Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Are we blowing the golden age of social media? What to learn from old-school TV

Is it already too late for us to enjoy the golden age of social media as communicators?

That's what I thought when I heard Kevin Spacey tell a story about actor Jack Lemmon and the early days of television. A noted film actor, Lemmon's earliest roles coincided with the early days of network television. The question at hand in this interview was not about social media, but that's where I went when Spacey recalled:
Jack used to talk about the golden age of television. And I called him and I said, why was it golden? I mean, other than the nostalgia of it, why do you guys talk about it in such reverent ways? And Jack said -- well, he said, at the time, it was a new medium and nobody knew what was gonna work and what wasn't gonna work and so you could do a comedy, you could do a drama, you could do an outrageous thing, you could do this, you could do musical. He said, there was a kind of abandon. And I thought, abandon. That was not a word that I associated with sort of network television shows.
You'd think we were in just such a golden age with social media. After all, folks are flocking to it, in all age groups and for all sorts of purposes...or no purpose at all.  Innovations are around every corner.  But sometimes, I worry we may be stomping all over the golden age of social media, trading abandon and experimentation and creativity for ROI and Facebook fan counts. Instead of using it as our own lab, we're handing it over to the interns. And even for those of us who revel in the social stuff, the volume can sometimes make it feel, well, chore-like. Bye-bye, abandon?

If you've peeked at old Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason or other vintage TV shows on YouTube (or even on the big screen), you know what Lemmon means by abandon. But in case you need a reminder, here are a few home truths you can borrow from the Wayback Machine of television's golden era to keep your social-media forays fresh:
  • Live is more exciting than scheduled.  The revolution will not be accomplished with a pre-scheduled series of posts via HootSuite, friends.  The concept of "anything might happen" has had people gathered around TV sets for decades and even today (think reality television). What part of your social media offerings looks unscheduled? current? timely?
  • Embrace the mistakes that follow--hilarious, career-making, lucrative, catnip-like mistakes.  The best scientists and the best comedians discover great things out of so-called mistakes. If you're not making mistakes in social media, you're neither risking nor learning. Risk something, more than once.
  • Get cheeky. Stay cheeky.   Smile when you say that, stranger. Enjoy yourself and have fun with others. This isn't an international court at The Hague.  Or, as this post puts it well, "Create a party, not a museum...You want your social product to feel like it is a living and breathing party, not expensive furniture you’re not supposed to sit on." Go ahead. Trip over that footstool like Dick Van Dyke did.
  • Experiment. Fail or succeed as you may.  Some of television's most beloved shows didn't last for 10 years...or even 10 months. Try things, then move on--or better yet, plan some social experiments as pilots or short-term projects.
  • Take a non-commercial break. Switching up your approach to social media will keep it fresh for you.  If you're a long-form blogger, move to Tumblr for short posts.  Try video posts rather than written ones. Try a new service once a month, just to see what's what.
  • Work around the frowning naysayers to create riveting content.  Think I Love Lucy handling her pregnancy without being able to say "pregnant" on the air. Sure, you're battling for oxygen on social media in a restrictive company or organization. So get creative. The rest of us will pay more attention.
  • Invent new tactics to fit the new reality. In the golden age of TV, live remotes didn't exist--at first. They were demanded and created after no network could deliver truly live on-air coverage when President Kennedy was assassinated.  Scores of new tactics are coming daily on social media, but feel free to invent your own--and share it, please.
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