Brothers in an Uncharted Land

My brother actually linked to this blog from his insanely popular blog xtcian, , so obviously, instead of addressing what he wrote privately or in a phone call, I’m gonna talk about it in ANOTHER blog. Which, strangely, is ultimately my point.

Advertising before the social media age was based on campaigns. You have a product which has some intrinsic value and then you figure out how to make it somewhat more valuable through the use of strategic emotional manipulation and an aggressive dispersal of this manipulation. Everyone uses the term “widget” as an example, but I think a better one is “Orange Juice”.

Orange Juice has some intrinsic value – it is mostly water which our bodies need, it tastes pretty good and it isn’t completely devoid of nutrition. But people all over America choose orange juice at their prix fixe brunches because they’re convinced it is the healthier choice. It isn’t, it’s no better for you than apple juice, but most people think of apple juice as a children’s drink… or they think of it as sugar water.

Everything we think about orange juice is based on the tireless promotion of the orange juice industry. The truth is, OJ is picked then processed and all the flavor and color is removed, it’s re-added later by using packets of flavorcolor developed in some factory in Newark… and yes, I’m talking about *any national brand* of OJ, even the ones that say, “not from concentrate”… but I digress. This is what advertising is, it’s creating a campaign designed to emotionally manipulate the consumer and then keeping that message consistent and pervasive.

It is exactly this that has led most thinking people to look at marketing as “evil”. I think that social media is actually the opposite of that.

The purpose of social media *marketing* (if you read my brother’s blog, then forgive me for repeating) is to reveal the best of yourself to as wide a group of people as possible so they become invested in you or your company. My suggestion to my sister-in-law, which is where Ian’s quoted email originated, was to create a Facebook page and a Twitter account for her company and then to simply be herself. She’s one of the loveliest, most amazing people I have ever known, she wouldn’t even *have* to manage her online personality. She’s one of those people who exists as a world-wide bear-hug, all she has to do is extend her arms a little further.

But for most of us, we kinda suck. So we have to be careful about what we reveal on social media because it’s a public forum. There are people who bitch about the privacy settings on Facebook… but it’s *public* and you *signed up for it*. It’s like showing up at a party naked and complaining that everyone’s staring at you. And, to further the metaphor, when you’re going to a party you choose what you’re wearing pretty carefully, you want to present yourself in exactly the right way.

Facebook and Twitter make you considerate of what you post before you post it. Email is totally different, you’re just writing to one person. A blog is totally different because there’s a sense that anyone can find it, it’s almost *the point* that you’re speaking to strangers you’ll never have to face. Facebook and Twitter are going out to a LARGE group of people you ostensibly KNOW.

If you’re acting as if you’re being watched, often by your parents and people you work for (or want to work with) you begin to edit yourself as you post, you begin to try to put your best foot forward. And I believe, this has an effect on the way you look at the rest of your life. If you take your social media personality as a model for the best behavior you can summon, then it begins to inform the way you *can* behave in the rest of your online and real world relationships.

It’s even more than that. As anyone who has ever been in an email fight can attest, email is monologue. If you’re in an argument with someone, it’s highly unlikely that you’re gonna get an email that says simply, “I might have misunderstood you, what did you mean by this?” Instead, you’re gonna get five paragraphs based on their misunderstanding with sections of YOUR five paragraph email selected as isolated and out-of-context proof that you said something wrong. Blogs are even more so, blogs are pure monologue. You use a blog if you want to talk to people without being interrupted and then give them a comment section to address the issues *you* want to talk about.

Both of these things are, of course, not only incredibly useful but also incredibly fun. Social media is just a totally different thing – it’s a dialogue. Your friends post a link or say something funny, and you click “like”, that’s the equivalent of laughing at someone’s joke when you’re in the back seat of the car. A Syracuse fan says they can’t wait for Basketball to start, and you ask them why they can’t wait to lose twice to Carolina, just like you would in their living room. And if you have a point that you actually want to talk about with your friends, you can post something witty and pithy to inspire dialogue.

WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT, you can talk to people on their wall about the things *they* want to talk about, and people (for the most part) stay respectable because we all know that we’re in public. Most blogs don’t have a lot of different authors, so it’s hardly a discussion. And email lists are dying out, mostly because online social media does it better. If you’re essentially a private person, then social media is not for you, but for anyone who likes hanging out with big groups of people – it’s right there, available and waiting for your investment.

Could I have written all of this in an email to Ian? Of course. I have his email address. Could I have done this on facebook? Probably not. It’s too large a construction project and there are too many different things going on. Is this a dialogue? Absolutely not. Ian would not have made it through his blog without someone dissecting and disagreeing or changing the color of his argument, and I wouldn’t have made it past the initial digression about orange juice.

Ian says he’s not doing facebook and twitter correctly, and if he’s doing it wrong he doesn’t want to be right, but I don’t think he’s being fair to himself. Nobody loves a shit-talking, living room, back-seat-of-the-car back and forth more than Ian does and if he had the time and inclination I think he would end up loving what the social media world could give him.