I’m always insanely psyched up after a good social media training course, and was fortunate enough to be sent on in Nottingham last week for the day job.
I adore social media more and more each day, not just because I use it regularly in my personal life but because of its possibilities. It is media, it is news, as it happens, live in your face. It is life. It may not be the life you lead, or that you want people to lead, but it is life as we see it nonetheless.
I’ll wager that most of you reading this here stream of consciousness came here via Facebook or Twitter. Eh? Yeah, you did.
I still marvel that there are people out there – even those who work, as I do, in PR – who remain terrified of social media. They lament how all our thoughts and actions are exposed to the world, and there is no way to control the spread of our thoughts and mistakes. I say, bully for social media! Bully for openness and freedom of speech, bully for people’s utter stupidity and libel laws, bully for learning from your mistakes.
Another reason for rejection is that some people do not see it as essential; Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram – they are all just hobbies, they are! An outlet for the sad and stupid, the attention seekers, the famous and the doomed.
Oh tush! Social media is now essential to everyday life, because we have made it so. What else has put us so in touch with people’s passions and people’s idiocy in the last seven years? What else has taught us more about human nature, or ourselves (by either being for or against it)? Don’t bemoan people posting pics of kittens or talking about their lunch – look at why 5million people are looking at those pics, and why hundreds of people are commenting about what they had for lunch. Life is there to be learned from, even if you learn that you never want to be that guy.
But my relationship with social media is not all sunshine and sex on the beach. Like any partnership, there have been tough times.
As I have detailed previously, in my despair at losing the internet for a few days, I am deeply embroiled in the online world and Facebook is to blame. I enjoy accessing information instantly, but I am a silent gossip and a surprising stalker. I also get lonely in my little head and I like to see the flutter of activity from my Facebook friends. It’s like looking out of a window on a sunny day to see your children, or pets, frolicking happily on a grassy lawn. Better still, it can be like looking out of the window and seeing your friends repeatedly slipping on some ice while holding a vat of custard and pointing at them and laughing, laughing, laughing.
A friend recently said that, with the advent of social media, everyone now has a product. It could be their business, their fame, their humour or their opinion. We are now compelled to promote ourselves when being sociable, and we cannot ‘switch off’ our self-marketing heads because the very act of being sociable is now broadcast around the world. We have more friends online than we see or speak to on a daily basis, and everyone is competing for greater and grander attention.
Twitter is the biggest culprit, which makes it twice as addictive as Facebook. The aim is to get as many followers (or friends) as you can. If you are not already famous and bound to attract attention no matter what you do, you have to engage and comment and favourite and fawn and talk every day in order to gain notoriety. And without a USP or being utterly relentless in your activity, you won’t get very far.
Charlie Brooker recently, and brilliantly, described Twitter as the number one influential computer game of our time, and how right he was. Right now, this is less of a game for me and more of a party. A party I’ve only just arrived at and at which I’m stuck, every day, and cannot leave.
There you are, hovering by the nibbles table on the edge of all the hubbub, looking for a way in. You get started with a witty remark and get few laughs from people who know you, but you’re mostly ignored in the grand scheme of things.
So you try to get involved. You sidle towards a group where Caitlin or Derren is holding court. They are saying something terribly witty, and everyone is lapping it up. You think of the perfect retort, waste precious minutes trying to find exactly the right phrasing, and blurt it out long after the moment has passed. There it hangs, forever preserved in the fibre optics, evidence of the collective ignoring of you.
At your darkest, you stagger from one group to another, either saying “Oh I wholeheartedly agree” or “Here’s what that person over there said.” Sometime you skulk outside, smoking and point blank refusing to care about what’s going on inside. But you always trudge back in, just to have a look around. And then, after a few more wines, you are hit by a burst of brilliance. Pithy phrase and glorious gabble flows from your mouth. The less popular guests (ones of equal or lesser value than you) are lapping it up, and there’s a buzz going on. If only the big boys could hear you too….
As you strut through the room, you overhear a brilliant quip from one of the popular groups, and before you know it, you’ve fired back a one liner. The leader of the group stops. And smiles. And they say to their friends, “did you hear what this lady just said?” And then….oh then….the leader extends the hand of friendship. Sweet sanctuary.
At your highest point and your lowest ebb, you think of the outside world and the people beyond Twitter’s walls. Those folks who are taking the intellectual high ground and citing the very need to be on Twitter as reason enough for to shun it and refuse to join you at the party. When you are alone in the corner of that big room, you both envy their stance and hate them for it. When the party goes off the chain and followers are chanting your name, you pity the poor fools who stayed at home – and hate the fact that they’ll never know of your victories.
Earlier I said Twitter is an exercise in gaining notoriety, as opposed to respect or admiration. One of the reasons I joined Twitter was to publicise my blog, and to push it to a wider audience – and there is no better starting point for this than Twitter (i.e. FOLLOW ME, YOU BASTARDS!! I mean…..oh do!). My followers are pitiful and my practice is poor, and sometimes I really do question why I am part of a medium in which someone can tweet 20 times in a row about their farts. But to get the reach I need, I must have more followers. And all too soon, the purpose of my postings becomes blurred. I seek the endorsement of certain people on Twitter because deep down I feel THAT (above my blog) will earn me the respect of my peers, while being quite blithely aware that it is a hollow and vacuous exercise.
But it is, in the end, a necessary one. And one day, if I am lucky, I will get the break I have been digging at with a pointed stick and it will all be worth it. Until then, I am just that person at the party, clutching her gin, waving weakly and wondering worriedly “What was it that I came here for again?”
At one point on my social media course, after an enjoyable discussion group, one of the facilitators turned to me and said, “Would you be willing to blog about this session?”
Bear in mind I was there not as The Demon Gin, but as my normal self.
I sat very still. “What have you heard?”
“We’re asking everyone to blog if they can. You do blog, don’t you?”
I crossed all of my legs and pondered. “Well, if you mean through work, then no, not really. If you mean personally, then….uhhhhhh…….uhhhh….you know, I’ll just set one up through work, it’ll be fine.”
“Well, you can use your personal blog if you –“
“You don’t want that!” The room was silent as I shook my head solemnly. “You don’t.”