Category Archives: Social Media

Alone in the crowd: The Social Network and the human mall.

Mark Zuckerberg is counseled by Napster founder Sean Parker in Columbia Pictures' The Social Network

The Facebook biopic Social Network opened this past weekend, topping the box office. Crowds for the film’s opening at the Mall of America on Friday were surprisingly low, but then again not surprisingly. As a destination the Mall is best suited to the opening of big, loud, explosive blockbusters. West Wing nerds, anticipating the second of Aaron Sorkin’s Hollywood features since his TV series ended in 2006, might find smaller, neighborhood art-house theaters better suited to stories like Sorkin’s, the most intense action of which happens during snappy conversations played out in offices, bedrooms, and conference rooms.

Still, it was odd to walk out of the film buzzing with ideas, and with the trailing emotional experience David Fincher’s directing gave of the tingling alchemy that happens when everyday moments become history, and then to look out over the cavernous interior of the Mall. Because below, for the moment oblivious as they walked the wide marble hallways, visited the stores, ate together in the food courts, and rode amusement park rides, were the real subjects of the movie: many of us. A 2009 Harris Interactive poll said just under half of Americans actively use Facebook or MySpace accounts. That was a year ago. Surely the Facebook numbers, which during certain stretches have risen by 60,000 new users a day, are far higher now. Then again The Social Network is not really about us at all. It’s about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

(Zuckerberg is played by Jesse Eisenberg, who skillfully transformed the well-practiced harmlessness of his other roles into a kind of sociopathic naivete).

People, the Facebook users whose murmuring conversations, lone exhortations, solitary musings, and narcissistic pronouncements allow there to be a Facebook story at all, are for the most part never seen in the film as anything more than numbers ticking on a wall-sized display in the film’s fictional Facebook headquarters. There are exceptions, a couple snapshots of initial adopters in separate, private, individual-college-based networks of what was then called The Facebook, where people “Facebooked” versus Friended each other. In these montaged vignettes of kids in dorm rooms Sorkin and Fincher put a human face on growing millions of people they thereafter only refer to second-hand, as users. From then on the suggestion or mention of this user-base creates pressure, portent and possibility that compress Zuckerberg, his friends, his enemies, and his allies into those tight physical and emotional spaces where this kind of drama thrives.

"Put money in thy purse Mark! Steal the Facebook."

Sorkin explored this aesthetic before. We seldom saw the voters whose potential approval or disapproval kept members of The West Wing‘s fictional administration scrambling for six seasons, and we seldom saw those characters outside the corridors for which the show is named. Indeed, several times throughout the show’s all too short history, world annihilation was averted not by land, sea, air, or space but in offices, in conference rooms, and in brisk walks through narrow hallways, adjoining rooms, and hectic bullpens.

A small group of driven, fiercely idealistic, and sometimes self-serving personalities grappling in palace rooms, shuffling thousands of faceless pawns back and forth for leverage against each other: sounds like the kings and their courts in any number of Shakespeare’s tragic history plays. It’s appropriate that Sorkin wrote West Wing‘s President Bartlet as a classicist. According to a far warmer and more sympathetic portrait than Sorkin’s by Jose Antonio Vargas, in the September 20 issue of The New Yorker, Zuckerberg, who studied the Greeks and Romans at Exeter, is a classicist too.

Both of these men are tragic heros. One is pressured by politics into making painful decisions that compromise his beliefs. Wracked by guilt, his health fails and he begins destroying himself. The other, seething with envy, gets manipulated into killing all his friends. Sad. Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile once listed West Wing as one of his favorite shows. Was he inspired by the show’s depiction of power, but not the pathos that was its counterpart? According to Vargas, soon after news came out that the portrait shown of him in The Social Network would potentially be unflattering, Zuckerberg removed The West Wing from his profile

Seeing The Social Network in the mall theater was actually a perfect setting. The thousands of would-be Facebook customers below weren’t rushing to see the movie about Facebook because they were too busy hanging out with their family and closest friends. The tremendous hype surrounding social media falsely suggests people invented Facebook, a manipulation Sorkin and Fincher’s film is so effective in showing to be false. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn really aren’t that important to those mall customers, or at least to their relationships, which are what brought them to the mall at night. Few of them were shopping alone.

Cut back to the movie’s establishing vignettes of Facebook’s early adopters. It’s very significant to remember the web site was first launched as a series of networks exclusive to specific colleges. A college campus is a self-contained and tightly-knit community. It affords an intimacy the scope of which most young adults will never experience again after graduating. As the movie shows, their use of Facebook was in fact a retreat from those intimate relationships. We see them alone, pasty and hollow-eyed in the glow of a radiating monitor, typing in the dark.

Eric

The hordes are at the gate: why marketers should not be afraid of social media

Human beings want to believe they are singularly special enough to form and articulate great ideas. It’s uncomfortable to think our ideas actually come from everywhere and not from what we think of as ourselves. We’re reluctant to see the power of listening, and allowing ideas to synthesize, as powerful. It suggests we are at our best when we are not as solid as we’d like to be, and we’re willing to accept the comfort of second-best. Marketers are particularly uncomfortable with the lack of control implied in allowing consumers to help form the meaning of brands. This is one of the biggest implications of social media.

The history of philosophy as a way of understanding the mind and the human situation could be considered an ongoing battle: the ego continually trying to reassert itself. Descartes said Reason ruled all. Our ability to know was our ability to conquer the void that forever tries to swallow us with fear. Just like God making things exist by naming them. Knowing assumes a know-er, forming a picture of our minds as having a single pulsing center.

David Hume countered by saying the mind was more of a stage, a “…kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance.” Studying the creative mind is a useful way of understanding and arguing about what we are, allowing literary criticism to turn from a discussion of books into a fight for existence for those of us standing behind Descartes’ podium.

Apparently James Joyce could forge the conscience of our entire race with his own wordsmithing. And apparently it was revealed as desperate clanging in the dark by Barthes and others. Looking to authors for the meaning of texts instead of the texts themselves was a kind of celebrity worship.

In varying degrees marketers have also thought of themselves as magical wizards, or liked to be thought of that way. Magic, however, comes from the shadows. The most powerful sorcerers summon, they don’t make. In the myths of every culture the arrogant novice comes to the master looking for the ultimate power to destroy his enemies, the master humbles him into realizing the power is beyond his control, all of a sudden he gets it, but then decides to use it for good.

The traditional role of the brand people at companies is to form, control and police. The unquestionable truth of the message is a comfortable way to stave off all the uncertainty, maybe even the failure and blame, that appear to swirl around everywhere. Customers are talking about brands themselves now to such an intense and widespread degree, there’s an understandable fear they will take the message in another direction than it was intended. Perhaps they will do something better with it — maybe sales, as it were, will increase — if they retell the brand story to each other in their own ways. Secretly, in some forbidden corner of their minds, some marketers would almost rather see the brand fail than succeed without their help. Not because they’re egotists, but because they’re afraid of getting in trouble.

The culture of blame is a whole other story. But blame does come from the top, and it’s at that top tier where the measure of leadership can change from how-well-we-create-police to how well we give our marketing people license to listen — to become theater impresarios, allowing great ideas to play, on a stage we share with everybody.

Social media and my collective unconscious

I had fitful sleep last night punctuated by a series of stupid dreams. Here was one of them: My girlfriend and I were working on a “social media strategy.” Apparently this involved taking a ride along a canal in a medium-sized boat to collect and dispose of diaper footballs.

I remember the boat was kind of nice. It had stripes painted on it and brass rails, a cabin below. Fronting on this canal were a series of luxury condos, and really nice restaurants with big glass windows. Inside one restaurant, which had pale yellow exterior stucco walls and trim cut from rich, dark wood, you could see big potted plants and tables with white tablecloths set for lunch. This district was like some of the posher stretches of the London canal system. The canal was narrow and the boat traveled really close. You could step off right onto the balconies of these buildings.

Apparently, the balconies were littered with diaper footballs. (Non-parents: a diaper football is when you fold a used diaper up tightly, securing the contents into a ball you can easily toss into the garbage). We got rid of the footballs by tossing them overhand into the water. My girlfriend was telling me why it was important to get rid of them as soon as possible. If you don’t, she explained, they freeze overnight and become like rocks.  Homeless people throw them through the windows of people’s home and of businesses. Then they rob them.

The meaning behind this dream: not sure. I do know I’ve been thinking about, pitching and working on a lot of social media projects lately.  While I’m guilty of this too, I tend to say marketing people have made “social media” the most overused term of the past year, and that the majority of times people use it, they’re full of the same thing as the diapers.

Social media etiquette and the Tao of Twitter

Lao Tzu

An online friend, @christinet6d, wrote this post about the indelicate practice of sending “Auto DMs” on Twitter: You’re Doing It Wrong, Sir.  For the unfamiliar, a DM is a Direct Message. You can either Tweet things publicly or send a private DM to individual people who follow you.  An Auto DM is the electronic version of a form letter. Some kind of robot detects new followers and sends them a canned message.

As Christine’s post points out, seeing you have a DM is exciting. Perhaps someone is actually reading your stuff, and liked something you said. You could be getting some direct feedback. I’ll never forget the feeling I got, age 6 or something, when it looked as if Lee Majors had genuinely responded to my request to join the Six Million Dollar Man fan club. Bad example, because it was a generic response. But I believed it, so the analogy applies. As an adult you’re jaded enough to detect that a message is fake and you feel un-special.    >>> Continue

Tao of Twitter (2)

I don’t like to make authoritative, unproven statements about social media. It is safe to say, however, that there’s a social media etiquette. It has the same function as interpersonal etiquette. Both are unwritten rules governing how to conduct communication without offending or missing the opportunity to please. In the previous example of Auto DMs somebody polluted a personal communication channel with an impersonal and probably solicitous message. It was annoying. This example highlights something unique in the nature of social media, in this case Twitter, as a communication medium. Twitter mashes business and personal communication together more tightly than other media.

Some cribbed Eastern philosophy: centuries ago Lao Tzu said doing things in accordance with Nature brings better results. Rather than forcing outcomes, it may be possible to step back and see how circumstances can align naturally to support your end. In other words act natural. >>> Keep Going

Tao of Twitter (3)

Perhaps acting naturally in the social media landscape creates personal connections that may also be good for business. You talk to people the same way you would talk to people. You don’t irritate them, and now they might buy something from you. The hierarchy of personal over propagandistic in these new media make us expect real instead of canned communication. Unless you are annoying in real life, then basic etiquette, being real with people, could easily be applied on Twitter and other social utilities.

Looking back on the wisdom of pre-social media days, there’s always been this word, “networking,” which was a very polite way of saying, “We’re talking about business. We may be trying to sell each other something, but we’re not going to be sleazy about it.” Hopefully “social networking,” a term that’s getting obscured by “social media” (we get hung up on the technology), will take a more active position. The wisdom of traditional networking says: Don’t be a [insert your own insult; mine is bad etiquette]. This can also be applied in social media networking. >>> More

Tao of Twitter (4)

Back to DMs. In keeping with the spirit of social media, which suggests we should (get ready for a major cliché) “create an authentic dialogue,” I won’t close with my Top Ten Tips for Achieving DM Success. I won’t do it because it’s gross. I will instead ask for your input, possibly non-existent reader. Do you use DMs? Do they help you achieve whatever your personal or professional goals are on Twitter? Are there other forms of etiquette you’ve seen evolve in the last 15 years in response to new technologies?

If you comment or send me some thoughts I promise to write back an actual response. With genuine sincerity, Eric.

-Eric Hayward