, (all the time) about how you can benefit from their services.
So why did you join facebook? To keep up with your former preschool schoolmates and express interest in their new lives with their husbands and kids 20 years later? Not me. I mean that’s great, but I don’t really care. If you know me, call or text me. I don’t have facebook, I don’t have myspace and I don’t have twitter. But there are those that fall into the category of “FOMA” – fear of missing out. Just think of all the announcements and updates you will miss out on if you aren’t keeping up with your social media. You might not know that your friend posted on twitter “Yum, I had a muffin” or you would have no idea that a guy you went to high school with just got a new job at JP Morgan. Sounds silly, but social media has that affect on people. We feel we are missing out on what the world is saying and, often, that feeling causes us to join a social network to feel connected to the world. Society takes a new form and humans interently need to be a part of it.
Some organizations are studying the effects of social media on teenagers. The ICMPA is one of them. (International Center for Media and the Public Agenda). They recently completed a study that involved taking all social media away from a group of teenagers for 24 hours, then asking them to blog, after the 24 hours, about how they felt. The studies are a little disturbing as they found that the teenagers felt entirely disconnected from people that were close by. I think this says something significant about social media and its impact on society. Society is relying on social media to autheticate its idea of a true relationship. By constantly updating your twitter account you feel connected to your followers, and vice versa. You may never see them, most likely, you are substituing hanging out with the person face to face with letting them know what you are up to at every moment. If we know where our friends are and what they are doing, we feel that we are, in some signficant way, hanging out with them. This interaction is an interesting facet of social media.
Now let’s talk about Facebook. I personally do not have an account. A couple years ago when they adjusted their user policy, I jumped ship. But they are betting on something. That the attraction of knowing that everyone you have ever heard of is on the site, that will be enough that you won’t read it. What’s disturbing is they own a lot more of you than you think. Facebook can use your picture to advertise a product as long as it appears in a state that does not border your own (or is not your own). Basically, when you see those ads on your facebook profile page, those often, are other facebook users’ pictures. Now, while I don’t necessarily have a modeling career, you might, you just will never know about it. I would want to get paid for my picture being used to sell something in another state, but because of Interstate Commerce Laws, it is quite possible. Afterall, you clicked ‘I agree”.
Plus, we all know, if you are posting a profile pic, it probably isn’t the first one you took. You probably took four or five and decided on the one that you feel represents your idea of how you would like to be portrayed, the best. Think about this for a minute. Obviously, narcissistic, (which I don’t even mind that part, we all do it), but think of the implications. If the entire world is taking into consideration this when they update their profiles, then we have to account for a type of social media inflation. What’s exactly inflated? Reality, or an accurate construct of society. That’s the problem with instituting too much trust into social media. Marshall McLuhan, a great communication theorist from Canada said it best. “The medium is the message”. Now, while MuLuhan passed away before the internet age, his concept of how media effects us, holds true today. If we are going to participate in social media, then we HAVE, and I mean HAVE to understand that it is effecting us in some way. Everything we choose to share with the world effects us. It effects others opinions of us and successfully shapes our daily lives. Whether or not it’s for the better, is the tricky part. But, if we know that we must take responsibility for our social network uses, we can understand the importance of realizing that we are all part of an ongoing, society-shaping, phenomena.
If we can learn this, we can utilize social media to benefit us more than if we don’t consider its implications. If we can truly understand that we are engaging in a communicative society that is taking us all in certain directions, we can understand how to prevent negative aspects of the practice from emerging. It is of vital importance that we don’t just learn HOW to use social media, but that we also learn WHEN and WHY we should be using it. Without considering its implications on our lives, we are leading ourselves towards areas that negatively impact us. And, unfortunately, what we do online stays online. Binary code makes it so that everything can be found again. Even google keeps your information for approximately 186 days tied directly to you. After 6 months have passed the information becomes anonymous. It’s dumped into a world we cannot topically see, but it still exists in cyberspace. It is always is there. It’s not like shredding a sensitive document at your office, then burning the remaining pieces. Social media and the content we choose to create with it, stays in existence. We must be aware of what this means to society, to our youth and to ourselves.
The first article I chose to critique was Brent’s Building A Better Blog for 2007: Respond to Comments. He took a look at the value of responding to comments on your blog and considered the negative and positive effects of doing so. I wanted to expand on some of his ideas towards commenting back, or replying with an email to other bloggers that comment on your blog. Since we are seeing the value in blogging, and primarily see it as a source of user content generation that would otherwise be inaccessible we have to value the format of blogging in general. I think Brent was talking about this concept.
If the idea behind the internet is to generate ideas, then we, as bloggers, would be doing ourselves an injustice by not considering how our content comes across. Now, of course, it is easy to see a positive comment complimenting your work as a source of reassurance that what you are posting is in direct correlation with how others feel; however, we must also consider negative comments. We are creating a community online, a community of ideas, of thoughts of opinions and unique to the internet, is the ability to create social networks through associated content. We have the amazing ability to create a sense of community. Now, if you compare this idea to a physical community in your home town, or at your local PTA meeting, then it works the same way. We try out ideas, good or bad, and consider their consequences accordingly. Dissent, or disagreement is a core foundation of community, because it allows the freedom for the community to adapt its ideas. It is a constant reminder that although we don’t always agree, we can still shape and nurture our concepts to create a more consistent and well-rounded community. Blogging allows us to track this. It allows us to be able to keep records of the type of concepts, content, or ideologies that do well, those that do not, and those that strike people the wrong way. But without considering those negative effects of our content we could not possibly begin to believe that our material is as good as it could be.
Ideas flow, they generate and develop and commenting allows us to see it, and interact with the development of them.
Brent also goes on to suggest that we may not know who we are commenting to, and we need to consider that when we are commenting back. The internet, obviously a revolutionary networking tool, is best utilized when we understand the importance of value of respectable anonymity. People can say what they want to say without identifying themselves for the most part. This can be bad and good. We see the negative effect of this concept with the blogging “trolling industry”. I also recently wrote an article on Violentacrez and his Reddit content. You can find it HERE.
We need to understand the importance of identifying a troll who simply wants to create havoc and reducing the value of the content of our personal or professional blogs; however, we can’t afford to skip over or block user content that simply disagrees with us. There is great value in that content.
I almost think of it like a comment, or suggestion box at a TGI Fridays. Every month the management will review the suggestions of every patron that has something to say about the restaurant, whether good or bad. Without the good comment, the management would not know they were doing things well, and without the bad comments they wouldn’t know what they were doing wrong. So, we find ourselves aiming for a balance of the two. Human nature is get better, to improve. Improvement is dependent equally on knowing what you’ve done right and realizing what you’ve done wrong. This is the value in responding to comments.
Let’s take a look at the concept of growing your audience. Brent writes about the value in going to the blogger’s sites who have commented and leaving your comment on their site, as well as emailing them. While I think emailing truly personalizes the attempt, I do not feel that it is always necessary. Often, you might come across desperate with an email and a comment on their blog. While I do agree with Brent that it is important for your blog’s traffic to not simply post the comment back on your blog, I don’t necessarily feel that we can say that there is standard of emailing commenters back every time.
We want to increase blog traffic, but we also need confidence in knowing that the reason our blogs are being visited is because of the content. When we find ourselves over “reaching” out, we find ourselves degrading our ideas that we have posted. Afterall, they are our ideas, and although other’s comments can help shape our ideas, our idea originated the conversation in the first place, whether good or bad. We must know this.
The second article on this topic I will critique is by Seth Simmons, with his blog posting entitled: 31 Proven Ways to Get More Comments On Your Blog. This is an all out “steroid-fueled” step by step process in getting more comments on your blog. I like his concept of not being afraid to have an opinion on your blog, or on someone else’s for that matter. As I mentioned before, it is of vital importance that we understand our own value in our content. If you have something to say, even if it is not the status quo’s belief, then you must not be afraid to say it. That’s the beauty of blogging. We don’t all agree and we can’t possibly begin to believe that we should. The internet verifies the world’s diversity so by holding on to our beliefs in the blogging world, simply to avoid confrontation, we do the internet and the world an injustice.
He also talks about congratulating someone or sending positive feedback towards someone else’s blog. This makes all the sense in the world, if we can take a step back and think of it through our own perspective when we receive a positive, reassuring comment, or “like” or “thumbs up” on our blog posts. I personally, become instantly intrigued with the person who commented. I most definitely go to their site and learn what they are all about. If by understanding the types of bloggers my content reaches and affects, then I can define my audience much more clearly. Plus, if the contents of our blogs are similar we can help each other define our concepts and ideas through communication with each other.
He also uses the term “disappear” to suggest the value in not posting all the time. One of my favorite bloggers and communication experts, Chris Brogan often suggests this idea behind not “flooding” your audience with posts. This idea looks into attention spans and relevancy within our audiences. While we should be confident in what we post is substantial and valuable, we should not kid ourselves into thinking the world, or our audiences wants to hear our opinion on everything. It is easy to be arrogant in the blogging world. For one, it is anonymous and often we aren’t necessarily held accountable for our content, and two, we might think that a large readership looks at us for our opinion on everything. What we should be doing is understanding WHY our audiences read our blogs. It is in the WHY that shows us our niche, our most valuable content.
I do like Seth’s idea of allowing guest bloggers to post material on your site. This is a great idea. This idea allows you to validate your blog through other’s thoughts and expertise, while at the same time, showing your audience that you value other’s thoughts on your topics. This is also a great way to increase the value in your blog.
The internet also provides us with a new way of reaching other platforms, sites and medias through one click on our blog. By adding a “retweet” button on your blog you can link twitter’s network to your blog. Then, twitter is linked to linkedin and soon you find a link to your blog on a linkedin page with a user with a 20,000,000 network. The internet blends lines of geography and can exponentially get your ideas across a very large, worldwide network.
He goes on to say what I feel is pretty obvious, by suggesting we write about what we are interested in. That obviously goes without saying. Creativity is heightened when we are interested to create.
So, as I am new the blogging world, LEAVE ME A COMMENT! I will respond, and I will get to know you and your ideas on your blog. We will go from there!