Twitter Takes a Baby Step Away from Narcissism

Social networks run on narcissism.  To tweet or blog regularly requires someone to believe their thoughts or musings merit broadcasting.  And yes, I realize that statement damns me as well.  Sometimes the truth hurts…

Picture 5Last Thursday, Twitter made a simple change to their system that was so subtle, it was easily-missed.  After years of headlining their entry box with the lead-in question “What are you doing?” they changed it to the two-character saving “What’s happening?”  Co-founder Biz Stone (is there any more ironically-named new media personality than Twitter’s ‘Biz’?) explained this change by saying “The fundamentally open model of Twitter created a new kind of information network and it has long outgrown the concept of personal status updates.”

Well, yes and no there Biz.  I mean certainly, Twitter provides a remarkably-helpful outlet for citizen journalism during world-rocking events like the Iranian elections, but in the largely prosaic daily lives of most Twitter users, police state tactics and international news stories happen somewhere else.  The chances that our updates will indeed update others about events larger than say, our last airline meal, are exceedingly slim.  It can function as an ‘information network’ but the bulk of the messages remains personal status-centric.

But that reality aside, their intent is laudable and right.  The interactive web encourages conversation and feedback on an unprecedented scale.  People may use Web 2.0 technology to declare their love for Taylor Lautner or cry for the head of Charlie Weis, but even subtly steering the conversation towards more higher-minded aims is an act of admirable stewardship.

Or at least, good party hosting.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Never Ending Quest for Quotability and Immortality

Whether or not you agree that a level of narcissism underlies most social media, the fact remains that pretty much anyone who goes through the effort to shape a thought into 140 characters and Tweet it does that with an implied hope that it will be deemed worthy of retweeting by someone, somewhere.  Twitter is built on sharing and so the idea that someone might validate your content fuels the participation on that very public platform.

But while it’s never been more immediately obvious. this phenomenon is not unique to social media.  Back in the pre-viral, pre-socially-networked ’90’s, we specifically recorded multiple dialogue options whenever we shot Bud Light spots with the hopes that one of those lines would–in the words of advertising creative and pundit Bob Merlotti–become a “popular culture catchphrase.”  And so phrases like “Yes I am” and “I love you man” became part of the culture, passed along on barstools and softball fields and even–in a few wonderful, halcyon moments–Letterman monologues.  Being quoted by others was and remains a very valid means of extending your brand message through a viral person-to-person network of individuals who find your idea worthy of sharing.

Bet You Know What He's Saying...

Bet You Know What He's Saying...

Which brings me to this wonderful YouTube piece a fan pieced together from the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top movie quotes in history.  It’s ten minutes long, but the percentage of quotes even a passing movie fan will recognize is extraordinary.  These bits of movie dialogue form a shared cultural reference point for all of us.  We recognize them because at one time or another, we’ve quoted them ourselves.  The sheer volume of memorable quotes from across decades will amaze you with how a few simple nouns, verbs and adjectives can achieve immortality when uttered in just the right context.

Great brands have sharable stories–thoughts that merit passing along to others outside of paid media.  If it’s worth saying, it’s certainly worth saying memorably.  Enjoy the clip.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Challenge for Marketers Regarding Social Networks: Embracing the Narcissism

Back in the mid-70’s, I used to ride the bus to junior high with a kid called “Tiger” Jackson.  Actually, none of us called him “Tiger” but apparently someone in his family did and he liked the sound of that a whole lot better than “Bill Jr.”  Tiger was never particularly popular but he was always the first to have any comedy record–George Carlin, Steve Martin, The National Lampoon Troupe–and somehow, the mere act of owning and sharing that material lent him a consideration he wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.

I hadn’t thought about Tiger in three decades but yesterday we had a long discussion about social networks with a client that is getting very active in that space and facing the challenges every corporation does as they make the foray into the less-charted world of earned media.  As we explained the “Hey Everybody!” nature of Facebook and the “Hey anybody!” nature of Twitter to a curious if bemused seventy-year old, the question of “But…why?” came up again and again.  “Why do people spend so much time on these networks?”  “Why do they stop what they’re doing to write about it?”  “Why do they think anyone would care?”

We try to answer these queries with intellectual theses about the need for connection in a socially-isolating world where people bowl alone…  We wax philosophical on how technology empowers a cognitive expansion of our collective Dunbar numbers…  But at its heart, this need to broadcast what we’re doing, what we think, or what we have found to an unseen audience that includes friends, nodding acquaintances and a considerable amount of total strangers, bears more than a trace of narcissism.  “Look at me!  Follow my links!  Enjoy this comedy brought to you…by me!

Picture 2I type this fully aware that this insight indicts me and my social network habits perhaps most of all.  I write this blog most weekdays, creating lessons on marketing for…well, for whomever stumbles across them.  But I want people to stumble across them, so I send out links to these posts over Twitter and LinkedIn.  Every morning during my commute, I try to find some topical story to inspire a one-liner for my Facebook status update.  I tell myself that I do these things because I need firsthand knowledge of social networking or that writing about contemporary advertising forces me to develop an intellectual discipline during these rapidly evolving times.  And all of that is true.

But that hardly explains why I check my blog stats everyday to see how many people read the post.  Or why I secretly thrill when a friend on Facebook ‘likes my status’ or someone re-tweets a link.  Or why so many people on Twitter spend hours each day, forwarding links like a modern day Tiger Jackson.  All of that springs directly from narcissism; a narcissism every client wading into the waters of social networking with hopes of spreading their messages would be well advised to keep in the forefront of their minds.  As an advertiser in social media, your wants and needs will always fall a distant second to your audience, unless you find a way to align your needs with theirs.  If that seems unthinkable, just read the first few paragraphs of this MobileInsider post by Steve Smith.  As he winds up for his pitch against ill-considered mobile phone apps, he says this: “For the benefit of those consumer brands that weren’t listening the first few hundred times this has been said, consumers do not wake up in the morning thanking the lord they live in a country where they get to worship your brand and see life through its narrow self-serving lens. That only happens in the retro-fantasies of Don Draper and the households of top executives at many of these major brands.”  Ouch.

Adjusting to the foundational narcissism that fuels social networks not only presents a real challenge, but a direct juxtaposition to the necessary narcissism of every corporate marketer.  Which is why these are, and will continue to be, very interesting times…

Of course, if you feel differently, I welcome your comments.  Even if you think my thinking is way off-base, the narcissist in me will take comfort knowing you responded.  Bless you.

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79