Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don’t assume that social media is an age thing, it’s a knowledge thing

I was meeting a new business connection for coffee in the Barnes & Noble store near Deptford, NJ a couple of weeks ago, and while I was waiting for her, I saw a father and his young son in the cafe taking their food order to the table.

Mint Chocolate Oreo CupcakeIt was a mid-week morning, and on their tray was a toasted bagel and butter and a chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing.

It reminded me of when my dad used to go to the bakery and the newsstand on weekends and come home with hard rolls for him and my mom, and chocolate cupcakes for me.

Do not ever assume you know what is happening.

When they sat down, the dad passed the bagel across the table to his son, who started munching happily while the dad enjoyed the cupcake.

Computer classIt continues to disturb and frustrate me that people who position themselves as experts in something get press coverage or blog space and then use it to completely misunderstand the space in which they claim expertise.

There have been lots of blog posts and even some news articles recently suggesting that only people in their 20s understand “social media” (you know, the online networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and the blogs, and Twitter,and all that other stuff.)

I am really offended by the theme of these blog posts and articles. In the Chicago Tribune piece, some young professional suggested that younger people can teach older professionals about social media because, for one reason, they use AOL’s Instant Messenger client eight hours a day.


I’m going to say it explicitly here. I posted these comments on both the PRSA blog post and on the Chicago Tribune site, but I think I need to say it here too.

Just because someone is young does NOT mean they understand “social media” or some other technology better than someone with a few more years in the business.

I’ve had an email address on my business card since 1988.

I started participating  in online conferencing and networking through CompuServe in 1984 when high-speed connections were 1200 bps modems.

I’ve been counselling my various senior managements and clients  about the Internet since the early 1990s.

Did I mention that I graduated from the University of Phoenix’s online MBA program in 1994, long before any major university even considered having a course or two online?

Backstage pass, Grateful Dead Concert, 1977Even earlier than that -- possibly even before the parents of some of these 20 somethings were out of diapers -- in 1977 I was one of two reporters (for the record, Bob Williams, still an editor at the Asbury Park Press was the other one) who lugged a 60-pound “portable” computer terminal onto a helicopter to be flown into a Grateful Dead concert where we filed our stories by connecting that terminal to an acoustic modem coupler and then placed the telephone handset into the coupler to do the transmission.

I also remember mimeographs and Group 1 fax machines that took 6 minutes a page and you had to manually insert the thermal paper one page at a time.

The leading technologies of their day!

We used to hate it when Congressman Jim Howard’s press secretary would call the newspaper to fax us a three-page press release that would tie us up by the machine for 20 minutes – if all the pages came through on the first try without disconnecting.

Oceanport Teachers on steps of US Capitol with Rep. James Howard, May 1970
Rep. James J. Howard, second from left, greets teachers and students from Oceanport, NJ schools during the 1970 8th grade class trip to Washington. With Howard are Clement Jablonski, left; Rosemary McCartney, and Donald Byrne, teachers chaperoning the trip.
(Steve Lubetkin photo. Copyright ©1970, 2009. All rights reserved.)


My age doesn’t make me incapable of understanding new communications channels when they come along.

My 20-something children make fun of me because I use Twitter — they don’t use it at all, and my youngest daughter (age 20) has very little interest in posting on Facebook.

And if these so-called social media experts would bother to do a smidgen of research, they would know that the fastest adopting demographic on Facebook from September 2008 to February 2009 was overwhelmingly women over 55.

Do you really think the best equipped group to communicate with that demographic are 20-somethings?

So much for the millenials being the key to PR nirvana in the social media, huh?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Facebook Guantanamo

Last November, we essentially threw out our government for a new one, and one of the main reasons was that we didn’t like that they were holding people in secret prisons without telling them why they were detained, or the charges against them.

But boy, when we get stars in our social media eyes about some darling of the networking space, no matter what they do, it just rolls off them, doesn’t it?

Let’s see. Facebook shuts down your account without warning or explanation. They ignore emails. They don’t even provide a phone number to call them.

And we continue to love them? Why?

Facebook gets the Guantanamo award from this blog for its ham-handed approach to alleged violations of its rules.

Here’s an excerpt from the email I just sent to the Electronic Frontier Foundation asking for help. I will let you know if it does any good at all.

Good evening. I'm a 53-year old former corporate PR executive, running my own social media consultancy for the past five years. I have used Facebook to promote my expertise and activities, until 20 days ago when Facebook, without any warning or explanation, disabled my account. 

I'm not sure, but I suspect that some idiot playing one of those insipid "Mafia Wars" games somehow injected it into my contact list (despite my previous configuration of my Facebook profile to ignore all of those games) and it may have spammed a bunch of people. I don't know for sure, I can only speculate, because I haven't been able to get into my account.

But hey, I am a grown up, you know?

That's not how I would operate my business, and I shouldn't be penalized because Facebook allows its users to play those stupid games.

And if any company that we depended on for mission critical business applications treated its users with this much disdain, people would be outside corporate headquarters with torches and pitchforks. Can you imagine what Michael Moore would do if they disabled his account?

Repeated emails from me to disabled@facebook.com have been ignored or received auto-replies that promise a response that never arrives.

This is like a Kafka novel. I don't know why they disabled my account, they won't tell me anything, they won't reply to emails, and there's nowhere to call.

I know Facebook is a "free" social networking site, but it seems a bit lopsided that they get to make these arbitrary decisions without explaining themselves or offering recourse, and meanwhile they get to collect billions of dollars in advertising revenue by selling the knowledge they've collected from us "free" users.

Why are we treating Facebook with such kid gloves?