Social networking and the Great Divide

Three cheers for George Clooney. Not for those irritating coffee adverts (no, it’s not like real coffee, George) but for his comments about Facebook. It’s so comforting to know I’m not alone. You see, George recently told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival:
“I would rather have a prostate exam on live television by a guy with very cold hands than have a Facebook page.”
I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I’m with him on this one – in spirit, at least, if not actual body. It seems to me that people fall into two camps: those who ‘get’ social networking, and those who don’t. And I don’t. Don’t get me wrong – I think socialising is great. I think networks are great. But social networking does freak me out ever so slightly. Too much noise, too many people, too much like addiction. As I have a naturally addictive streak, I have to steer clear of social networking. Otherwise, I’d be one of those jumpy, swivel-eyed, always-on geeks who can never unplug from The Machine. That said, I can understand the attraction for some. Those who know how to consommer avec modération, as French wine bottles say. But in a purely social, personal context, as part of their playtime.

Fun Inc.

Which is why I’m doubly confused when it comes to corporate social networking. Maybe, just maybe, for fun, funky, twentysomething or thirtysomething brands, it’s a cool place to be. That’s probably why Starbucks has 4.5m (yes, count ’em) fans on its Facebook page. It’s slightly less popular on Twitter, with 361,691 followers, but that’s still a pretty respectable number. And there’s no doubting, it’s fun. People can hang out in those virtual armchairs and swap favourite latte combinations, or bemoan the demise of banana nut muffins in the UK. But what about more serious brands? How do they fare?

Are we having fun yet?

UK furniture chain Habitat tried to jump on the Twitter bandwagon in June 2009. It posted tweets using hashtags ‘Iran’ and ‘Mousavi’ (popular searches at the time) to redirect people to furniture promotions. What were they thinking? In a statement, the company said it had ‘never sought to abuse Twitter’. Of course not. Ford has embraced Twitter enthusiastically, with not one, but seven feeds. Its FordCustService (yes, that’s Ford Customer Service) feed includes such riveting updates as ‘Get your vehicle the coverage it deserves. Find out about our Extended Service Plans’ and ‘Protect your investment by staying on top of your vehicle’s needs’. I’ll have to think about that one. Dell promotes offers on its DellOutlet feed, which is worth following if you’re looking for a bargain. And US airline JetBlue offers Twitter-based customer service. But is it just me, or do all these feeds fall a little flat? Can you really see yourself getting updates on your mobile/cellphone to find out what reports Forrester Research is releasing? I can’t. Like a hopelessly uncool parent trying to impress your schoolfriends, companies on social networks often fail to convince. The ones who pull it off, like Starbucks and Southwest Airlines, are those lucky companies that make people forget work. And that’s the key, I think. Fun brands work on social networks. Serious ones don’t, and come across like Big Brother trying to manage the message 24×7. And in the end, it’s still a case of personal preference. Either you get it or your don’t. And on that score, I’m with George. But warm those hands up first. Please. Find out more: