December 2, 2010Information Overload

I hate to break it to you, folks — but social media isn’t social. “Social media” is a buzzword. “Social” is something that really happens, really takes place in real time. It’s social to go out for a drink or a meal with friends. It’s social to call someone up on the phone and see how they’re doing. It’s social to have a kick around in the park with your friends on a Saturday or go bowling in the evening. And if you can’t tell the difference between that and an instant message I feel very sorry for you.

Facebook: like having real friends, only not as good.

I bring this up because I’ve recently started using Facebook again, after an absence of almost an entire year. I still keep a clean profile – you can’t see pictures of me or find out what my hobbies are. If you know me, you already know what I enjoy doing. Facebook’s advertisers don’t need to know that as well. No — I started using Facebook as a quick, convenient way to interact with friends because I felt I didn’t have time to call or go out for a drink. The result? My life got less social, not more.

It’s easier to reply to a status update than it is to go and see a person. It’s easier to look at a photo of their new haircut and “like” it than to go out and see them and compliment them for real (or lie through gritted teeth!). But is it as rewarding? The answer, definitely, is no.

The final straw came when I got an email from a friend’s work account today. “Sorry I didn’t get your facebook message about meeting up – how about next week?” Of course, I’d sent the message a month ago. In the intervening 28 days, I’d gone from thinking “he’s probably busy” to “I’ve horribly offended him somehow.” And I was wrong.

An hour apart. Or a month?

We both live in London. It would take me a little over an hour to walk from London Bridge to his place in the East End. It would probably take me less than 30 seconds to pick up my phone and dial it. Facebook took 28 days. And that’s supposed to be social?

I didn’t follow up my “fancy a pint?” message because I assumed it’d be rude to scream “WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME??!?!” in a follow up message. Not that it would have done me any good anyway. But with the launch of Facebook Email, I kind of wonder. Have we finally hit the point of information overload — where the number of channels of communication actually hinder communication rather than enhance it?

Too many cooks spoil the broth

My friend is big on Twitter. In fact, he recently wrote an article in a national magazine about Twitter. Personally, I can’t get into it. But I do have a facebook, a tumblr, a livejournal account, a website and a blog (two blogs, actually). To add to that I could also have a MySpace, a Bebo, a Foursquare and countless other things, as well as a phone, email, text messaging, MSN, AIM, iChat and Skype. To make things even harder, I have a mobile number and a landline. I also have a personal email address and a business email address. And let’s not even get started on my actual address (at the moment, it’s London Bridge).

I chose to ping my friend a message on Facebook (oh wait, there’s one I forgot – Ping. Because we really, really, really needed more ways of sharing our tastes with the world. Thanks Apple.) because I figured ’email for work,’ facebook for quick email-style messages to your actual friends — seemed like the right tool for the job, yet it wasn’t. And so we didn’t catch up for an entire month.

Social? Hardly.

I won’t deny that social media is in vogue, with a new startup practically every day. I love Tumblr. My friend loves Twitter. And taken separately, they’re all great ways for advertisers and brands to reach target demographics because, well, setting up a facebook page for your brand is much easier than dropping half a million on an ad campaign for the same reason that it’s easier to send a quick reply to a status update than it is to meet up down the pub. But the value of that interaction is significantly reduced. Think of the best facebook status update you’ve ever seen. Then think of the most creative advert you’ve ever seen. Which is more memorable?

A phone call, a text message, or an email to my blackberry is the only sure-fire way to reach me and ensure a same-day response – leading me to ask the question – what is the point of all this “social” media?

If social media has an ROI, it’s probably very low, even if your spend is low too.

Undeniably social media offers up an easier way for brands to interact with customers — but it’s the equivalent of offering fast food, not a gourmet meal. Yes, it’s one channel you ignore at your peril. But you’d be a complete idiot to drop all your other advertising spend and concentrate solely on social media.

I’m not the first person to notice that the more technology we have, the less fulfilled we are (I’ll leave that honour to the Unabomber). But normal, non-terrorist folks are waking up to the fact that too much can be, well, too much. I’ve always rated Brendan Cooper as a social media expert who actually knows what he’s talking about.

And what he’s saying is “don’t bother”. Why? Because you’re already too busy.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 at 7:06 pm and is filed under Blog, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Dawn Yilmaz says:

    I would like to encourage you to remove this old post. As a copyrighter, I fear it does more harm to your professional reputation than good.

    Here is why:

    Just because a person isn’t physically in front of you it doesn’t make an interaction with them any less real.

    Your story about the co-worker pretty much illustrates the dangers of poor communication in which YOU are the antagonist. Comes across as incompetence.

    You audience is perspective clients, I am assuming.

    Bashing facebook only makes matters worse. Information overload – cringe – my 60 year old mother used that exact phrase at least twice today. Comes across as dated and old fashioned thinking… scary for someone of your professional capacity.

    Sorry if I sound harsh. I’d want someone to tell me if I sounded bad or my art was poorly done.

    Social Media if anything amplifies real feelings – good and bad because of the level of anonymity.

    Crazy bit about me…

    I met my grandfather on mySpace. He had disowned my mother for marrying my father back in the 70’s. They reconciled years later, but I grew up without grandparents. My cousin set Grandpa up a mySpace account as a fun joke sort of thing, he saw me on there and though we had never really spoken sent me a friend request.

    Can you imagine how awkward a call would have been? Would I even read a letter? Probably not.

    Social Media is the ultimate trojan horse. When you have a tough sell. It’s the first place to start.

    What about people with severe disabilities this is almost there only means of communication?

    As of 2008, There were 8.5 million disabled people in Britain with a combined annual spending power of £40 billion. People aged over 50 have a combined annual income in excess of £160 billion.

    Sorry don’t know current figures on that – :)

    Anyway, blah, blah, blah anyway you really should take that one post off, the rest of your site is rather amazing and it detracts from all the great stuff. Like a drunken bum in a beautiful park… lol. Take care.

    PS – all that aside your site is really very nice.

  2. al says:

    I disagree entirely. Wholeheartedly. Completely and utterly.

    You’re wrong.

    You describe me as an “antagonist” — when in actual fact I’m relaying a simple anecdote about how I was unaware that a friend (who’s actually written in a national magazine about his love of twitter) didn’t check his Facebook very often.

    I don’t think it makes me look incompetent to think that someone who’s on Twitter every hour of the day doesn’t check his facebook at least once a week. In fact, I wrote this post to express my surprise — and how having too many channels for communication frequently diminishes them all.

    I’m a good copywriter. That’s my job. To be good with words. I don’t think stating that having 17 different ways to get in touch with someone is a bad thing makes me look “incompetent” — my job is to make sure words get across.

    You’re welcome to disagree with me. But I don’t think the fact I chose to send a personal message to a friend via Facebook rather than over email makes me look incompetent. Anyone could have made the same mistake.

    It’s simple common sense. If you had 17 different email addresses, you’d expect messages to get lost. If you had 17 different phones, you wouldn’t be able to carry them all the time. Who, in all honesty, has time to keep track of every form of social media?

    The business application is obvious: when the message is split up over multiple mediums, the message gets diluted — there’s a reduced chance of it reaching the desired audience intact. Don’t just take my word for it — Baudrillard posited almost 30 years ago that meaning “implodes” as the amount of media — in our case social media — increases.

    Thank you for reading, and thank you for your kind comments about the rest of my site. But I must respectfully disagree with you here.

  3. Dawn Yilmaz says:

    First of all let me say if I came across as offensive in anyway, I apologize. My ability for writing is not as concise as yours and I am state-side, so cultural differences may play a part too.

    I think you may have missed my point. I think your story does a great job of illustrating the frustration of a new-comer getting used to social media interaction.

    The interaction between you and your friend is actually very cute and laughable, because you would never expect two people of your caliber to miss a communication of any type.

    With that in mind, I specifically mean that it is incompetent for someone specializing in communication not to follow up with someone for any reason. Take social media out and let’s say you sent a letter or left a voicemail. Naturally picking up a phone and calling seems practical rather than assuming you’ve horribly offended someone and not attempting to contact them at all. If you really thought you made someone that angry wouldn’t you at least be curious to what you did to garner such a response?

    In regards to the 17 emails, I’ll see your argument and raise you one iphone.

    I use a hub, it’s free and updates my blog, twitter and facebook at once if I so wish it. I check all my sources and all of my emails (8 accounts) the same way. I check all of this in about 10 minutes, two times a day. I get a nice compiled list. I can even schedule things to go out at certain times of the day… but i am something a geek so maybe this isn’t the norm.

    Every type of social media has a purpose, I wouldn’t twitter a invitation for dinner, no more than I would use facebook. I send a text or call. If I didn’t hear back I’d follow up with another call. I have autoreplies for certain things and webcrawlers in case my name pops up somewhere I didn’t intend it.

    Social Media is still evolving. To formulate such a negative opinion or discount it so quickly seems a bit rash.

    If you send a message pertinent to your audience it will grow like a fire. It doesn’t get diluted. People have to care about it though.

    Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign attributes alot to social media. Social Media played a huge part in the currently unfolding events in Egypt over the last few weeks…

    For those of us who are not privileged or do not have access to fortune 500 company budgets it certainly levels the playing field extensibly. You did admit that – kudos to you.

    But do you really want to make the same comparisons as the unibomber and a 30 year old article? Cringe. I won’t bore you with Harvard articles more current, but I’ll just say I think you are better than that.

    Too much can spoil the broth but a great chef tries out all the ingredients and make a winning recipes using only the best and FRESHEST!:) MySpace is effectively dead, Facebook is the current fave and in two years who knows. Honestly, I hated twitter my kid brother who is 18 put me on to it and now I love it.

    Well we may never agree, but I find it an honor you actually replied and posted my other comment at all. You are a great copyrighter and was positively delighted you took time to respond (that’s good follow-up!). All the best and take care, Dawn

  4. al says:

    That’s okay! I didn’t take personal offense, I just thought your arguments were fallacious!

    For me, there’s too much going on. Sure, I could route all 17 different types of social media through my iPhone, if I a) had one and b) if the batteries on them didn’t die every four hours (my main reason for not getting one!). But it would still be too much information coming at me all at once.

    Noted crackpot and beard enthusiast Ted Kazynski aside, I’m talking about very recent research into the studies of how social media is damaging our ability to concentrate. A new one today, in fact!

    As someone whose career depends on both a) always being on call and b) being able to switch off his phone and email for at least four hour stretches and actually get some work done, it’s hard balancing the two.

    Could you imagine writing a great novel if your phone was bleeping at you every two minutes, demanding your attention? Okay, I’m not writing War and Peace, but when a client pays me to do a day’s work, they’re paying me to pay attention, not constantly check facebook status updates, tumblr posts, tweets etc.

    I find it hard to “keep up” with all forms of social media and my email and my phone, etc, while still giving my actual work my full attention. Imagine if I got up to take a coffee break every two minutes. You’d think I was a pretty poor worker.

    So given the choice between prioritizing keeping an eye on social media, and actually doing the work my client is paying me for, I’ll switch off the phone and get on with the work.

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