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“You’re not looking anyone in the eye when you write stuff on Twitter. You’re not directly engaging with anyone.”

England rugby star James Haskell said this. His motivation to tweet, he says, is to control what appears in public about him because he doesn’t trust the media.

His England colleague Olly Barkley also tweets. His motivation is to present another side of himself to the world: “If you post two or three times a day on Twitter and someone follows you for a couple of months, they’ll get a pretty good idea of what you’re really like.”

Hmmm. As a way of using social media, exactly how social is it to be acting on the model of “let’s talk about me”?

Sure, these are famous people talking to their fans. But “let’s talk about me” and “look at me” are actually the attitudes that (consciously or subconsciously) underpin twitter and facebook for most users in my experience. Social media is great for exhibitionism, showing off, self-projection. Is it any wonder brands have been so keen to jump on the brand wagon?

I tweet. I have 29 followers. I have absolutely no idea who 18 of them are: they haven’t introduced themselves to me. I reckon that’s pretty anti-social, but maybe I’m old-fashioned.

Here’s something else that’s less than social. When I press a ‘share’ button on an article or clip I find on the web, I don’t actually think of it as a gift I’m giving my friends. Instead, I’m thinking how it’ll reflect on me on my facebook page.

Equally, when I press a ‘like’ button on a facebook page, I may be showing social solidarity with others or socially rewarding someone – but I’m just as often wanting to indicate something about myself. And yet I know full well that a human being shouldn’t be judged on what he or she likes, but on what he or she is like.

(I learned that from a novel. I spend less time reading novels now that I’m engaged with social media.)

The neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis says about sports stars who tweet: “Twitter is a great way of apparently having contact with people and being matey. Not only are sportspeople keeping their followers at a distance but they’re keeping them at a distance within 140 characters. It makes them feel good about themselves but it’s low cost in terms of time, emotion and feedback.”

I’m guilty of exactly the same thing in my own low-profile social media world: making myself feel good about myself. Can you honestly say you aren’t? And I’m guilty of it with people I care about. I don’t care about my 18 anonymous twitter followers, but I’ve met every single person on my facebook list in the flesh. And yet, even with these genuine friends, I’m communicating largely for my own needs.

The bottom line is that, at this stage of its and our development, far too many of us are using the new social media in the same way as people used the old media. To broadcast.

About the author:  Olly is the Planning Director at Hooper Galton, generating creative strategies that work both online and offline. He has 25 years’ experience as a strategist and qualitative researcher – understanding what makes the consumer tick – for clients as varied as Heinz, Fiat, the Inland Revenue, Channel Five and Jobsite. You can follow Olly @TheBigO – so he feels even better about himself 😉


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