Is it OK to think that Facebook is a bit crap? I realise that this might be construed as going slightly against the grain of the current new media industry, but I think its a question worth asking. Now, I don’t want to pick on Facebook unfairly, so let’s widen the focus to include all social media and in particular the current wave of ‘brands must learn how to engage with their customers through social media’ stuff that is going on. There are two aspects to this phenomenon which are bothering me. The first is the word ‘must’. Says who? There is a shocking lack of any empirical evidence in the market to back up this statement. There are lots of fun case studies, with interesting but small numbers attached – but then our industry has always got itself in a lather about numbers which are just rounding errors in other media formats.
The second aspect is the weary familiarity of it all. In fact if we wrote ‘brands must learn how to engage with their customers through [BLANK]’ and left it at that, you would realise that this has become the stock PR phrase for our industry. You could then have fun dropping words into the BLANK to see what happens. We could reflect on past failures – ‘SecondLife’ drops in there very nicely and so does ‘MySpace’ and ‘Bebo’. All of those phrases have appeared at some point in the recent past. The word ‘Mobile’ pops in there every six months before disappearing off with its tail between its legs. I quite like dropping in random word in like ‘sausages’ or even phrases like ‘the medium of modern dance’.
I do recognise that anything which gets money flying around the new media economy is good. The faster it flies around the better – I am told that the economists call this ‘velocity’. So the fact that there are loads of brands, talking to loads of agencies about loads of ideas for social media activity is great because it means loads of fees for the industry, which is nice. But I do wish we could all calm down about it. Could Facebook not just be a globally successful communications medium that doesn’t need brands – like the telephone.
I got phoned up today by some woman making a film about social media for small business. They wanted a nice consultant to do a head and shoulders job, talking about how and why small businesses needed to get on-board with social media. She felt that Facebook proficiency was a way for small businesses to even up the competition with big business. She was a bit miffed when I told her I thought that was rubbish. She disagreed.
I don’t believe in relativism. So, being a pompous arse, I told her that my opinion was worth more than hers because I had been a new media analyst for 15 years, and she was a runner for a TV production company. She came back at me that her opinion was more important than mine because she was under 35 and I was clearly old. So I said, that this was just like Second Life all over again, what with the ‘brands have to learn how to exploit Second Life’ cobblers that was flying around at the time. ‘What’s Second Life’ she said. ‘Quantum et demonstratum’ I said. ‘Old fart’ she said, finally offering something I agreed with.