Let’s Tweet About Something Important!

Freitag, 05. Februar 2010, 21:15:30 | Tom Davenport

Almost 50 years ago, FCC Commissioner Newton Minow suggested that the then-new medium of television was becoming a “vast wasteland.” One could argue that the same fate is befalling social media. It’s been a few months since I last fulminated on this issue. So it’s time for another curmudgeonly post.

A couple of recent studies suggest that the content of social media is trivial at best. An analysis of over 100 million tweets thus far in 2010 conducted by Sysomos found one bit of good news and lots of bad (from my perspective, anyway). The good news is that Barack Obama was the most common person tweeted about. The bad news is that he was followed (in order) by Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Pat Robertson (because of his comment on Haiti’s supposed pact with the devil), Miley Cyrus, and Nick Jonas. All others in the top 15 were popular musicians, disgraced sports figures, and the celebrity politician Sarah Palin. (What, no Scott Brown?)

In terms of other topics, Haiti appropriately was the place that people were tweeting the most about. But people are also tweeting about Texas (#4), Canada (#5 and finally getting the recognition it deserves!), and, most unexpectedly, my birthplace, Alabama (#14 — I’m guessing that the bulk of these tweets address college football).

In movie chatter, Avatar came out on top. But there were plenty of tweets about such time-honored topics as Star Wars (#3), Star Trek (#5), and the truly classic The Big Lebowski (#15). In company-oriented tweets, the most popular subjects were YouTube, Facebook, and Google — “gee, let’s use social media to talk about social media!” In mentions of things, it was iTunes, Xbox, and American Idol.

In other words, there’s not much new here, and the topics are hardly earth-shattering. Well, you may be saying, perhaps all the important Twitter action comes in followership? Sorry, but according to Twitterholic.com, the most-followed Tweeter is still Ashton Kucher, followed closely by Britney Spears and Ellen DeGeneres. Obama is fourth, and CNN Breaking News is tenth. The rest are garden-variety celeb followers.

How about other social media? Maybe the depth is all on Facebook. Yeah, right. It seems unlikely given the research of Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a Harvard Business School professor. One key finding: Facebook users really like pictures. Piskorski argues: “Seventy percent of all actions are related to viewing pictures or viewing other people’s profiles.” Men, in particular, like to look at women — both those they don’t know and those they do. Now there’s a shocker. Since Twitter doesn’t have pictures, maybe the Twitterati are the relative intellectuals.

So here we are again: a promising new medium being used largely for vapid chattering about celebrities. Couldn’t these technologies be used for good? There are a few examples. The New York Observer, for one, has written about how social media can be used for charitable purposes. And mobile phone texting — a primitive social medium — seemed to be pretty effective at getting charitable donations to Haiti quickly.

An even more interesting application of social technologies comes from Peter Leyden’s Next Agenda, which is using an innovative combination of face-to-face meetings, video, and Google Wave (which is to Twitter as Shakespeare is to limericks) to try to solve America’s and the world’s biggest problems. Right now they’re working on clean energy. The key seems to be involving not everyone, but people who have high levels of both interest and expertise.

Let’s make this medium a worthwhile use of human energy. Do you know of other examples of social media being used for serious, valuable purposes? Enlighten me in the comments.

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