Are we brainless yes-men thanks to the Like button?

Brainlessness just one Like away? (Image: basketman)

When I got a text message from a friend the other day I caught myself instinctively looking for the ‘Like’-Button. Facebook, Google+ and Co. taught me to show my approval of things to the world by clicking ‘Like’ – now, has that taken away the ability to have a controversial opinion?

A German journalist claims just that. She wrote an article for the magazine ‘Neon’ in which she elaborated on how the Like Button is born out of a society that does not have a political opinion anymore, even seems to detest any controversy and therefore is very content with just one option – the Like.

She quotes a range of experts to prove her point that without discussion there is no democracy and therefore our society (and I guess the rest of the world using Facebook) should be ashamed of being a bunch of brainless yes-men.

Now, I think she is only partially right. Clearly, without different opinions or world views there cannot be democracy – so if she was right with her idea that the Like button is a manifestation of us being only confirmative about everything you couldn’t call our system a democracy anymore.

But I think she is forgetting a few aspects surrounding the Like button and its siblings such as Google’s +1.

The inside out strip

The social web encourages us to openly share more and more of our (private) beliefs, life events, everyday moments, our friendships, our food – basically anything imaginable. Sometimes only a handful of close friends are listening (which seems to be the exception these days), other times the whole world is.

The social search feature and the newly enabled ‘search plus your world’ show us what our friends like, what cake they eat, where they have their car fixed, who they discussed a movie with and what they said.

Now, taking this into its fullest extent – is it not obvious that we are more willing to do a soul-striptease about things we like than about things we hate?

I think that the sum of our Likes (as very nicely displayed by the program CircleMe or by my new favourite Pinterest) leaves a lot of room for debate, but sort of on a positive basis.

And then saying ‘Like’ is expressing taste and not an opinion which makes the whole thing even less debatable in the sense the journalist did.

Rude – in your face

It is common sense that you say your friend’s baby or car or flat or

Some people rather say 'I Like' than hurt anyone - which does not mean they don't have an opinion. (Image: David Castillo Dominici)

whatever they’re proud of is absolutely fabulous even though you personally are not as thrilled as they are about it – because you do not want to (pointlessly) hurt them.

Pressing Like may be something like the digital equivalent of that – even though I feel it even goes a bit deeper. Because pressing Like makes me feel like I am moving a tiny step closer to them as we both ‘Like’ (which is just a more generic word for “agree on, find amusing, love, want, aspire to, remember” etc) the same thing.

If you wanted to put it in digital writing that you ‘Dislike’ someone’s idea or picture or relationship status without further explanation, I think you should find that people get touchy about that.

Anyone who is active on social media knows that people have not stopped being critical just because they have the easy option to just ‘Like’.

You will find that a lot of people feel even more encouraged to voice controversial opinions or even rude comments because they are protected by anonymity.

And that can even be the case on Facebook or Google+ or any other network.

Dislike in private?

If we were given the opportunity to put our ‘Dislike’ out there just as easy as we ‘Like’ stuff – would we make use of it?

Would we put a ‘Dislike’ under our friend’s quote of the day or our sibling’s relationship status?

I do not think so. Mainly, because I think that we do not like to put stuff like that in writing – for several reasons.

We do not want to openly stab anyone in the back for one. And then we make ourselves attackable in return by publicly putting someone else down.

The ‘social’ in these networks clearly has its limits. But that does not mean that we have mutated into brainless Like-Bots, it just means we still have manners.

An easy Like

Of course it does not take much to press Like on something, but that only works because liking something does not take much explanation.

I feel that a ‘Dislike’ always would take some explanation in order to go down ok. That is why the habit of turning to a private message or a more elaborated comment has developed.

But the first no one gets to see (which is sort of the point) and the second one the journalist chose to overlook.

However, I agree with her that if people stopped making their minds up about things and communicate what they thought, it would be so worrying that I would consider uttering a public *Dislike* about it.

But until then I cannot agree with her on the Like button or any of its relatives being a threat to society.

Here’s a German article on why social media do not make us stupid.

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Video Social Media Insight 03: How to find your audience (content strategy I)

There are a few quick and free ways you can make sure that you're not wasting your social media efforts. (Image: Apple's Eyes Studio)

It does not only take time to fill social media channels with content, it also takes ideas and a good strategy to help you come up with relevant topics and formats.

This is the first of two videos in which I would like to share what I learnt about how to create a content strategy (or at least the basis for one).

In this video I give you some ideas about how to find the right channel by looking for where your audience is.

In the next video I will talk about how to actually come up with topics.

But before I share my thoughts, I would love to hear from you, how you brainstorm or plan your topics.

Here’s a link with a bunch of good ideas about how to tailor your content to your audience.

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Childhood cancer: how much could a bald Barbie help?

"We girls can do anything" - bald or not.

For some, Barbie dolls are the symbol of adventurous, beautiful and stylish women who can be anything they want to be. Now how can that help little girls who lost their hair due to chemotherapy to fight cancer? I believe: a lot.

A Facebook group called „Beautiful and Bald Barbie! Let’s see if we can get it made” has formed to try and convince Mattel to bring a bald Barbie to the shelves. Over 130.000 people believe that this would show that being bald does by no means mean that you cannot be beautiful.

But there are others who are skeptical whether a bald Barbie would really have this effect. Even the American Cancer Society is one of these.

“Childhood cancer is exceedingly rare. I would also argue that cancer is rare among the age group of women likely to have daughters young enough to play with Barbies”, writes their media relations director, Andrew Becker, concerning the bald Barbie efforts.

So this discussion seems to revolve around the question of emotional and psychological benefits vs. the actual demand for such a doll.

After signing people share why this cause is important to them and show a lot of hope and admiration.

The pro-bald-doll crowd has also launched a petition, which is supposed to put some authority behind the wish for a hairless Barbie – but so far only 3.500 people have signed it.

Is the bald Barbie a good idea?

Now, having lost a close friend to cancer when I was 16, I generally believe that anything that can make someone who is suffering from cancer feel better is definitively a good idea.

But whether asking a global company to manufacture a product that may not be in high demand just for the sake of its metaphorical meaning is the right way is questionable.

Does this message need to be attached to a specific product?

Also, this group is asking for the profits to go to childhood cancer research – which generally (again) is a very good idea.

In the area of breast cancer we are already familiar with products being sold to support research in this field – but (objectively) why should a company invest in a product like this if it is uncertain whether they even get the chance to help due to this investment?

Because if Becker is right and such a doll would gather dust on the shelves then even such an investment would not help.

Mattel have given out a press release (which unfortunately, I was only able to find in German) in which they say that they are already supporting a range of non-profit organisations in a similar area, but that they take this cause seriously and will think about it.

Beautiful – with or without Barbie.

Concerning little girls battling cancer and how a bald Barbie would help, Becker says:

“Each one is a tragedy, and they and their families deserve sympathy and support, but it is critically important to pull back from this exercise in consumer bullying and ask whether the need this movement is rising to meet is as big as imagined, and whether it will result in any meaningful support reaching those who need it.”

I believe conveying the message that being bald still means you are beautiful is important. That holds also true for Barbie’s other metaphorical meanings like the courage to become whoever you want to be and be fabulous while you are getting there.

I do not know about you, but I used to cut my Barbie’s hair (and all my other doll’s) when I was a kid all the time (well, once in each case).

Maybe this is all it needs? Cut any doll’s hair and show your little girl that the pretty face and the beaming smile and the twinkling in the eye is still there?

I think the message is more important than its packaging.

And I can only speak for myself, but I guess that in order to feel this way and to generally support the idea of putting funds towards childhood cancer research one does not need to sign a petition for the creation of a Barbie doll.

Here you can find more news about the “Bald Barbie Campaign“.

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Video Social Media Insight 02: Google+ for businesses

What place can Google+ have in the social media architecture of businesses? (Image: sheelamohan)

In this weeks Social Media Insight I would like to share my findings on how to use Google+ for businesses with you. As the ‘pages’ feature was launched only a few months ago, there is much to yet be discovered and evaluated. 

I dealt with this topic over the last week and was able to gather research, look at all the features and different designs and form my own opinion about it.

In this video I mention some of the features Google+ is better at than Facebook (Hangouts, SEO), but also elaborate why businesses should wait with joining Google+ if they do not already have a solid strategy for it.

What is your take on Google+ for businesses?

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Video Social Media Insight 01: Social Media become more visual

It's all about vision. (Image: Salvatore Vuono)As part of my new year’s resolution, from now on I am going to publish a video every week – telling you about something I noticed or learned about social media.

As I work in an agency that deals with social media on a daily basis, there is much to learn and share.

This time I would like to share my impression that visual elements are becoming much more prominent in social media.  There are several image based social media around right now – Instagram and Pinterest only two of them – an new ones are being created all the time (‘outmywindow‘).

I am a very visual person and therefor I really appreciate that change, as it makes consuming content easier and more fun for me. What do you think about that?

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Why social networks make us more sociable

Social networks train our social soft skills. (Image: Ohmega1982)

Facebook is evil. It robs our data, it watches and memorises where we are and it makes us incapable of normal social interaction with our heads literally stuck in the cloud. Or at least that’s what critics claim.

That is why I have to come out with a confession: I like Facebook. I believe that besides its flaws (and maybe even ignorance regarding some issues as some might say) it’s an enjoyable, zeitgeisty and convenient piece of technology that draws on one of mankind’s biggest needs and skills: communication.

I personally believe that this is true for most social networks – most of all Twitter and Youtube next to Facebook. Social networks require a new level and form of communication that needs to be learnt and practiced in order to be fully appreciated.

Once it is, it can achieve ways of communications that can exceed what offline communication can offer.

That is why I would like to look at the last issue raised in the introduction – the supposed inability to have ‘real’ friends and working offline social networks – a little bit closer in this post.

Unsocial because of Facebook?

Recently, I moved cities. That is why I looked around Facebook for a group with people who also moved here recently to make a start a little easier.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this – but there are so many groups with people who share an interest or a situation or whatever out there – you just need to join.

And indeed I found a group with a bunch of girls who also moved here and we started to chat. Now, this is right down the line of the ‘digital communication is ruining real social experiences’ people. But it gets better:

Yesterday, I met up with these new people, who I have never met before and who I would never have met if it wasn’t for Facebook, for a real and offline coffee.

Now, the critics can say that I could have met different people without Facebook too, and I agree, but knowing that all of these girls shared something with me already really helped and sparked interesting conversations, I felt.

Studies show: social network users are more sociable

Craig Watkins and Erin Lee of the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas studies the social lives of Facebook users and found that “social media afford opportunities for new expressions of friendship, intimacy and community”.

This could be good or bad. I guess we all have those people in our stream who just publish that little bit too much about their private lives, but let’s not forget that it’s their own choice. If that is their way of expressing themselves and staying in touch with their networks, why not?

And in case you haven’t noticed: the more personal a post is, the more reactions it seems to get….

There is a study, however, from earlier in 2011, which found out that social network users (Americans) state that they have an average of 2.45 close friends (opposed to offline-people with 1.75).

It further found out that “the average non-Internet-using American has 506 social ties, while those who embrace the Internet have 669 social ties. Mobile phone users average 664 ties, and those who access the Internet from a smartphone or tablet computer have 717 social ties”.

Using social networks makes you more social

Even though some people got this stuck in their heads, social networks are not a technology that traps us in an online world with no real friends and meaningless conversations. To the contrary.

Social networks open up a universe of opportunities for us to speak to people we would and could never have spoken to otherwise.

And they also train a lot of our socialising soft skills: I believe they train us to listen, to separate relevant information from white noise, to express ourselves in words and writing, to think on our feet, to get a feel for how people work and how to deal with audiences, to define who we are and want to be (ok, a little idealistic, but I believe still true) and to be more open minded towards anything and anybody.

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The new superpower: the crowd?

Can we be strong together? (Image by: Vlado)

A lot of knowledge + a lot of money + a big network with the same aims and ethics = guaranteed collective success? One should think so… Which other factors apart from these could procure a better position of power? The phenomenon ‘crowd’, the ability to accept the swarm intelligence, is spreading.

The concept of ‘crowdsourcing’ is based on the idea that it is more likely to get better results and more right answers through the combined intelligence and experiences of a group than through anything one person alone could achieve.

But this kind of ‘swarm intelligence’ is not widely accepted yet. Often a sort of ‘if you don’t do everything yourself’-attitude prevails. In other cases individuals want all the results and the success for themselves – the thought of sharing appreciation appalls them. Instead they prefer a ‘I won’t let u copy’-mentality and work alone.

Many media people still regard ‘crowdsourcing’ as unreliable white noise of laymen. Something one might watch from afar to maybe pick up an idea for a story, which they’ll research and write themselves.

Use and appreciation of crowd-intelligence in the media

The the famous tweep Andy Carvin (@acarvin) has the mission to report on what is happening in the middle east by crowdsourcing his Twitter stream.

He channels and translates tweets and already won several awards with his work.

On the BBC Social Media summit earlier this year it was said that the results of Andy’s crowdsourcing often are incomplete and that it takes a journalist only one call to find out what Andy’s community found tediously pieced together.

But then these journalists are checking facts which maybe never would have reached them without the crowdsourcing.

One example of ‘crowdfunding’ is the community ‘kickstarter’. Here everyone can pitch a project and ask for a specific amount of donations.

This way every internet user can actively support specific projects. The downside: with almost every option of crowdfunding you might get into trouble if the entire sum cannot be collected. With kickstarter for example you wouldn’t get a penny or cent, in many other cases the pitching person has the choice of paying the rest himself.

Together we’re strong in the long run?

The documentary “we are many”, which is going to air early in 2012, claims that we

'We are many' director, Amir Amirani

only have so many people protesting right now (and therefore become part of a crowd), because the anti Irak war demonstration in 2003 managed to unite so many people.

The Arabic Spring, Occupy and even the protests in Athens are supposed to be part of this new superpower – the crowd. This behavior pattern, claims the documentary, is a rediscovered form of self-empowerment, which doesn’t let any wrongdoings in the name of society pass just like that anymore.

“Every major social success in the history of humankind was achieved through united action”, says Amir Amirani, director of the documentary.

As his documentary deals with the ‘ultimate crowd’ – the biggest protest there ever was with 13 mio. people joined in their opposition towards the Irak war – Amir Amirani also involves crowdsourcing and –funding.

Projects like his which use the power of social media and a crowd with the same goals, experiences and desires, are very likely to shape tomorrow’s media more strongly.

However, for this to happen media people need to become more open minded towards the swarm intelligence and there needs to be a crowd that really works together.

Once this is the case we should expect projects which surpass the abilities of single gatekeepers by miles.

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