The future of Social Media needs exploration far beyond business and branding applications

I sat through a webinar recently where social media expert Guy Kawasaki gave a lengthy talk about Twitter – how he uses it; how businesses can and should use it; and little tips and tricks for maximizing your use of the social network. Shortly after the webinar ended, I followed Kawasaki on Twitter. Shortly after that, I wanted to put Kawasaki on a Kawasaki and run him straight into a wall. Before I tell you why, do me a favor – stop reading this; follow Guy Kawasaki on Twitter; and let it sit for a few minutes while I tell you about the real future of social networking.

The future of social networking is grim if the present state of social media is any indication (it is).

I’ve been a user of social networks since Myspace was Friendster. That’s not bragging. It’s a reference point to show where I’m coming from. When MySpace first started, it was pretty damn cool. You could talk with friends; blog your most pitiful, angsty thoughts and blast your music at people before they could find where the player was on your page and how to turn it off. Everyone was on MySpace. Now look at MySpace. It’s a pathetic wasteland of weirdly unattractive promotions (No, I don’t want to see Seth Green interview Kanye West…why would that ever be an option?…ever?) and huge friggin’ advertisements at every click.

Do you think MySpace users wanted that social network to develop into a crap-filled waste of time? Do you think that your average MySpace user was involved in implementing those terminal changes? No way. My guess is that whatever group of clueless morons decided to kill MySpace probably wore suits…really nice suits. The point is, the future of social media in the case of MySpace quickly became about the dollar, and not about the user – a medium hijacked and put to use for purposed not intended.

Here’s the thing – the future of social networking appears bound to repeat itself, casualties and all

Facebook and Twitter are now the darlings of social media – two rambunctious start-ups that have amassed staggering numbers of users in a relatively short period of time. Facebook was borne from the drunken, scorned mind of a college sophomore looking to make fun of people. It motored along for a couple years – gaining users rapidly and becoming more and more user friendly. I started using Facebook because of the unshakeable suckiness of MySpace. Facebook was slick, easy to use and virtually advertisement free.

Somewhere along the line, though, the future of this social network started to turn from a fun, easy way to communicate with friends into…well, an annoying experience that, unfortunately, I was still addicted to.

I would say almost 80% of the people on Facebook annoy me. One thing Guy Kawasaki (for those who did follow Guy at the beginning – don’t look yet, we’re almost done; for those who haven’t, there’s still time), did say that made sense was that social media users should inform, not “me”form. In other words, shut up a little and tell me something that matters. And honestly, the people who commit the most egregious fouls on Facebook are those new to social media…and usually of the older persuasion… Just sayin’.

In fact, an SEOMoz user posted a blog recently discussing how Gen X’ers owe a debt to Gen Y’ers because…well, because Gen Y’ers grew up on social media and got the ball rolling. She’s not wrong in her post, but she was way too nice about it.

Today’s Social Media Experts Need to Learn From Native Social Media Users How The Internet Works

You know how sometimes you see a picture of some 13-year-old kid in South America holding a huge assault rifle with a cigarette dangling from a grim smirk? And then you read the caption to find out he is the leader of some brutal army of a several hundred adult troops.  That’s how I feel about social media.

It’s one of those rare cases where younger folks hold all the cards. Social media networks (the ones worth anything) are built on the user experiences of the young. If it doesn’t pass the muster of the young, it won’t make it. Why do you think LinkedIn is just kind of floundering in the social media-sphere instead of blowing up like Facebook or Twitter? Because it’s not fun…or terribly useful (yet). Young people know that and they shun Linkedin for that reason.  But the older, less experienced crowd can’t see that LinkedIn is lame, so they flock to it – kinda like a moth that sticks around the porch light 3 hours after you turned it out. (Then again, those moths are first in line when the light comes back on.)

The real social media experts – the young folk – should get together and write a simple list of directions for how to use something like Facebook. Something like, “Don’t annoy people. Don’t forget why you’re here. And, most importantly – Don’t Panic.” We can call it “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Facebook.”

Where Does That Leave The Future Of Social Networking?

The future of social media lies somewhere in between the rule of a heavily armed pre-teen smoker and the clumsy efforts of a geriatric hitchhiker. It doesn’t matter that that doesn’t make any sense, because the future of social media is not all doom-and- gloom, despite the fact that I implied it was.

Yes, social media campaigns have become a sizeable chunk of marketing budgets across the world. Yes, the excitement of sites like Facebook and Twitter have turned from a way to keep in touch to a way to keep your finger on the pulse of every consumer that’s ever even thought about buying your product. And, sure, our every habit and vice is being tracked and recorded so that we can be advertised to in increasingly covert ways at frequencies approaching “all the time.”

It’s not unfixable, though. Use of social media for corporate use needs to take note of how younger people use social networks. Marketing strategies that worked in the 1980s, 90s and even most this decade no longer apply. If it even smells like you’re selling something, you’re done. In short, it’s all about incentive.

Social media exchanges that mimic natural, real-life interactions breed incentive

Think about it in terms of a real life conversation, rather than an exchange on Facebook or Twitter. Imagine you and group of friends are standing around talking at a party. Some dude walks up and start TALKING REALLY LOUD TO YOUR GROUP ABOUT CRAP YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT. What’s worse is you don’t even really know this guy and you and your friends certainly didn’t ask for his input.

Now imagine the same group in the same situation, but instead of commandeering your conversation, the dude hangs around the fringes of your group at a safe distance – catching the feel of the conversation without being a nuisance. Then, at a natural pause, this guy edges closer and shares some really cool piece of information that is ridiculously relevant to the conversation.

Instead of tuning him out and presumably being much less willing to listen in the future, you would probably be more willing to include him in the mix and, eventually, place more and more value on what this guy says. Without you even realizing it, this dude gave you an incentive to trust him (to a certain extent).

And that’s why young people master the art of social networking. They populated social networks by the millions while the older set was still mesmerized by electronic mail and web logs. It was a chance to have conversations with peers in a medium untouched by relatively uninterested adults. It was a form of communication at its simplest taking place on the Internet where you didn’t have to fend off advertising advances every few seconds.

In other words, young people utilized social media as an extension and supplement to real life social interactions.

Now, however, as more and more social media newbies and the older folks continue to log on, it’s starting to remind me of Tommy Boy trying to make a sale:

Forget or ignore the lessons young, native users are showing you and your social media campaign will run out of steam way earlier than it should have. Either that or the newly fascinated masses flocking to Facebook and Twitter will force the natives elsewhere. And then a couple of perfectly awesome social media platforms can sink under the weight of their own irrelevance.

And now, a message to social media expert Guy Kawasaki

You, Mr. Kawasaki, are what’s wrong with the new, financially-motivated interest in social media. Everyone who followed this “social media expert,” go look at their Twitter feeds now. He. Never. Stops. Tweeting…Ever. Please don’t look to people like Guy Kawasaki as an expert in social media.

He abuses and undermines the fundamental principles that make social media valuable. This guy admittedly hires people to Tweet for him (and argues that there is nothing wrong with that). He Tweets the same thing multiple times just so everyone will see it. He is constantly promoting his own website and linking back to it. And if you criticize him for his insanely annoying Twitter habits, he makes fun of you for having so few followers on Twitter.

So, you can unfollow him now and remember – in your future endeavors on all social media sites present and future…don’t Guy Kawasaki me, bro.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 and is filed under Social Media in Marketing.

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