We continue our week-long series on Facebook with a brief look at what ‘social media’ means. We make no claims of thoroughness in but one blog post. Indeed, some have taken entire academic semesters to explore the field. What we hope to present here are some common sense approaches to envisioning and contextualizing the social-media phenomenon of the last 4-5 years. In fact, a quick timeline will help put some perspective on the topic: The first widely accepted social-networking site was ‘SixDegrees.com,’ which was founded in 1998 and closed its site in 2000 during the Dot Com Bust. Though similar sites allowing the posting of personal profiles and the searching and liking of others via one’s profile percolated up in the intervening 2-3 years, it was only in 2003 that services like Last.FM, LinkedIn.com, and took off and the so-called ‘Social Media Revolution’ took off. Twitter was still three years away at that time! In other words, we are all new to this medium, and what sites will survive with which services is still an open question. (Time line taken from the scholarly study “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” by Danah M. Boyd, School of Information,University of California-Berkeley; and Nicole B. Ellison, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University. Humans wrote on clay and stone for thousands of years before parchment replaced it for many centuries before paper replaced that some 700 years ago. Social media are still in the zygote stage, by comparison, which makes predicting their mature characteristics almost impossible.
Yesterday, we looked at some of the PR and privacy concerns that have challenged Facebook of late, and we looked at a specific complaint about why the programmers at Facebook could not make each privacy setting and ‘opt-in’ rather than an ‘opt-out.’ Yesterday, we suggested that the response from Facebooks VP for Public Relations was rather antagonistic and condescending. But if one looks at the issue from the vantage of the term ‘social,’ VP Elliot Schrage’s response (“Adding information — uploading photos or posting status updates or “like” a Page — are also all opt-in. Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable.”), the response seems rather instructive. He and his colleagues are building a social network. People who join it want to share. Otherwise, they would not join. If you do not want to share, then do not sign up. If you want to share only some things, sign up and post/register only those things you want to share. To blame Facebook for building a site for sharing seems about as logical as blaming Ford for building a car for driving.
The issue is not simplistically one of age, with older folks more reticent to broadcast their lives than the youth. Folks over 40 make up a significant number of those actively involved in keeping up with groups and interests, according to HubSpot’s blog. The desire to share is what draws people to such social media in the first place, and that desire likely distributes itself (albeit with statistical ‘lumps’) across age, gender, and race lines. But it seems disingenuous to complain about that social media also sharing information you didn’t want shared. The medium would have nothing to reveal unless the user posted it.
Whatever one’s personal desire to share one’s personal information on a social media site, the growing expectation is that mission-based organizations, businesses, community groups, and charities will have some kind of presence in social media. They are expected to use social media to share their information, and to give opportunity for feedback from their constituents and customers. The sharing need not be extensive, but without the opportunity a business or charity will seem woefully isolated from the potential audience. And they will look elsewhere.
Tomorrow, we’ll help you set up a Facebook business page and open the door just a bit into this wide, but not really so wild, world.