It occurs to me, as an occasional user and constant consumer of social media, that there are many different types of participants in the social media scene. One could draw some strong analogies between the different kinds of participants and a high school classroom. I made reference to the Breakfast Club, that icon of 80s high school, to draw out a point - most stereotypes in high school are present in social media today.
For example, in Twitter there are the following kinds of participants:
- The "hey, pay attention to me" folks. In high school this was the good looking blonde who wasn't quite confident in her ability to win friends. She had the looks but low self esteem. On Twitter and other social media sites these are the folks who are constantly telling you where they are and what they are doing. It's almost self-validation. It doesn't add to the discussion and often distracts from it. I don't actually care where Ashton Kutcher is at the present time, or where certain members of my "following" list are eating lunch.
- The "hey, look what I found" folks. There are people on Twitter and other social media sites who seem to be dead set on replacing RSS feeds. Their contribution (and it can be an important one) is to find interesting tidbits on the web and tweet about them for their audience. These folks often start a discussion thread but often don't do more than start the thread, then are off to find another shiny new object.
- The "hey, I have something important to say" folks. These are folks on Twitter who suggest interesting ideas or create tweets meant to obtain a reaction. They aren't necessarily finding stuff that others create, but are generating original tweets to demonstrate a point of view. This was the class "know it all" in high school who has found an entirely new audience to impress.
- The "hey, what's going on" folks. These are the wall flowers from high school who always hung around but never got involved in anything. In the virtual social media space you can call them "lurkers" who are constantly engaged in Twitter or other applications but don't contribute anything.
- The "I'm secretly creative" folks. These are folks who wore the mismatched sneakers and socks in high school who now create haiku, 140 letter short stories and poetry in Twitter and in the social media world. Many of them I suspect work in cubicles and are dying to be discovered by a literary agent, while literary agents are dying to find jobs outside of publishing.
- The "I can find more data than you" folks. I like to follow Richard Florida in Twitter, because he is always linking to interesting data. But my god, where does he find the time to find all that data and link to it? He must have an army of interns constantly scanning the web for interesting data, maps and research.
- The "I'm a newbie here myself" folks. I'll rank myself in this category, since I'm still trying to get the "hang" of Twitter and Facebook and Linkedin, after years of experience in blogs. Some days I feel like Anthony Michael Hall, trying to grasp all the subtle nuances of the experienced upperclassmen who are sharing my space.
I guess the rest of the analogy should be fleshed out as well. Is there a "Stoner" correspondent on Twitter? A "jock" correspondent on Twitter? I suspec that there are people whose participation on Twitter or other social media sites align to our caricatures and memories of the stoner and the jock in high school.
I guess this has me of two minds. First, is the dialog and interaction on Twitter, especially, but social media in general really the best we can do? Or is this just an experiment that will change and mature over time as we learn more about the value proposition and information exchange on social media? Second, there's clearly more communication between and among a wide variety of people than is true in a typical high school, so that's probably a good thing. Now if we can only turn up the value of the content in the way we've managed to turn up the amount of communication...