rorymaxwell.com

Tag: bloggers

Keeping social media in perspective

From nowhere, social media award ceremonies have sprouted across Europe and North America like a particularly itchy rash.  A slew of self-appointed “social media experts” is on hand to hand trinkets to all manner of organisations, from local authorities to airlines, for the best use of social media.  In some ways they should be congratulated, most rent-seeking groups take at least a decade to garner this level of attention.  This frenetic growth and sudden influence is, however, causing the entire medium to mutate into something dreadful that is only going to consume itself.

It is the immediate nature of social media, long promoted as its key differentiator, that threatens to undermine the medium as it evolves from something purely social and asks to be taken seriously as a source of learning and communications.  Practitioners feel pressurised to react to any event remotely within their field of interest; in the absence of hard facts or considered analysis, this results in a legion of self-appointed authorities screaming into the ether, determined that there should be no silence at any cost.  It is the demon of rolling news set free from even the loosest editorial guidelines or sense checks.

You don’t need to look far to see how absurd the social media world has become.  By now, everyone must have read about the intercontinental ballistic missile that the United States tested over the Pacific as a warning to China?

This effect is compounded by the belief of many actors within social media that they are normal people and represent the interests of the public at large; in defiance of the statistics showing that the use of Twitter, blogs and RSS feeds are niche activities.

Look at the righteous indignation which aviation bloggers and tweeters have poured on Rolls-Royce in the wake of the QF32 incident.  Almost to man, they are convinced that Rolls will somehow “pay” for not sharing more information and tweeting on an hourly basis.  They seem to believe that they are the customers that Rolls should be worried about.

Utter hokum.

Rolls-Royce has a relationship with QANTAS which is measured in decades.  I’m sure both sides were in constant communication.  Similarly, I’m sure the board and senior management in Derby were providing their other major customers with personal updates.  Rolls Royce owes nothing to Twitter.

I also dismiss the cries of anguish about the travelling public loosing confidence in aircraft powered by Rolls in the absence of an update from the company.  This is nonsense in more ways than I can count – 95% of the travelling public are not in the least aware which sort of aircraft will be operating the cheap flight they found on Kayak.  Just in case I’m not being clear here, let me state explicitly that people posting to FlyerTalk and Aliners.net, lovely as I’m sure a few of them may be, are social outliers.  If I was being very mean, I’d link to articles written by “expert aviation bloggers” where they’ve mis-identified the engines on a particular airline’s fleet – there are countless examples.

Of more interest is what, precisely, the world of social media expected to hear from a Rolls-Royce Twitter account…

“Looking for the turbine disc.”

“The turbine disc has been found.”

“As we have no laboratories in the Malaysian jungle, we have no information.”

“The damaged turbine disc has been loaded onto a cargo aircraft.”

“The turbine disc is in flight.”

“The disc is still in flight – just overflew Tashkent.”

“Woop – the damaged disc is in European Airspace!”

“QF32′s wrecked engine and assorted debris have now landed at East Midlands Airport – our techies are stoked!”

The very premise is absurd.  A hugely complicated piece of engineering failed – Rolls were not giving answers because they had none.  For a few days, anything said was pure speculation.

Time and again, these events occur and the social web goes insane looking for clues and information.  The spectacle of bloggers and tweeters examining the exact wording of statements and press releases, many of which have been subject to the whims of a translator, is becoming grotesque.

The reality is that those of us how rely on verified facts and considered opinion to do our daily tasks are still served far better by long-form articles in newspapers and journals.  The cycle, daily in newspapers, perhaps quarterly in journals, of editing and reconsidering events as facts emerge is invaluable.  Human beings cannot read and filter the torrent of information offered by social media; without the help of an editor we naturally pay attention to the stories, and people, who reinforce our existing prejudices – a dangerous situation to be in.  We love to hear news and views we agree with, this fact should make us question those who are good at attracting large followings on Twitter and the like – telling the public what they want to hear is not the same as being capable of rigorous analysis. Media organisations who have tied their publications to bloggers should consider this carefully – what long-term damage are you doing to a trusted brand?  It’s noticeable that some of the most valued and lucrative media brands have limited their engagement with social media.  Can you name a blogger from Bloomberg?  Conversely, can you name any blog network that can charge $20,000 a year for properly researched newsletters?

As an experiment, try dropping Twitter and the phalanx of iPhone apps (which draw you to the headline) for a week.  Instead, subscribe to a few newspapers and journals on a Kindle.  See what a revelation returning to a linear media format is – you’ll flick through publications, stopping to read articles on subject you would never of searched for online.  I promise that after a week you shudder to think how limited your world-view was becoming when delivered through social media – the very opposite of what it promised.

Social media is an excellent way to stay in touch with friends.  Twitter and Facebook are fun for sharing links and you may even find an offer or two from an airline or a hotel group that suits you, but can we please stop pretending that it’s a serious business tool?

Consider what social media does to the economics of the internet for businesses – in many cases it turns an efficient one-to-many transaction into a costly one-to-one transaction.  It’s simply not sustainable to engage with everyone who bitches about you on Twitter.

Secondly, think about your consumption of information.  Why is it that you’ll refer to peer-reviewed academic journals to write an undergraduate paper when you’re a student, but then trust the, unedited, views of some random blogger to inform your professional life?  In any process, feeding bullshit in will only ever result in bullshit being produced – it’s time to return to investing effort and some cash into maintaining your knowledge level.

Find a few newspapers and journals that you trust then subscribe to them.

Oh, and I am aware of the irony that lies within using a blog to highlight the deficiencies of social media – those comments are not necessary.  I’m also aware that there are a some great bloggers out there – people with the discipline to stick to their true area of expertise and patient enough to properly research and craft articles, but they are an increasingly small minority.