Don’t overestimate social media

I had an unusual conversation this weekend with a “focus group” of teenagers. The subject was Facebook and Twitter, and I came away thinking it would not be smart for media companies to bet the ranch on social media.

Firstly, there is an overwhelming distaste among at least these young people for anybody who messes with their experience. They are ALWAYS trolling for something better, something that meets THEIR social needs, and they are not loyal whatsofrigginever to any one provider. Facebook belongs to them, is their view. They hate — I mean absolutely despise — the way FB dips into friends lists and “offers” them something, anything. They loathe Farmville and anything similar, because “it’s just so stupid.” They don’t like the way it’s being taken over by older folks who find them and wish to “be friends.” There’s a sense among them that what used to be under their control is slowly being taken from them, and they would bolt in a heartbeat, if there was a simpler alternative. Bigness, it would seem, is not betterness, at least for these teenagers. They are very hip to being stalked, because it happens to them every day.

They don’t get Twitter; it doesn’t fit their needs. They were not aware, however, of all that Twitter can do until I explained things to them, so they may explore the Twittersphere sooner or later. They just think it’s “lame” that people Tweet, for example, what they’re having for breakfast. The word “lame” also came up frequently in discussing status updates on FB.

I think the takeaway for me is that, once again, we cannot — dare not — make any assumptions about new media that smack of removing power from consumers. The more we try to apply old world economics to new media functionality, the greater the danger of blowing that which gives it value in the first place.

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