Monday, 6:16pm
26 October 2009

Flash in the pan

camilla grey
New Media
Visual Culture

Do social media platforms – Twitter, blogs – make success too easy?

Recently the British public were again treated to another example of the incredible power of Twitter, writes Camilla Grey. As the Twitterverse went up in arms over

Jan Moir’s homophobic attack on Stephen Gately, the UK’s Press Complaints Commission received a record 22,000 complaints. The debacle was further proof of the speed with which anything from a provocative article to a funny YouTube video can gain incredible and extraordinary momentum on Twitter. This leads me to wonder whether public social media platforms make success too easy? Are successful Twitter links the reality TV stars of the online world?

As a Twitterer myself, I can guarantee about 100 immediate hits just from posting a link once. With a bit more effort behind it I can begin to approach 1000 per day. And, when I was working on the social media campaign for Moving Brands’ pitch for A Brand for London, we had two full time Twitterers and the advice of Obama’s new media guru, Scott Thomas, helping us push toward 6000 hits per day. That is not to say that the content is not more than worthy of the attention, just that is suddenly all feels so easy. Too easy.

As its founders confirm, Twitter ‘tells people what they need to know and what they want to know and hopefully not much else’. It’s the satnav of the Internet, directing you in the direction you need to go, no maps, no detours, and no arguments over lefts and rights.

In an arena which used to depend on hard graft, manic PR machines and heavy spending on advertising and merchandising, platforms such as Twitter are paring the whole process of promotion back to the bare essentials - peer-to-peer recommendation. Like a satnav, such direct marketing might be effective, but I query whether it’s as exciting a journey.

The movie Julie and Julia (top) which premiered last month and starred Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, gave perhaps the first ‘big screen’ nod to the rise of the blogger. Julie Powell is a New Yorker who decided to blog her way through cooking every one of Julia Child’s recipes, garnering a huge following and a book deal in the process.

Scriptwriter Nora Ephron’s decision to give a blogger equal billing to the famous American cookery writer is a cultural signpost to the way blogging has gone from geeky diarising to respected media outlet.

bubble

Similarly, here in the UK, fashion blogger Suzy Bubble (above) has risen from bedroom stylist to Dazed and Confused contributor, darling of the fashion shows, and one of the Evening Standard’s ‘Most Influential’ in the fashion category. While in the publishing world, both The Sartorialist and Stuff White People Like have both been transformed on to the printed page and become best-sellers.

So what does this mean? On the one hand the ease of ‘free to join’ platforms such as Blogger, WordPress, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo more often than not gives a voice to the bland, the irrelevant and the plain ‘no good’. On the other hand these platforms truly democratise creativity – allowing anyone with an internet connection to shine through.

See also Steven Levy’s article ‘Mob Rule’ in Wired.

And William Owen’s article about social media in Eye 64.

Eye is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop. For a taste of the magazine, try Eye before you buy.

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