Interaction design

Social media’s un-gathering

Image: IDGNS

4 December 2013

I don’t know if many of you have been to Cong. Recently, I paid my first visit to the village renowned for providing the setting for John Ford’s classic romantic comedy-drama The Quiet Man, which starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Whether people have been to the village or not, there can’t be that many who haven’t seen the film.

Cong is a lovely little place, well worth a visit. It also proved to be an inspired choice for a recent event focused on social media called CongRegation. Organised by Eoin Kennedy, a former director of the Irish Internet Association (IIA) and chair of the IIA Social Media Working group, CongRegation was a “one day ‘un-conference’ social media gathering” which was focused “on peer to peer sharing of quality information and social media insights through a ‘huddle’ style collaborative structure”.

In order to gain entry, people had to submit blog posts for the site. In total, CongRegation received more than 50 social media-related blog entries ranging over a wide spread of topics. To get an idea of just how wide ranging and informative they were, you can see the list here. As one of the people privileged enough to attend what I believe will be the inaugural CongRegation (rather than the only one), I was very impressed by the people I met and the quality of the discussions that took place in the huddles.

The most interesting (and inspirational) post from a general point of view was provided by Evelyn O’Connor who detailed her use of social media in the classroom as a learning aid for her students, including setting up Facebook pages for Romeo & Juliet and twitter accounts for characters in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Another blog post that generated a lot of discussion was provided by John Dineen, co-founder and CEO of Pubble, provocatively entitled F**k Facebook & Twitter’. It’s time to reclaim your Community. The substance of Dineen’s argument was that by using Twitter and Facebook to engage with customers, businesses were actually promoting the social media platforms and handing over their data and control of that engagement to them. In other words, businesses “are letting Twitter and Facebook set the rules for how you engage with your community”.

He argued that companies needed to understand the most important online presence they had was their website because that was where they sold things from. “Your website is where your community belongs and everything that you do in Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn should be designed to wrestle back the engagement to your site,” Dineen wrote.

Fighting talk
It’s probably fair to say quite a few businesses are guilty of neglecting the primacy of their website in the rush to ensure they forge a social media presence before it’s too late. But there’s also a danger that in their desire to ensure they are not too late, they end up coming to social media too soon.

Part of the rush to social media is the perception that these platforms are the primary means in which younger people engage among themselves and with organisations. This might be true, although it’s worth bearing in mind young people seem to switch their social media platform allegiances frequently.

In any case, businesses need to be aware of the etiquette, or lack of it, on social media platforms. In my own post, I questioned just how ‘social’ social media is. While people on social media platforms might believe it gives them a level of closeness towards someone else, the truth is that, in real life, it wouldn’t exist. The related phenomenon is that because social media enables people to continue these artificial engagements which, in real life, would be broken by someone leaving the scene, it can become anti-social very rapidly if there is a dispute.

And once that happens, there is a very real danger that something which would have remained confined to a personal dispute between two people (if indeed it ever happened because those people might not engage in real life), becomes more widespread with ‘friends’ joining in and posting ever more strident messages in favour or opposition to one party or the other.

This is something businesses need to be aware of too. If they truly believe social media platforms provide them with a greater opportunity to improve their engagement and interaction with customers, they should bear in mind that if customers believe it too they will expect more. And if those customers behave in the same way as they usually do on social media platforms, businesses should be alive to the potential threat they could face if (or when) customers using those platforms become unhappy at something and mutate into an anti-social mob.

Unlike the justly famous nine minute fight scene between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen near the end of The Quiet Man, things could get very nasty very quickly with most of the crowd joining in the fracas and some of them trying to burn down the village.

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