Jul 14, 2008

Tiny Bubbles

Growing up, I was always amazed at how many of my friends and relatives never ventured out of the cozy little world of upper-middle-class suburban Jewry. They all lived in the same towns, went to the same schools and camps, vacationed at the same hotels at the same time and (especially when I was in the throes of adolescence) all seemed to think the same thoughts. I mean it never really did seem to dawn on many of my peers that most other kids didn’t spend the December school holiday in Boca Raton and summers at posh sleepaway camps in the Berkshires.

With the distance of 20 some-odd-years, I’ve come to realize that every group creates its own little bubble, that most people are more comfortable surrounded by others just like them and that not all of my friends and relatives are as provincial as I’d once thought.

But I’m reminded of all this though, as I interact with people in the social media world. Because we’ve created our own little bubble too. And it’s hard for us to remember that not everyone out there is just like us.

Yes, Nancy Pelosi uses Twitter. Or at least some advisor told her to. And something like 1 million other people already use it, too. The New York Times even mentions Twitter these days without bothering to explain what it is.

And somehow that lulls us into the very false belief that everyone’s at least heard of it. That everyone knows what Twitter is and just hasn’t gotten around to signing up for it yet. But the truth is that the vast majority of people haven’t heard of it. At all. For them, a “tweet” is still just a noise a bird makes.

Ditto FriendFeed. Which is a useful tool if you’re a social media guru whose job it is to spend all day reading and responding to other people’s blog posts and tweets and Facebook postings. For the rest of us though, it’s just overkill. Another reminder of how little time we have. It also operates under the assumption that most people have blogs and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and Flickr accounts to which they are constantly adding content and that their friends are anxiously standing by waiting to read those updates. Which is just plain not true. And besides, does anyone with a job really have the time (or the desire!) to consistently check out the birthday party photos of random business acquaintances or read the obscure blog postings of college friends they haven’t seen in years?

And this all matters because as we bring our “dispatches from the frontier” back to the people in “the real world” we need to be able to put everything into perspective. To think about why someone outside our bubble would use these apps or want to see certain content. To realize how provincial and uninformed we sound if we promote things to clients without providing them with a well-formed reason for our recommendations that takes the actual audience into account. Not ourselves and our friends, but the people who’ll actually use them.

If you don’t know any of those people, if all your friends are social media geeks too, then you’re not as effective as you should be. It’s time to break out of the bubble, talk to “real” people and get a sense for who they are, what they like and what they know.

You’re a marketer: knowing your audience is a major part of your job. Not something you should be gleaning from focus groups.

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