Umair Haque recently advanced a hypothesis that social media is a bubble, and that when it bursts we will see that we were not brought meaningfully closer together by the growth of social communication.
I don’t want social media to be a bubble, because I like it.
First, let’s define a bubble. We mean an economics-style bubble, like the dot-com bubble or the housing bubble. In this sense, a bubble is “trade in high volumes at prices that are considerably at variance with intrinsic values”. So lots of new relationships that aren’t worth very much. I think Unmair was saying we’ve been placing undue value on the relationships generated by social media, both from a personal standpoint (these aren’t real friends) and a marketing standpoint (these aren’t very devoted ‘fans’).
Here are the reasons I feel the shiny, soapy dome of social media’s bubble should be left alone.
The flowering of human creativity
“Thin relationships” are not a new phenomena to society. If we rechristen these friends “acquaintances”, you might recognize them better. Aquaintances are certainly not without value.
Clay Shirky’s SXSW keynote touched on the evolutionary impetus to share and to cooperate, calling it “spiteful” not to pass on information when it’s very little effort for you to do so. This is the link economy in action.
It’s easy to share links to interesting content. It’s fun to add to the conversation by commenting on blogs and liking updates. It’s gratifying to contribute content to the collective by taking photos, writing essays (blog posts), illustrating, designing fonts and photoshop brushes, and shooting funny videos. It’s meaningful to lead culture and capture the zeitgeist by giving birth to memes, defining ideas, pushing for human thought development.
Thin relationships, or “weak connections” make these upper-Maslow interactions possible. You don’t need a high level of investment in someone to trade ideas. Their input is valuable precisely because they come from a different perspective, and aren’t bound by politeness or concern for your ego. I’ve mentioned the findings that novel input from new friends sparks more innovative, creative solutions. The more the merrier.
From a marketing standpoint, I hate to put the idea out there (there being Google search) that we’re overestimating the worth of social media and it’s practitioners. It could sour corporate decision makers who ponder how much to invest in newfangled media.
This isn’t about protecting our jobs, it’s about making them better. My firm belief is that all marketing, communication, PR, customer service and sales efforts (not to mention internal communications) can be enhanced and made more worthwhile and productive by conversing instead of broadcasting. I don’t think organizations have a choice, because public expectation of brands/services/orgs has changed.
This being a nascent revolution in the mainstream, still, I don’t want to throw the word b-word around. I want to work to show that teaming up with customers to get them what they want is going to succeed.