Jun 23, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend: Web 2.0 Unmasked - Part 1

NOTE: As most of you are likely coming to this post from Google search, links from other blog posts or my own lackluster PR efforts, I wanted to point out that "Your Brand Is Not My Friend" was originally written in June 2007. That's ancient history in web terms and so some of the ideas and notions expressed herein may seem outdated. (e.g. Facebook's rise and broad acceptance and Twitter's rapid growth all happened after this series was written.) That said, the main idea, that brands are not our friends, still holds true as do many of the other thoughts and notions. As for the rest, you can view it as a snapshot of history.

--Alan Wolk, July 2009

Part 1 of 3

When I was 27, I would have loved a site like MySpace or Facebook. I was single and childless, had a large group of similarly single and childless friends both from school and from advertising, and I actually cared what bands most of them listened to, what they’d done the night before, who they were sleeping with and what wacky pictures they’d recently taken.

Today, nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m married with kids, spend most of my leisure time at Little League games and PTA socials and have zero idea what music most of my friends actually listen to and don’t really need the details of their sex lives. As it is, my schedule is so tight I barely have time to keep up with them via the occasional email or phone call, let alone update a website.

Yet to listen to all the self-appointed Web 2.0 gurus, this is the wave of the future, it’s a matter of years before every single American- nay every single denizen of the planet- has a MySpace site and that hanging out on MySpace will replace watching television and anyone who disagrees with them is a fucking Luddite.


Only there’s one thing they keep forgetting: The whole world is not made up of people EXACTLY LIKE THEM. Let’s look at who your average 2.0 Guru is: a 20 or 30something graduate of a better-than-average college. Probably from an upper-middle-class background to begin with. Their high-pressure job doesn’t give them a whole lot of time to just hang out and socialize and even if it did, their friends and family are spread out across the US, if not the globe. Which is why MySpace and Facebook and even Second Life are perfect for them. There aren’t real live people living nearby they can connect with, so they connect with their old friends, virtually, online.

Who’s the other hard core user of these sites? Teenagers. My nieces and nephews (nieces, in particular) love these sites because they share a lot of the same traits as the gurus: They are overscheduled with the sorts of extra-curriculars they need to get into college, so less time just hanging out than they’d like. They love connecting in large groups. And living with their parents limits the amount of private time they have to socialize. So spending the hours they’re supposed to be asleep gossiping with each other on Facebook is perfect for them. And will be until they leave adolescence and the very extended version thereof that’s endemic to the American upper middle class.

But overall, I’m reminded of nothing more than the CB radio craze of the mid-1970s. Lots of people spent the better part of a year or two gabbing on them, making new friends, inventing a whole language (for those of you who missed it, that’s where things like “10-4, good buddy” and referring to police as “smokies” comes from.) And then just as quickly, it faded away. People got bored, they developed new interests, moved on, etc. Which is what’s already happening with Web 2.0: Adpulp just ran a story on how the “hip” geeks are moving on to Facebook now that MySpace is just “too popular.” And I will guarantee you that when the hardcore Facebook user gets married, has kids and moves to the burbs, his Facebook (or the successor thereof) account will fall by the wayside. If it hasn’t already, because, let’s face it, there are only a small percentage of us who actually enjoy socializing with large groups of people, either online or off.

Which brings me to my final point: most people aren’t living in a city they weren’t brought up in, thousands of miles from their closest friends. They’re living with spouses and children who actually get offended if they spend a few hours online, which is a solitary activity, rather than joining the rest of the family watching “American Idol.” Which mindless though it may be, is still a group activity.

So they’re not busy updating their Facebook site. Because their friends don’t really change. They tend to stay put after a certain point. And live locally. Which means they don’t care about their second cousin’s new buddy from work. Or that his kid is starring in the school play. They’ll find all that out at Christmas when they get around to exchanging emails. The friends they care about all live locally. And they don’t need to get online to find out what’s up with them.

Most people aren’t writing blogs either. Or reading them. Mostly because most people don’t like to write. Or read, for that matter. Especially things that aren’t escapist fiction. I’d even go as far as to say that most people find people who write blogs to be a bit full of themselves, and for the most part they wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

Tomorrow(ish), I’ll post Part 2 of this, which, now that we’ve established the less-than-universal allure of Web 2.0 will be all about the folly of relying on it to reach all but a very limited audience.

Part 2
Part 3
June 2008 Update (via Adweek)
The SXSW Video (July 2009)


Jonathan_Trenn@yahoo.com said...

Now Toad, I know I gave you slight grief on Jaffe's blog, and I share his frustration with many decision makers who go traditional for the sake of going traditional.

But I love your point here. Some pundits seem to think that having a Tivo is as common as having a refridgerator.

I once read a comment in which some guy said that EVERY business should have a blog. I countered by asking if the local dry cleaner should...to which he replied 'yes'. Gimme a break.

But those young types are using media different than us people with kids. And they'll probably carry those changes into their futures. No - they won't care what band their friend in Chicago or Stockholm is listenting to...but they may keep in contact over the internet via something more elaborate than email.

Toad said...

@Jonathan: Thanks for coming on and commenting. Much appreciated.

I share the frustration with you and Joe. Working in the creative department of an agency I'm always in awe of how segregated things remain. On a very macro level that's because the traditional side is driven by the creative department and by copy, while the interactive side is driven by media and design.
Multiple exceptions to the above statement, but it leads to completely different ways of looking at the world. Or to put it another way, traditional advertising is Los Angeles and interactive is San Francisco.

I agree that kids are using media completely differently these days. But no matter how social media evolves, I think the title of this post is still relevant: Your brand is not my friend. And when I'm somewhere that I talk with my friends, I don't want to talk to your brand. I may talk about your brand, but I don't want to talk with it.

aaronpbrown@hotmail.com said...

I love the CB analogy. As a newly initiated member of social networking sites, I can't help but wonder what the ultimate destination of all this is. I enjoy them when I have time, but it seems like in 10 years we'll be looking back and laughing about when we had to update our MySpace page while checking in on FaceBook before sending a Tweet about our newest contact on LinkedIn who just loved our new Flickr posts and told us so by copying both our work email and home email, which we're checking in with right now. Don't get me wrong, I love all this stuff, but it just seems like it can't keep growing, can it?

Alan Wolk said...

Hey Aaron. Thanks for the comment. The next step seems to be some sort of aggregation technology. We're already part way there: My tweets can show up as my Facebook status updates and it won't be too long before they work with LinkedIn and other sites too. The idea is that we won't have to manage all these sites separately so they won't become such time sucks.

Internet Strategist said...

Any business that has a reason to communicate could use a blog - even the dry cleaners. But it won't be like the blogs you're thinking of - more like a cross between a static site and a blog.

They can post what services they offer and why we should use THEIR cleaner instead of another. They can include their prices and easily update the posts.

They can send their local listings to their blog and offer coupons on major local directories.

Most business owners aren't likely to be creating that content; they'll know or hire someone who can do it for them.

You're a writer and a blogger and so am I. I don't feel full of myself; I feel that I have learned valuable skills that benefit others.

You know we're not all 20-something college students. Many of us are refugees from Corporate America, or make family a priority and prefer to work from home.

My "next step" aggragator of choice is FriendFeed. I've shared a couple of your posts there and if you check your analytics you may be surprised how many visitors arrive.

Anonymous said...

I would love to know how your opinion has changed. As a 30-something who keeps up with all her friends' kids, etc. on Facebook.

And with Facebook getting more traffic from the parent set than ever, do you really think that being "exactly like" Web 2.0 geeks is still a pre-req for Facebook use? My own mom has a MySpace account, and two of my aunts are on Facebook. They're nothing like Web 2.0 geeks, and I'm barely one myself.

sky said...
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levis said...
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stephe said...

As a married mother of 2 young children, living in my hometown, I have to strongly disagree with your theory.

Yes, we use Facebook to keep in touch with friends that have moved away, and have a chance to watch their children grow. But we also use it to stay in touch with friends in town.

We can't get the grandparents to babysit all the time, and Facebook is a great way for all of us to feel less trapped in our houses with our young, sleeping children. Check any of our accounts and you'll see that its all of us "townies" commenting back and forth on a Saturday night.

My husband and I think Facebook is a great tool for parents to stay in touch, and stay sane.