Today, via Charlotte Viewpoint, I found my way to an old mashable post (original Menshealth) that shows Charlotte ranking 21st in the nation for the most socially networked cities. My reaction is not so much surprise as it is, “so what?” No, really, who gives a flying fudge? Have you been on Charlotte social media lately? I think if you have, even a little, then you’re probably feeling the same thing. (Caution: generalizations ahead)
The reason this “news” doesn’t surprise me points to the reason why it also annoys me: there’s too many damn people on Charlotte social media already. But BUT social media is for everyone, it bolsters revolutions, it can and will and is changing the world! SQUEE! GLITTER PONIES!
All that may be true. But it’s not true a lot of the time in Charlotte. Because in Charlotte, social media (especially facebook, twitter, blogs/news sites, and now, sadly, google+) sounds a lot less revolutionary and a lot more like, well, Rebecca Fucking Black.
Let me give you a summary of all that has happened on Charlotte social media since the dawn of social media:
ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME!
There, you’re all caught up. Listen, I know I’m just as guilty as everyone else. And yes, it’s great that lots of people in our city are using these platforms (some of them even for good). But all it seems to have amounted to is a lot of wasted potential and some really REALLY annoying feeds.
To provide the inevitable counter example (eye-roll alert, matt tyndall): Pittsburgh, my former home, ranked 63 on the mashable list. That’s a C- according to the study, and over 40 places behind Charlotte. And yet Pittsburgh is home to a personal/city blogger “Pitt Girl” who has raised, to date, $15,000 (FIFTEEN THOUSAND!) to provide in-room gaming to kids on the transplant floor of Children’s Hospital. She used her “personal brand” not to snag herself a personal opportunity, but to help sick kids. She used her network not to shout from the rooftops how amazing she is (which is true), but to score even more free stuff for the kids from Microsoft. And in case that wasn’t enough to convince you, Pittsburgh is also home to Secret Agent L, a blogger who leaves random bits of cheer (notes, flowers, gift cards) around the city just to brighten people’s days. So, yeah, Pittsburgh has a lot less people using social media, but it’s hard not to feel like they are doing SO MUCH MORE. And if you’re cynical, you might also notice how powerful the online reputation is for those committed to helping others (as opposed to helping themselves by default).
I can accept the need for what is called a personal brand; I can admit that people in social media and other professions need those big personal opportunities to help their careers. I’m happy for all my friends who have found jobs, clients, comfort, support, and once-in-a-lifetime offers by broadcasting on all channels. But as long as we keep only “doing us,” we will never be great. We won’t be using the tools the way they ought to be used. We will just be boring, self promotional, shitasses. Maybe that’s who we are, but I don’t think so. I think we can do more, be more. Especially when it comes to the DNC.
For example: Charlotte new media, with the help of traditional media, has created some local social media celebrities. It speaks to our character that people have made careers out of having a local audience. I love the people on twitter who bring needed information or levity to my life.* Yet, as a member of the local and online community I have also endured (and unfortunately, made others endure), in addition to the fun, a floppity gillion tweets, blog and facebook posts aimed fundamentally at promoting a local someone’s individual reputation or career. Now I feel that I–and most importantly, this city–deserve a little ROI.
Did you notice how, when the convention was announced, the eyes in hundreds of local twitter avatars turned into cartoonish looking dollar signs? Did you read all the facebook posts that said, “this is going to be great for me, er, charlotte.” I hope the DNC boosts the national perception of our city, and hope that local social medians play a significant role in shaping those opinions. After all, locals profiting and benefiting from the convention is why cities agree to host these things in the first place. Plus, I’ve always known that Charlotte voices have value, especially in telling the story of the place we call home. But I’m worried about that story actually getting told, getting heard on social media above our personal noise.
This convention could be so much more than the unprecedented personal/business/social media opportunity that we are treating it as. It’s my opinion that local twitterati/social media mavericks owe Charlotte something, and September 2012 is when payment comes due. Is it impressive, really, that local citizen journalists will live-tweet this event with the best of them? Photos and tweets of “here I am inside the arena, I can smell Obama” aren’t going to cut it. So let’s, right now, stop naval gazing and start supporting others. Let’s let the nation see how we can use our online community to improve our physical one. Let’s imagine something bigger than ourselves. Let’s make room for the people coming in 2012, for the city to shine. That’s the real story, after all, not us. And when we read about it on social media, we should be able to tell the difference.**
*(For the record, I don’t put myself into this category AT ALL, but I recognize a certain responsibility to even the very very small following I’ve built. I’m working on becoming less of a shit-ass.)
** This post is meant to change the dialogue surrounding Charlotte social media in general and the DNC in particular.