Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Social Media – Not So Social?

Despite being in the search marketing field, considered fairly “techy” by most, there are times when I can be somewhat of a luddite when new advancements come along. In the deafening buzz going on about the possibilities of MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, etc., my inner hippie wanted to shout, “Don’t you people unchain yourselves from the Internet to get a breath of fresh air every now and then?”

I suppose this sounds strange coming from someone whose career is centered on the Internet and search engine behavior. But I’m also in Client Services, which means that in addition to being online all day, my job is also about communication and interaction. My fear is that at some point, the constantly expanding digital communication opportunities will ultimately turn into a slippery slope leading to personal alienation and social ineptness. We’re already seeing it to some extent –break-ups via text message, fights on Facebook walls. The personal element that makes a relationship real and lasting is shrinking.

Yes, on the one hand, social media helps you stay connected – with more people, more often. I can say from firsthand experience that I’ve reconnected with many old friends thanks to Facebook. It’s fun and easy, but for the most part, it’s superficial. How many of those connections go beyond “Hi, how are you”? If there isn’t already an established relationship behind it, chances are your connections in social media won’t go much further than that. And in a world where time is precious, is that really the best use of it? It’s also too temptingly easy to save the tough, awkward stuff for online, where no one can see you blush, or hear your voice quiver. But those are exactly the conversations that need to happen in person – they make you who you are, and provide invaluable training for personal and business interactions down the road.

I’ll put my search marketing hat back on and say that social media can be a valuable tool for brands looking to connect in new and fresh ways. In fact, the great parallel between marketers running a social media campaign and individuals connecting with friends online is that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket and expect to do your best. Brands need to have a presence in traditional marketing channels as well as online, and people should invest in quality face-time with friends instead of just Twittering their lives away.

I encourage everyone, marketers and individuals alike, to step away from the computer and engage in real, face-to-face communication every now and then. Nothing can replace the facial expressions and subtle intonations that come with the real thing, no matter how many smiley faces and LOLs you insert.

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