The end-of-year holidays offer a perennial reminder that no matter how hard you try, you can never escape your family. My own family often inspires columns here, sometimes directly as in 2005's "Google vs. Grandmom," and sometimes through more convoluted paths.
They don't always get credit here, nor do they necessarily seek it, but each of my relatives has his or her own approach to social media. Meet the extended Berkowitz family:
Mom: I was so excited on New Year's Day when she commented on my Facebook Places check-in from White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City, asking, "How come you didn't bring any back for us?" She told me she was going through my Facebook photos, too and noticed they're all about travel, food, and animals. Perhaps that's a hint that family should be higher on the list. My mom is growing more tech-savvy by the day, as last year my parents switched from PCs to Macs, and my mom has been especially diligent at taking lessons at her local Apple store.
Dad: I'm still not sure why he has two Facebook profiles, though only one is current. He barely uses Facebook, except for a few times last year when he'd reply to others posting on his wall. The other day he did "like" a book review on WSJ.com, a first for him using Facebook's plug-ins. A while back, Facebook intimidated him, as he thought he was supposed to respond to every single status update, so he stayed away. It's thanks to my dad, though, that I'm technologically savvy, and in many ways he's been an early adopter. For instance, he's been sharing photos online for years, even early last decade as an avid Picasa user when it was a paid download before Google acquired it.
Oldest brother: It annoys me sometimes that he's a very savvy Facebook user and often gets more responses to his posts than I do. Genetically, we're practically twins born 13 years apart, so I'm not surprised our pseudo sibling rivalry extends to social media. One recent post of his read, "Wisconsin: cold weather, warm people," and showed a car with a license plate reading "IPUTOUT." I can't compete with that.
Other brother: He's launching his own business and recently sought my social media guidance. He's the only member of my immediate family whose updates I never see in any social channel, though I am one of his 80 LinkedIn connections, and it looks like he's been using that site a bit more frequently lately.
Sister: She has personal and professional interests in social media. She's the one person who sometimes sees my updates on Google Buzz, where I automatically share updates from various sites. Her favorite social site? Skype. She lives in Mexico, so Skype, instant messenger, and other social services help her stay connected with her gringos up north.
Grandmom: She really needs a new computer. She still has the same one from 2005, and it's so slow that most people give up when they try to teach her something new. She's ready for her next toy though. I was just visiting her and after I showed her my Kindle, she really wants one. Don't tell her I said this, but Amazon's future e-book customer will turn 95 in March.
Wife: She reads all my columns and blog posts, as she's done since we met. On Facebook she routinely catches family members' updates on either side before I do, so it provides another way for her to tell me what my own family is up to. She'll also be offended that she's not first on this list unless I publicly state on the record that this list is not in order of importance.
Parents-in-law: They remain enthusiastic about social media. He loves it as a way to grow their business. She enjoys the business aspect but also uses it to stay in touch with her family.
Brother -in-law: A constant resource, I bribed him with beer from 360i's Tweeting Bar to help me set up the Xbox in the Emerging Media Lab. He's always quick to send me links from sources that are too geeky for me to read regularly.
Oldest nephew: Facebook is the one and only way I stay on top of any of his relationship updates. A college-aged kid studying abroad, he constantly fills me in on his favorite mobile communication apps.
Cousin G: He was a longstanding Mafia Wars friend until I kicked my Zynga habit in October. He recently got annoyed that I kept un-tagging myself from Facebook photos that don't include me.
Aunt L: As a genealogy collaborator, she's helping me with my biggest personal crowdsourcing project, even if she'd never refer to it that way.
Aunt C: She loves social media and is by far the most active on my list of family members on Twitter.
Aunt S: She's the only person I know who ever comments on updates I automatically share through Plaxo. I still don't know why. Beyond my wife, she's the next most likely to read my blog posts.
If anything, all of the varied uses of social media are apt reminders that it's bigger than Facebook and Twitter, even if Facebook is by far the biggest hub that brings a lot of us together. The one thing all my relatives have in common is that I'd wager not one would say they're using social media. Instead, they adopt the technologies and services that add something to their lives. Technologists and marketers alike need to keep remembering what's in it for all of these people.