I host an internet radio show/podcast called This Week in Social Media . We start each week by looking at trending stories that highlight the best (dreams) or worst (nightmares) of social media. My look back is inspired by the stories that got under my skin, made me smile or cringe, or that seemed to come back time and time again. So here is my totally unscientific top-5 list of social media dreams from 2009, each tinged by at least a touch of nightmare.
5. Social Media as a tool for social good.
In a year full of bad news, social media provided some rare smiles. Social networks, most notably Twitter, brought protests in Iran to a global audience. Twitter and Facebook became a first responder network in natural disasters. Worthy non-profits, (think Charity: Water raising $250,000 during Twestival), mined the power of social networks to tell their stories, connect with constituents, and raise money. The nightmare? There was more hype than reality. Donations through social media are a rounding error, and the Twitter Revolution in Iran was more Twitter than revolution. But the philanthropic power of social networks–to respond quickly, to connect, to catalyze a larger response–is the beginning of an undeniable trend.
4. Social media, the True Crime edition.
It is usually the porn industry that figures out how to make the most out of media innovations. In social media, the criminals and the crime fighters showed us the way. Social media aided-and-abetted robberies (careful what you reveal in your status updates), just as it undid hapless crooks (my favorite was the Pennsylvania man who checked his Facebook status–and forgot to log off–during a home break-in). The police got into the act as well, notably the La Crosse, Wisconsin PD that used fake Facebook profiles to lure and arrest underage drinkers.
3. 15 minutes in 140 characters; or the celebrity culture in social media.
Twitter deserves a special mention here. Its combination of being wide open (you can follow anyone) and real-time means that we get the celebrity unfiltered. No governor on Twitter means we all got to hear what Chad Ochocinco really thinks about the New York Jets, or why Miley Cyrus is so over Twitter. And social media in general created a huge aftershock that amplified both good and bad behavior. The huge “Imma let you finish” Kanye West stream of tweets, Web site takeovers, and video replays, or the non-stop conversation about Tiger Woods and his dalliances are two great examples. So where is the dream in all of this? We got to see the rise of the celebrity native-borne from social media. My two favorites are Susan Boyle, who would have never got her record deal without YouTube, or the Sh*t My Dad Says guy, who parlayed a cranky father and a Twitter account into a book and sitcom deal.
2. Twitter’s rise (and stall).
Twitter went from almost nowhere to true global phenomenom. The network showed us a new side of Oprah and Shaq. It pitted Ashton vs. CNN. It amplified heroism, from Iranian protestors to Capt. Sullenberger. It brought us tweet-ups, twestivals, and twitterati. Twitter beat out “Obama,” “Stimulus,” and “Vampire,’ as the most popular word 0f 2009. It also brought us the Twitter quitters, which are the seed of Twitter’s own nightmare. More than 60% of Twitter users failed to return the following month. No surprise: more than any other social network, Twitter rewards constant, active participation, and punishes inactivity. The network with the unprecedented growth curve (from 1 million monthly visitors in January to over 30 million in July) ends the year in a bit of a funk, with four months of flat-to-declining activity in the U.S.
1. All Hail Facebook.
We should all have a year like Facebook. It started the year at 140 million members and ends at over 350 million. And people who join stick around. More than 5.5% of all time spent online is spent on Facebook, this for a site that wasn’t even around a few years ago. Thanks to Facebook, most of us have felt the initial exuberance of exchanging notes with that long-lost kid we went to grade school with. Let’s face it, most of us would have gone to our grave never having reconnected with a subset of our Facebook friends, and there is something profoundly important in that. To cap off its banner year, Facebook reported that it was the #1 most visited site on Christmas day. The brewing Facebook nightmare is that the bigger something gets, the more the dark side emerges. Most of the concerns with Facebook have been privacy-related, and there will be plenty more reasons to question Facebook’s smiling benevolence in 2010 as they own an increasing percentage of our time, attention, and data.
There are lots of great stories that could have but didn’t make the list: social media goes local–The corporatization of social networks–Here come the Feds (social media gets regulated)–What else did I miss?