It's The Person, Not The Platform, Stupid
Maybe I’m borrowing heavily from my partner-in-crime’s Social Media Insider column on Wednesday because my head has been stuffed all week. Not with fresh new ideas, obviously, but with, well… let’s just say it would have been a good week to buy stock in Kleenex if my usage is any indication.
So, what did David Berkowitz write about? He highlighted the contrasting views of Facebook at a private Jewish girls school in Brooklyn, called Beth Rikvah. The school, it seems, was planning to fine students with Facebook accounts $100, even if they subsequently deleted them. The alternative was to be expelled from school. But there’s a flipside: the same school, at an earlier point, had used Facebook to try to raise money, asking parents to vote on Facebook so that the school could be among the lucky schools that would get a $500,000 donation from Kohl’s.
To Facebook, or not to Facebook? It all depends on what the administrators say, right?
Well, reading his column got me to thinking that what we’re seeing in this instance, and in so many others, is confusion between platform and purpose. Over and over, we’ve seen stereotypes emerge in digital media, in which people make sweeping judgments about a particular social publishing platform without taking into account that it’s the individual that dictates what goes on the platform, not the platform itself.
A few examples:
- Bloggers are obsessed loners who indulge in their “craft” from their basement, wearing pajamas.
- Twitter users are exhibitionists with an unhealthy need to share what they ate for lunch.
- Commenters are invariably trolls. For a further definition, I went to a site that delineates between “mean” trolls and “true believer” trolls. Here’s an excerpt: “Mean trolls are calculating, parasitic commentators who seek to create drama and derail discussions.... Facebook users are needy, out-of-control people who habitually post nasty things about their boss, when they aren’t being bullies or stalkers. Generally, they are people who don’t know when not to share everything with the entire world."
All of which would make the readers of this column needy, obsessed, exhibitionistic loners and parasites. Wow.
Per David’s column, what the administrators at Beth Rikvah were concerned about was that Facebook use “violates the Jewish code of ‘tznius,’ or ‘modesty.’” I’m certainly not a religious scholar, but something tells me there’s nothing immodest about using Facebook for things like posting a picture of a dog that needs a home.
Now, I have no illusions that teenagers will suddenly start using Facebook, or any other communications platform, only for the greater good. But, Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest, or blogs -- or the telephone, for that matter -- are all blank slates. The platform contains a void that those who use it fill, whether it’s to make prank calls or send condolences, to market or to rant or to inform.
The lesson for marketers -- yes, there is one! -- is not to judge a platform by its stereotypical user, because there is no stereotypical user. Additionally, initial reactions to new platforms are highly suspect. Pinterest, right now, may be seen as a utility for the scrapbooking crowd, but if that’s not your target, certainly don’t ignore it. Uses of the platform will evolve.
Reminiscing about the now-outdated blogger stereotype always brings me back to my days at Adweek. When we started my baby, the AdFreak blog, back in 2004, most magazines and newspapers turned their nose up at blogs. They were seen as being beneath the lofty craft of journalism.
Obviously, things have changed, as will the uses of any communications platform, from those that exist now, to those we haven’t thought of yet.
(Editor’s note: The agenda for OMMA Social New York is now up. Check it out in between helpings of jelly beans or matzoh balls -- and don’t be modest about sharing it.)