This is a continuation of my previous post, which you can read here.
I promised that I would use this space to give a more detailed explanation of my thoughts on social media, and also a high-level summary of Phase II of my Change the World project. Here they are, in that order:
Social Media in General
Some of the people who gave me feedback about the last post were a bit worried that I was going to downplay the value of social media and say that we should just go back to face-to-face contact. I want to make it clear that this is not my stance on the issue. I think that social media is A Good Thing.
The tools we have at our fingertips today allow us to:
• Communicate with one another in real time, enabling closer relationships, regardless of physical distance
• Share information with the entire (wired) world instantaneously, helping us become more aware of our surroundings and how we fit into each others’ lives
You know what? I was going to write a whole big list, but I think I’ll stop right there. These two benefits of new technology lead directly into what I want to discuss regarding Phase II of this site, which I’ll get to in a moment. But first, a preface:
I will argue the section above as objective fact in the face of any argument. I believe it is true, and I believe it applies to everyone. The sections below, however, will be about how I personally choose to use social media. These are my opinions, and you can like them or not – it doesn’t matter a whit to me.
In my view, it’s all about the quality of the personal relationship. If you’re friends with someone, you’re going to be friends regardless of how you communicate with each other. The various channels that we use (face-to-face, phone, email, chat, social networking sites, videos, etc.) are simply a delivery method. Too often I think that people mistake the method for the relationship itself, which can lead to trouble.
Social Media’s Downside
Here’s an example. Let’s say that Joe is new to the job, and five people extend Facebook friendship to him in the first week, because . . . well, because that’s just what they do. They’re nice folks, and they like to welcome new people into the group. Well, let’s say that 6 months pass by, and Joe becomes good friends with four of them – going out to lunch, working closely together, hanging out on weekends – you get the picture. Meanwhile, Joe and the fifth person (let’s call him Frank) never interact more than the occasional polite greeting as they pass each other in the hall.
And the what’s more, the Facebook interactions reflect this. Joe and his four friends have a ton of interactivity on the site, sending around comments, links, playing games, and tagging each other in pictures. Joe and Frank, however, have never said a word to each other on the site.
All this seems fine and normal, right? Well, watch what happens next. Over the weekend Joe decides to clean up his Facebook profile a bit, and he removes Frank as a friend. At work the next week Frank no longer exchanges pleasantries in the hall, grumbles about Joe to other people, and generally goes out of his way to avoid Joe.
Frank became angry and unfriendly towards Joe not because anything actually changed in their relationship, but because Joe closed one of the communication channels. Frank made the mistake of thinking that the channel was the relationship.
It’s classic irony. Frank turned the relationship into exactly what he accused (in his own mind) Joe of doing: being angry and unfriendly. All over a Facebook account that was never used anyway.Twitter is even worse for this. For those of you who don’t know, Twitter allows you to “follow” someone else, so that when they post a quick thought or link, it will flow onto your page, and you can read it. If they follow you, they can see what you write. If they don’t follow you, they can’t. Simple as that.
I’ve seen arguments erupt on Twitter that spill over onto blogs, over email, and sometimes even in person, all because someone unfollowed somebody else. This becomes laughable when you realize that the average Twitter user has a following/followed count numbering in the hundreds, and many, many users have that count up into the thousands or tens of thousands.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when people who are “real” friends (*shudders at the backlash this will invoke*) on Twitter have a true falling out either online or in real life, and the fight is warranted. But what bothers me is when people start fighting over an unfollow after they’ve maybe exchanged three sentences with each other over the course of a year, and that’s been the extent of their contact.
It shouldn’t be this dramatic, people!
I love what @sethsimonds said recently about this:
The button doesn’t say “Fall in love”,“Be friends”, or “Click for a follow-back”. It says “Follow.” You’re adding the rest.
He’s absolutely right. One of the biggest problems I see with social media is that some people use it as a popularity contest instead of as a tool to discover, build and strengthen relationships. You could add 1,000 people a day as friends on Facebook or to your Twitter follow list. But does that mean you automatically have a relationship with them? You could also fit three people at a time into a bathroom stall, but it’s probably gonna get messy.
*Ends a serious point with a horribly inappropriate metaphor, and moves right along…*
Social Media As I Use It
For me, social media is simply another tool for to use in seeking out, building, or strengthening relationships with other people. I know that after a while all the various social networking sites can seem like simply programs, or maybe even a game, but you really have to remind yourself that on the other end of the computer is another living, breathing person. These are people with incredibly rich, complex lives – people with a world of knowledge to offer, people with the capacity to care for you – and you for them – if you can build a real and lasting relationship. And I’m sorry, but you can’t get there by treating them as just another point in your online popularity contest.
So I’m very selective in which tools I use and how I use them. I’m online almost all day, both for my day job (web team leader for a large company) and for my freelance projects (this site). I have working accounts on a good number of social sites, but most of those exist just to see how the tools work and what kind of community builds around them.
But here’s something that may surprise you: I’m only active on two social media sites: Facebook and Twitter. And I decline a lot of friend requests on Facebook.
You may say, “But Nate, you’re all about inclusion, and working together, and ItStartsWith.Us, and . . . IT’S THE NAME OF YOUR SITE!”
This is indeed true. But here’s the thing: I know the difference between a real relationship, and the communication method utilized to nurture it. I try to use the appropriate tools at the appropriate time.
I categorize my relationships in terms of how close I am to the person and their integration into my life. Take a look at the diagram, and you’ll see what I mean. (Please don’t mock – it’s late, I’ve been writing for hours, and I’m tired. I just threw it together really quick.)
You’ll notice that the category names have nothing to do with “real-world” friends or “online” friends. Remember that that stuff doesn’t matter. Your relationship with another person is independent of the means you use to communicate. In the diagram, as I get farther out from “me,” the relationship depth decreases, and the number of people increases (I know, I know; it’s a rough illustration).
See the Facebook and Twitter icons? Those are the two social networks I’m active in, and here’s how I use them:
Facebook helps me keep in touch with the people with whom I have established relationships (or those that I’m pretty certain will be strong). As of this writing, I have 126 friends on Facebook, and there are only two of those that I’ve never met in person. It shows me that most of the deeper relationships I have are with people I know in real life. I will say, however, that the two I’ve never met have both moved onto my Facebook list within the last month, as a result of conversations I’ve had with them surrounding this site (to start) and life in general (to build).
My Twitter account, on the other hand, contains everyone I know in any capacity. This includes everyone from family members and friends, all the way down to folks who simply followed me because they like what I’m doing with the site and want to hear more from me. I use Twitter mainly to branch out and build my network. I’ll follow back just about everyone who follows me, and I’ll regularly add people who I feel will add some value to my life. It’s very inclusive, so there’s a lot of noise, but I’ll respond to things here and there and interact with people on a regular basis.
Of course, I have much more contact with some of these folks than others. And if a natural friendship and closeness grows out of that extended contact (which has probably spilled over to email and/or phone conversations), then I’ll move that person over to my Facebook account as well, and they’ll be part of the group of people I feel close to.
So that’s my method. It’s not right or wrong; it’s just how I do it. You can do it however you want, and I’m not going to judge you for it. As long as you’re not taking advantage of people, than I say you should use these tools any way that works for you.
Social Media: The Conclusion
I think there’s great value in social media if you know what you want to accomplish, and you use the correct tool to help you reach your goal. Of course, the goal can vary greatly by individual – some may want to interact with a very specific niche of people who share a common interest, while others want to experience everyone and their brother, like they’re in a giant mosh pit.
Only one thing is for certain: there’s never going to be a universally shared way that people use these tools. I think the best we can do is understand that different people use them in different ways, and refrain from judging others too harshly. Different is okay, people.
Social Media As A Tool For Good
I’ve been calling this my “Change the World” project since I first conceived it about six months ago. I’ve always wanted to do something big and beneficial for mankind (I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth). I attended college on an academic scholarship in the biological sciences, so at first I thought it was going to be in the academic or research realm. But once I realized I didn’t want to make a career out of that, I didn’t know what I was going to do.
I wandered through life for a while, eventually finding a career in web design at a pretty convenient intersection of my skill set and interests. That’s been rewarding, but I’ve been having a stronger and stronger desire to do something big for mankind . . . I guess some things are part of who you are, and they never go away.
After going through a series of self-reflection exercises during a leadership conference for work, I finally realized that my contribution could come here, at the juncture of social media and web development (my skill set) and helping people make a positive impact in the lives around them (my passion).
The exercises I did helped me see these things very quickly and very clearly, and I was amazed that something so simple had helped give me so much clarity on what I wanted to do.
So here’s where this site comes in. Phase II of ItStartsWith.Us is going to incorporate some utilities that will help you figure out what your skill sets are, where your passions lie, and what your ultimate goal is. Once you have that figured out, you’ll use the platform (which I must build) to match up what you have to offer with people who need the kind of help you’re ready and willing to provide. To start off, it’ll be something pretty simple. Think of it as a databased version of Craigslist to help people find what they’re looking for without a lot of stuff cluttering things up.
For example, let’s say you’re a web designer looking to build your portfolio and also help someone out . . . perhaps a nonprofit organization, or maybe even just somebody who needs a website done, but has no money to spare. You’ll be able to log in to ItStartsWith.Us, build your profile, and then see a list of possible matches based on the criteria you select. After scanning down the list you see an animal shelter in San Francisco that needs a website built. Your pets are very important to you, the shelter’s story resonates with you, so you get in touch with them. It’s as simple as that.
All I want to do is open up the lines of communication between people who previously wouldn’t have been able to find each other. Think of it like this: if you had a band and wanted to find someone to build a site for you, the best case scenario would be if a friend told you, “I know a web designer who loves music, and is looking to do some pro bono freelance work. He’d love to do it!” That does happen once in a while, but you have to be really lucky for it to work out.
This guy was in the band’s loose network, which happens to be pretty small . . . maybe 1,000 people. What I want to do is open up that conversation to include an entire global community of millions. With today’s technology and the power of social media, I think we should be able to pull this off.
Oh, and if you know of any other site that already does this, please let me know, so I can get involved and help. I don’t necessarily need to be the one to build this thing – I just want to see it happen. Don’t worry, I have plenty of other ideas to pursue . . . this one is just the most important.
This is not an original idea, by the way – just the first one to be tackling the kind of thing I want to do. For a great example of what can be accomplished, please take a look at the story behind a company called Kiva.
I want to use the power of the loose network to help us change the world.
So who do you know?
- Mastering Life In 2011: The New, Sexy 1950’s Culture
- The Top 10 Non-Profit SXSW Panels (2011)
- A Glimpse Into the Soul: PostSecret
- Social Media For Good: 12for12k
- Who Do You Know? (Part I)