What’s Your Social Media Doomsday Scenario?

A carousel

Recently, the Wyoming legislature debated a Doomsday scenario bill which in the event of a collapse of the U.S. political system would’ve given the state legislature to form a task force that could’ve created a Wyoming armed forces, a statewide currency and other absurdities. While the intentions and merits of the bill are curious at best, it led me to consider my own doomsday scenario in regards to social media. What happens when Facebook goes away?

I read a lot of insights from smart people who make generally compelling pitches for the whys and hows of using social media to extend your brand. In the higher ed space, we spend a lot of time talking about tactics to reach prospective students, engage alumni and use these tools at our disposal to boost enrollments and raise tons of cash.

The conversation I hear less (as in, never) is what happens when they go away. The obvious answer is “something else will replace it” but that negates the time and energy it takes to invest in those networks in the first place and how all of that gets lost when the network dies. Those of us who’ve been doing this for a while joke about AOL or Friendster or Myspace (what? you’re still using it?!)  and bygone niche social networks that burst onto the scene like Pinterest. Facebook is a panacea today and Twitter is a modern miracle for a bevy of diverse activities.

Of course, the telegraph was once the most advanced piece of technology on the planet. It all goes in cycles I guess. Where I’m going with this is less an admonishment and more of a set of broader questions about priorities, resources and time.

In a situation where there’s limited resources (read: staff) and a lack of institutional dexterity, does it make sense to drive precious energy towards social media? Answer: People are already doing it anyway. So there becomes a need to corral what’s happening and find a way to contain that rather than allow a wild west approach.

There was a conversation a few weeks ago on HigherEdLive about social media and whether there should be consolidated social media presence or whether schools ought to have targeted social media for different departments/colleges/programs and so forth. There were no outliers who argued — even on twitter — for a consolidated strategy.  This owes to size and scope, though.

When you’re an engaged digital denizen, working with others who are similarly inclined it’s easier to advocate for the “smart” strategy. When you’re in a more constrained situation (for example: there’s one or two people wearing the less defined hats of an entire website) this becomes a bit more unwieldy. These one-size fits all answers don’t work for small, niche institutions (tiny colleges with no web marketing plan, community colleges serving a small target area) where it might make a ton of sense to have one page with 1,000 likes and a centralized repository of information rather than five or six different pages that are not curated as well and heavily dependent on the individual who might be in that job at that particular time only to be abandoned by a future person based on their skill, interest, etc.

But back to my original question, I’d argue that it’s counterproductive to invest significant amounts of institutional resources trying to woo constituents through external networks when your own presence fails to engage them. It’s akin to fishing with a lure and no hook.

On Innovation

“But what should our pursuit of innovation actually accomplish? By one definition, innovation is an important new product or process, deployed on a large scale and having a significant impact on society and the economy, that can do a job (as Mr. Kelly once put it) “better, or cheaper, or both.” Regrettably, we now use the term to describe almost anything. It can describe a smartphone app or a social media tool; or it can describe the transistor or the blueprint for a cellphone system. The differences are immense. One type of innovation creates a handful of jobs and modest revenues; another, the type Mr. Kelly and his colleagues at Bell Labs repeatedly sought, creates millions of jobs and a long-lasting platform for society’s wealth and well-being.”

From Jon Gertner’s piece in the NY Times about Bell Labs and the miracle of innovation.

Not everyone has it easy on the web

My neighbor found out that I knew how to do computer things and has been asking me to help him a lot with the new computer he bought for himself.

Yesterday, I was helping him setup his internet and it occurred to me how confusing all of this would be for someone who 1) isn’t computer savvy and has a 2) poor command of the English language (he’s Bosnian) and even if I can figure out how to get it into Bosnian language mode, I felt like it was still a huge gulf for people who’ve largely been left out of the tech wave of the past decade.

I know this isn’t news to anyone who works with end users who abhor computers and refuse to use them unless they absolutely have to. But it’s interesting to get that perspective when you forget — and I hadn’t really thought of technology from the perspective of someone like him until I was faced with trying to teach it for the first time in a while.

As I contemplate real life relationships and the trading card friends phenomenon of our social networking existences, I wonder what we’re really trying to accomplish. Are we trying to live vicariously through our teenage selves, who would’ve been thrilled at the chance to have “friends” in far flung places, who might wish them Happy Birthday (Oh, you remembered! Even if Facebook reminded you?!) , but really are just using them to prop their own self esteem up?

Maybe the weird stares that come from “real grown ups” who don’t understand why you’d want to hear from someone you hardly know and let them into your world have it right?

Perhaps it’s worth the effort to compartmentalize between your “real” friends and the ones you want to keep at arms length?

I suppose there are lots of different ways to go about this. Maybe you can just view people as transactions just waiting to be leveraged. Or keep a more distant view of things. I’m sure that gets easier when you have a network, because then you spend less time preening yourself for folks who were best off left how you remembered them then and spend more time on those you’ve already built bonds with.

As things evolve, I think we’ll just continue to build networks that bring us closer to our “inner circles” and keep others at a distance. We don’t need constant updates about their lives, to find out what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and who they’re doing it with.

Literally.

Facebook as a concept was great when it was centered around college and university networks because that’s about community. While cities, companies and others might simulate that in some way, it’s just not the same.

Insularity provides room for authenticity, because once you’re comfortable with the folks you’re surrounded with, you let your guard down. Perhaps it’s folly to think that such things should be invested onto an open network where someone else is charged with guarding your personal belongings — pictures, personal data, graphic representations of your relationships in plain view — all for a small price.

The freedom to close the door, but still participate.

When I think of the inanity of most of the tools I use daily, it makes me think back to when I first moved to Wyoming. I realized there had to be a way to take social tools — many of which were still in their infancy — and make them useful for ordinary people.

We already know the web can help folks fundraise wads of cash, let advertisers inundate us with more images of more stuff we just have to get and of course, allow us to waste more time than ever sending clever chain letters to our friends.

But what about something useful?

Some of us mock end users lack of awareness or make assumptions about what people know versus what they don’t. Once you roll your sleeves up and show them that it’s just not that complicated they become converts and bring others along the way. It can be empowering to save people time, money and help them reach out to others.

Too many folks are being left behind.

Isn’t it time to make web products that reach beyond the early adopters?