You’re the steak, baby

May 11, 2009

My buddy George wrote a post recently asking if the “honeymoon phase” for social media is over, and his post brings to mind a lot of big questions: Are we going to wake up one day and recognize that Facebook and YouTube and Twitter aren’t as great as we had hoped? Should marketers really jump into this social media stuff, or should they stay on the sidelines, hoping this presumed fad will pass soon enough?

An editor’s note appended to George’s post points us to an Ad Age article in which Simon Dumenco points out the obvious: If Twitter and Facebook and YouTube don’t start actually making money soon, these social media institutions are going to run themselves into the ground.

As a communicator who makes his living in large part by helping people understand what all this “social stuff” means to them, you might think I’d be shaking in my loafers about the impending doom looming on the horizon of Silicon Valley. You might think I’d be fearing a chorus of “I told you so” from the skeptics who didn’t want to bother with anything more social than a comment-box form on a Web page. And you’d be mistaken.

If Twitter died tomorrow, my job wouldn’t change one bit, and if it did, it’d probably be for the better. Because helping people use Twitter is a small part of what I do. The bigger, more meaningful part is helping people understand how the values to which social media gave new life — openness, creativity, sense of community, listening more than you speak, making meaningful connections with relevant people — should inform what they do day to day. If Twitter were to die, those ideas would live on, and I’d have an easier time persuading people that the principles of social media are far more powerful than the tools that put those principles into action.

When George proposed the end of the honeymoon phase with social media, he wasn’t wrong — but he was focused on just one piece of the puzzle. Specific tools like Twitter and Facebook are the sizzle, entirely susceptible to fading out once the heat dies down. But the steak — the substance of social media, the part for which the honeymoon phase won’t end anytime soon — is composed of the communities, the connections, the human contact we make every day through social media platforms. 

You — you blog readers, you microblog followers, you video watchers, you photo uploaders, you status updaters — you’re far more meaningful to me than the sites on which we’ve connected. If any one of those sites dies out or becomes so overrun with spammers and other clutter that it becomes worthless, I’m not going to sever my connections with you; I’m going to seek out the next best way to stay connected with you. Whether you’re my customer, my colleague, my prospect, my key reporter, my close friend or my favorite social media microcelebrity, you’re the steak.