With each wave of Twitter or FriendFeed or Facebook activity around a brand, show, or political topic, I can’t help but think about Jean-Luc Godard.
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of him, you didn’t have to suffer through film school. But as one of the fathers of modern cinema, if you have any interest or involvement in social media, you should think about one of his most well-known phrases:
So what is the truth?
There are a lot of ways to interpret that statement, that’s what I love about it. What I love most is the crystallization that everything about films, television, radio, writing is fiction. The only truth is the technical means by which it is created. The photograph itself is the only truth.
This is why I believe Social Media is taking off at rates unseen by any other form of media: it’s the people you know, fictionalized.
These are people, stories, who are only as interesting as what they represent that you find interesting about yourself. A more vibrant reverberation of the boring everyday everyone.
There is no authenticity
There are a lot of people out there writing about the strategy and tactics of companies entering social media as difficult because they feel as though companies need to be “authentic,” “real,” or “transparent.” This is a great idea, and I hope it comes true. But it is dangerous to trust or expect.
Why? Because you don’t necessarily need any of these to succeed at social networks. What you need is to listen to your audience, learn about what they like, and then reflect those perceptions back through the platform. There is a certain honesty in this approach, as many companies don’t even practice these basic concepts.
As a person, a consumer and/or participant, it’s important to separate these values as qualifiers of why you are involved on social media platforms.
I cringe as I write this because I hold my social networks dearly, and feel as though I participate in them honestly. As much as I enjoy social networking, I also understand that it is not reality. It is only I choose to like best about reality. And people will be creating for social media just like people today write and direct and design sets for movies.
Just now as I’m working this idea out, I’m being challenged on Twitter for this idea, one person saying they’ve met all kinds of incredible people through Twitter. This is true for me, too. I have met more people who I share deeply held beliefs in -- both personally and professionally -- than I would have through any other way. But a big reason why I had the confidence to meet all these great people was because I was able to fashion a perception of someone I thought I liked first, before ever having really met them. It already felt like we were friends of a sort.
The “Welcome Back Kotter” Phenomena
One of the things we all do is friend people we knew in High School on Facebook, which is an extension of the popularity classmates.com has enjoyed for years. These new, old friends vary from people I was very close with to folks who I generally harbor no ill will towards.
The reality is, for better or worse, we are different people as adults: different lives, different cities; with very few exceptions, there are reasons why we never stayed in touch. So why are we friends on Facebook? Why did you seek me out, and then take the action of friending me?
The proof on this question is in the pudding. Outside of a few game invitations, and a couple of in-network emails, these friends are really about what they post: status updates and pictures, and to remind me of life when I was in High School.
While of course they are real people in real life, as far as my interaction with them goes, they are only serving as entertainment. Neither one of us wants to be real friends again. We just want to enjoy the entertainment value of the friendship. Would I be more likely to try a product if one of these friends suggested it, or posted it to my Facebook mini-feed? Probably.
Who is that writing your Twitter account?
A few times now, friends on twitter have had their account sneakily co-opted by children or significant others. A few tweets in, I had the feeling something was up, I knew these people in real life, and could identify their change in voice. No harm, no foul. All for fun.
But what happens when a friend on Twitter who I don’t know as well signs up for a service that automatically Tweets updates from a favorite Website RSS feed? Or a service like twittad, where you can rent your twitter background to advertisers?
Where’s the line between conversing honestly, originally, as it happens, and acting as a micro-communications clearinghouse for brands you approve of? What if there never was a line? Only one that I had incorrectly inferred.
We are all MadMen
For one last trinket of thought, go ahead and search Twitter for “MadMen” or “don_draper” and see how many people talk with accounts they know are people acting as fictional characters -- as though they are real. Or check out what an excerpt of the graduate script looks like in a Twitter timeline.
The truth is 140 characters. Everything else is our own private Idaho.
Michael Leis is currently the VP of Strategy for Emerge Digital. He works with executives at blue-chip brands, helping them find creative, interactive ways to activate audiences. He also writes more articles like this one at New Media Buzz. Feel free to tweet him anytime @mleis.