New Rules of Mass Media Social Networking

A few months ago Facebook was in lots of hot water with its fans for breaching privacy boundaries.

Then, we learned that Google had been using its roving vans used to create online mapping for the purpose of collecting data about websites users who were logging into over wireless networks. Google claims it was a mistake.

Some musicians are complaining – in fact a growing number – that just using social networks like Facebook to connect with fans is a distraction from creative work and reduces them to office help answering messages.

In an articled titled Is Social Media Saving Music, the focus is on too much information.

Jeremy Messersmith a Minneapolis singer and songwriter told Spinner that he limited his interaction with fans to 15 or 20 people a day via Twitter.

Imagine that in this day of Twitter and Facebook.

Messersmith says:

“There's a songwriter out of New York … He'll spend four or five hours a day answering e-mails, which to me seems fairly excessive. At that point, I'd think I may as well have an office job if I'm answering e-mails for five hours a day."

President Obama in a recent Hampton University (Virginia) commencement address raised a ruckus when he told the graduating class:

"With iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations - none of which I know how to work - information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation … So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy."

Remember, this is a president who got elected on money raised through Internet social networking and who gave the Queen an iPod and who refused to give up his Blackberry even for security reasons when he was inaugurated (Secret Service developed a secure handheld for him).

All of this as the radio industry still tries to figure out what social networking is.

Many think it is Twitter and Facebook.

Continue to resist the study of their listeners’ sociology and instead seem to want to impose their will on listeners’ habits and lifestyles.

What is beginning to happen is that social media is becoming suspect.

No one is going to want to give up such inexpensive and easy connections any time soon, but it appears that people from all walks of life including the entertainment industry are rethinking what it means.

Consumers are as well.

Maybe you are like me connected 24/7.

Wake up answering mail. Sending texts and emails on the go all day.

If social networking is driving songwriters to distraction and folks threaten to quit Facebook over privacy concerns, then what is to become of social media?

Facebook, looking for new ways to raise revenue, informed every user in December to take a look at their privacy controls but at the same time Facebook arguably made it more difficult to switch privacy controls on or off as it immediately switched the default setting to sharing information about family, friends, work and relationships with everyone else.

Then an old email leaked from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, that appeared to some to show a lack of consideration for those people who actually trusted him with their private data.

Next, tech guru Leo Laporte and author Cory Doctorow deleted their accounts in a public display of protest arguing that if privacy could not be protected, social media was not worth the risk.

For these reasons and anecdotal input from young people, I am sensing a change coming that will impact the entertainment and information industry – many of which barely understand what social networking is currently.

Some thoughts:

1. Students and others are not going to give up any social media even if it makes them feel better or allows them to make better decisions as President Obama intimates. They are, however, going to eventually learn to manage their mobile/Internet devices better to live a less stressful life.

2. I know many young people who sleep with their cellphones! Text in the middle of the night. Go back to sleep. Ask around, you’ll verify this if you have not already observed it. Even if consumers continue to be turned on all the time, your messages may not get through and resonate. Also worth mulling.

3. In the few months that I’ve owned my iPad I am delighted to read books that I can buy on a whim, toggle to my email and perform other tasks until I am ready to drop. I fall asleep in a chair with my iPad on my lap. And sleep hasn’t been all that good since I got it. Some observers insist that the digital screen may over stimulate the brain, but whatever it is doing to me my addiction to the iPad has not helped my sleep – questioning what good it is to be connected all day if overuse makes you tired.

4. When I was a professor at USC, I did a project where I asked my students to give up their cellphones and iPods. Result: increased anxiety. I can feel their pain. I don’t want to give up my mobile/Internet devices either and probably will not. They were happy to get their devices back after two days and didn’t enjoy being disconnected but many were concerned that 24/7 connectivity was not good for them. Translated: mobile crack.

As individuals, we will learn a lot by our behavior and studying the sociology of technology. That is, will I bring my iPad to the beach at Long Beach Island (New Jersey) this August and really get a vacation or just get a deeper sunburn on the top of my head while it is buried in the Apple device? One thing is for sure. I won't be alone.

As media executives and entrepreneurs, will we finally learn that Facebook and Twitter is just entry level social media?

As you’ll see me write in the months ahead, the key to understanding the present evolution of social media is a redefinition of what a group of fans are and how to connect with them. I am studying this for business reasons as well. And I will share in the months ahead.

If not just Facebook and Twitter then how do you develop a way to stay connected with fans in a meaningful way?

Some clues:

1. Never mass market toward friends and social network followers because that is getting old and turning social media into a modern day direct mail (which I sometimes feel is being done) is a prescription for failure.

2. Social media must be two-way communication not one-way – the way radio stations and lots of others find it easier to do. Interact. Present a way for everyone in your "clubhouse" to talk to you and each other. It takes participation. Fans know when you have assigned social networking to someone with whom they would never choose to communicate.

3. Only say that which is worth communicating. As in life, fewer words can have more impact than too many words. People don’t have the time to read everything on your mind. Perhaps this explains the popularity of Twitter's 140 characters. The world is progressively all getting attention deficit or at the very least, impatience with the communications process.

If you can begin to see phase II of social networking on the horizon then you will not lose sight of the potential ahead as we sort these issues out.

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