Let’s Have Some Above-Average Life Goals

Some months ago, my attention was drawn to a popular Twitter account being linked to by a number of my contacts.  Average Life Goals tries to present aspirations which might be considered rather mundane, in a humorous way. Although meant to be ironic, the account’s writers often choose to look down upon things which, once upon a time, we saw as being acceptable and enjoyable, or at least suited to their purpose.

Take this tweet for example

I grew up in a rust belt Pennsylvania county where agriculture was the main industry, and steel manufacturing was a distant memory. There were only a couple of restaurants where one could expect a level of dining comparable to that you might find in an urban setting. Chain restaurants like this one, for most people, were as fancy as one could reasonably expect to be able to experience beyond fast food.

People in the hundreds of small towns across America whose pay does not allow them to dine luxuriously whenever they choose, are not going to be spoiled for choice when it comes to taking their sweetheart out to dinner on St. Valentine’s Day. So while it may not seem particularly nice to some that the anonymous fellow evoked in this tweet is taking his girlfriend to Golden Corral for a special dinner, maybe that is the best that he can afford to do? To scoff and suggest that there is little or no value to such a practice seems to me rather off-puttingly bitter and childish.

A similar tone of bitterness pervades the tone of the following tweet:

Here, someone’s parents paid for and installed this contraption for their child out of love, but we are supposed to mock it for not being…what, exactly? Gold-plated? Signed by Lebron? Would it be better if it came complete with tattoo artist, pole dancing Kardashian, and contraceptive/marijuana dispensing unit? Would that then make it more palatable?.

Now to be fair, two tweets do not condemn an entire Twitter account. Some of the tweets posted by those who run this particular account are actually quite sensible and even clever. Yet these tweets should make us pause and ask, what do we actually value? Are we really so jejune, that we have to denigrate others’ aspirations or acts of generosity? And to what end?

We should certainly cultivate an appreciation for quality, and aspire to learn more about the world around us. Yet being a little more charitable, and engaging in more realistic self-examination as part of that charity, would go a long way toward our treating one another with a bit more compassion, patience, and appreciation. Those would be far better life goals for each of us to try to espouse.

Is Social Media a Waste of Resources?

An interesting article caught my eye on the Wall Street Journal this morning, thanks to a posting from a friend: it seems many businesses are starting to asking themselves what they are getting out of social media, and whether they ought to continue to invest in that aspect of their online presence.

In a fascinating Gallup survey, a whopping 62% of respondents indicated that social media had no influence at all over their purchasing decisions. Only 5% of respondents indicated that social media had a significant influence on their purchasing decisions.  Not surprisingly, 94% of respondents indicated that the primary reason they used social media was to keep in touch with family and friends.

In response to figures like these – which a reasonable person could have predicted – it seems more businesses are considering dialing back their online investment, particularly when it comes to social media.  If a re-tweet on Twitter or an up-vote on Reddit is not, in most cases, going to result in greater sales, then the amount of spending going into a business’ presence on such sites will decrease.  As the Gallup report concludes, these venues “are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be.”

The present situation reminds me somewhat of the first tech bubble in the late ’90’s. Back then, the term “internet millionaire” was coined to reflect the fact that, in the Wild West-atmosphere of those heady days, people were able to strike it rich by persuading investors that their online product was worth millions in potential revenue. Businesses felt the pressure to get in on the online game, because everyone else seemed to be doing it.

At the time it always seemed to be a bit of an Emperor’s New Clothes situation. Companies were spending exorbitant sums on what was often little more than hype.  When the bubble burst, millions of people lost their jobs, their savings, and so on.  If you were looking for employment back around 1999-2000, you will remember what a terrible time that was for many workers, particularly those in industries with ties to the nascent online industries.

Although time and technology have marched on, the underlying question remains the same, only this time with regard to a company’s social media presence: how is digital media going to make my business more profitable?  In order to properly consider that question, however, let me suggest that we need to weed out a few types of online experiences to examine the issue at hand.  There are profits to be made through digital media, but for many businesses it seems to me that the trick is to understand what you can and cannot achieve with your online presence.

First let’s put to one side the use of social media by those having no profit motive:  your Tumblr account about funny pictures of cats, for example.  Let’s also discard sales portals for the purchase of goods and services: companies like Amazon or Ebay, craftsmen who sell their work online, virtual travel agents, etc. These businesses use all kinds of digital media, including social media, to present the consumer with images and information on the types of products they offer for sale. Although far faster and more comprehensive than any printed catalog, when you get down to brass tacks the business model here is really not that much different from something like the old Sears Wish Book.

What we’re left with, in terms of the opportunity to make a profit, seems to be advertising, as indeed it always has been. What many companies didn’t understand 15 years ago, and which they don’t seem to have learned about social media until now, is that sites which do not engage in direct sales should be viewed primarily as public relations vehicles, not profit-generators, unless you happen to control the sale of advertisements on that site.  If you are a producer of a good or service, you want to have a consumer view your product in a positive way.  A component of your marketing strategy online should be to make your presence attractive on social media, but this is simply a variant of creating a beautiful showroom, running clever ads in magazines or on television, and so on.

There is also a question to my mind as to whether many of these companies have been more focused on building altars, rather than storefronts.  Sadly, more people today spend their Sundays worshiping professional athletes rather than God, and the profits to be made from areas such as merchandising and advertising the exploits of these athletic entertainers are enormous.  Yet whether they are cars, phones, or entertainers, the businesses that have to sell these products have done a great job of bringing together fans of their products through social media, but apparently without significant monetizing of those social connections.

Thus, while thousands may click “Like” on the Ritz-Carlton corporation page on Facebook, how many of these people are actually staying at Ritz-Carlton hotels on a regular basis? While the Gucci account on Twitter has over 1 million followers, how many of those followers can even afford to buy a pair of the company’s iconic Italian horsebit loafers?  It’s all very well to be popular in social media, with thousands of hits on your YouTube video.  Yet from a profitability standpoint, if that popularity is not generating sales, then are you wise to continue the same level of investment in it?

If the WSJ piece is to be believed then, more companies are waking up to the fact that having a presence in social media is worth some level of investment, but only up to a point.  Just as 15 years ago, companies needed to create websites in order to be part of the conversation and remain current, so too they needed to hop on the social media bandwagon when that began to roll along several years ago.  Their expectations in doing so don’t seem to have been matched, in many cases, with the anticipated level of return.

Until the next big thing comes along, however (virtual reality, anyone?), one doubts that business is going to be leaving social media altogether any time soon – even if it may choose not to spend as much on it in the future as it does in the present.

Social Media Money

Talking Turkey on Twitter’s Birthday

It’s Twitter’s 8th birthday, and for those among my readers who still don’t use it or see its relevance, today’s headlines may give you a taste of just what all the fuss is about.  Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the midst of fighting both a re-election battle and corruption allegations, announced yesterday that Twitter would be banned in his country.  In a move which has brought both domestic and international condemnation, Erdogan obtained judicial authority to block the millions of Twitter users in Turkey from the social media network, describing it as a “menace to society”.

In becoming one of only a handful of countries to attempt to, using Erdogan’s word, “eradicate” Twitter, Turkey has joined a rather unsavory club.  Both the People’s Republic of China and North Korea have been blocking the social media platform for years, and have used tweets by individuals as the basis for imprisonment of those criticizing their regimes.  While tech-savvy users in these countries have found ways to get around the blocks put in place by their respective governments, for the average account holder no doubt the prospect of being prosecuted (or worse) for speaking their mind online has had a chilling effect on their level of Twitter participation.

For those of us who live under less autocratic governments, as part of marking their birthday Twitter released an application which allows you to type in a Twitter user name and see what that account’s very first tweet was.  It’s been great fun sharing first tweets with my Tweeps, i.e. the Twitter users whom I follow and interact with regularly. Here’s my first tweet, showing what a snot I was – was? – at the time I signed up for an account:


Although I love using Twitter, I’ll admit there are many things about it that are problematic.  There is a tendency to gang up on those whom one does not agree with, and repeatedly knock them down, rather than just delivering one solid blow to an ignorant tweet and then moving on.  There is smut/foul language galore, although one quickly learns whom not to follow if this becomes a problem.  And there are “troll” accounts, which seem to exist solely for the purpose of trying to attack others.

I expect that these negative aspects of the service are what keep some people from using it. Yet when used well, Twitter can be a tremendous resource for good, particularly because of the succinctness of tweets, at 140 characters or less.  I have seen, first-hand, what is possible via Twitter which no other social media application, including Facebook, is capable of, at least with anything near the same amount of speed, penetration, or effectiveness.

I’ve seen Twitter provide many people with both material and emotional support during those hard moments in life, such as losing a loved one or a job, suffering from an illness, or just plain loneliness.  I’ve also seen Twitter offer practical help on little issues, like trying to find a decent hotel in another city, or figuring out how to fix a software issue.  Twitter is always knitting human relationships more closely together, by bringing those with shared interests but little or no chance of physical proximity into contact, whether it is a group of Tweeps watching and commenting on a sporting event together from all over the country, or discovering you’re not the only survivor from the Planet Krypton.

Eventually, I expect that Turkish people will find a way to express themselves on Twitter again.  Human beings are far more interested in being able to freely communicate their thoughts to one another, than they are in upholding the ideology of a single person or political regime.  Whatever its faults, Twitter has done a great deal of good for a great many people, and so I raise a coffee cup to it this morning and say: Happy Birthday, Twitter.