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The Flip Side of Social Media: The Evolution of Connectivity that Counts


By Pamela Simmons

As the director of marketing at Technology Publishing Company (home of Durability + Design, JPCL, PaintSquare, and Paint BidTracker), I’ve often gotten into conversations with people who aren’t sold on the whole Facebook/Twitter thing, and the reasons they cite are the potentially negative situations that they perceive to be lurking in the social-media world.

“I know somebody who got fired because of a Facebook post.”

“I don’t want everyone knowing my business.”

“I don’t have time to be checking it constantly.”

I tend to look at the big picture here and approach these naysayers by going back in time and substituting the word, “telephone” for the word “Facebook.”

“What do I need with a telephone? If I have something to say to somebody I’ll either write them a letter or tell them in person.”

“I don’t want to have to hear that thing ringing constantly. How annoying!”

“What good is a telephone if I need to call somebody that doesn’t have one?”

Sound familiar? And yet, the telephone, once that wacky new and totally unnecessary device, has been woven seamlessly into the fabric of our day-to-day lives. Not only do we all own telephones now, but we take them with us everywhere, pay out the wazoo for service, and a business would have to be crazy to operate without one.

By way of addressing the issues of negativity and potential for dire outcomes, it should be emphasized that social-media sites and applications are merely tools, to be used by you…yes, you’re the BOSS.

Sure, somebody can be fired because of what they posted on Facebook, but they can also be fired for what they say on the telephone and we would never think of not using our phones for fear of losing our jobs. 

The object of the game is to keep your own behavior in check, no matter what tool you’re using. If you conduct yourself appropriately, i.e. don’t say anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t say to your supervisor’s face, don’t disclose personal company business, and don’t post photos you wouldn’t want on the front page of the daily newspaper, then you should be just fine. Subscribe to the universal workforce bylaws: “Don’t be an a-hole and don’t get us sued.”

Like the telephone, and the mail for that matter, social-media applications have many uses and can be applied to many situations. And just like the telephone, Facebook and Twitter use can be diverse, helping your business better communicate with its clientele, helping you to reconnect with your high-school buddies, or allowing you to keep better tabs on your kids.

New connectivity opportunities

But aside from the predictable, and because of what technology now affords, some unusual connectivity opportunities have opened up for Facebook and Twitter, uses you might not initially think of.

For example, what happens to the Facebook profiles of users who die? Years ago, a friend of mine was killed in an auto accident, but her Myspace page lives on. It has become a memorial, easing the pain of her loss for friends and relatives by providing a place where they can go to “talk” to her, posting messages about missing her, reminiscing, and reading posts from others who are also grieving.

Although Myspace isn’t nearly as popular now as it was five years ago, I just checked in and her page is still current with recent posts reading, “Wow. 5 years. I can’t believe you’ve been gone that long…”

It might be perceived as a bit macabre, but it is a clear example of how social media is fulfilling yet another need for human connection.

Facebook has a process of dealing with the death of users called, “Memorializing a Profile.” They make a few functionality changes like only allowing confirmed “friends” to post, and not suggesting the deceased person as a possible friend to others. The account cannot be accessed by anyone to make changes, but friends are able to continue to post in remembrance.

Recently, as tornadoes wreaked havoc, ripping through Dallas, authorities used Twitter to communicate with the masses. Dallas newspapers, television and radio stations all took to Twitter to get the word out. The Dallas Red Cross tweeted continuous updates and safety information while DFW International Airport was able to provide personalized service via Twitter.

Advance notice and effective communication are the primary reasons being cited for the fact that there were no fatalities and Twitter was undeniably part of that.

 tornado Twitter feeds

On December 21, 2011, a Utah woman and her toddler son were held against their will by her boyfriend, (also the toddler’s father), and beaten for almost five days. The boyfriend took her phone so she couldn’t call for help, but she managed to get ahold of a laptop and hid in the closet. Logging onto Facebook she posted, “Hello, is anyone out there? I’m having serious problems and me and (her 17-month-old son’s name was here) will be dead by morning.” Friends saw the post, contacted authorities, the woman and her son were rescued and the boyfriend arrested. There you have it. Facebook saves lives. Just like the telephone.

In 2010, Kosuke Tsuneoka, a Japanese journalist held captive for five months in Afghanistan, tweeted his way to freedom on his captor’s cell phone. The guard asked for Tsuneoka’s assistance with the new phone, as it was a more advanced model than most Afghanis used. Tsuneoka was able to activate the internet on the phone, interest his captor in Twitter, claiming he could get messages out to many Japanese journalists that way, and then “demonstrate” how to use it. 

He sent the tweet, “I am still alive, but in jail” followed a few minutes later by, “here is archi in kunduz. in the jail of commander lativ” and was freed the next day. Read the story on PC World, here.

 shamilsh Tweet

In September 2010, a man armed with guns and explosives walked into the headquarters of the Discovery Channel and launched a hostage situation that lasted hours and ended with his death. Before news crews arrived on the scene, news of the situation, complete with photographs of the gunman, were already circulating via Twitter. See the tweet slideshow here. As well as serving an outlet for developments as the situation played out, Twitter provided a means for people to let their loved ones know they were okay.

In early December trouble hit Virginia Tech once again when a police officer was shot and killed at a routine traffic stop. Terror spread through the campus as the unidentified gunman disappeared and reports of a second victim surfaced.

 Virginia Tech shooting

The campus was put on lockdown with students and teachers instructed to stay indoors as the Virginia Tech paper and website, the Collegiate Times, communicated real time updates via Twitter.

 VA Tech shooting

In a professional context, Facebook and Twitter often get a bad rap these days, written off as fluffy and juvenile, but as time passes, more and more practical applications for these versatile social media tools will develop and continue to become more commonplace. Slowly but surely, we will curb our habit of thinking only of the telephone as our means of communication on the fly.

Facebook and Twitter may be replaced at some point as Myspace was, but the animal called Social Media is here to stay, and if you aren’t already, then you, yes you, will probably utter these words to a colleague in the not too distant future:

“That sounds great. I’ll Facebook you.”


Pamela Simmons

As Director of Marketing at Technology Publishing Company (publisher of Durability + Design, PaintSquare, and JPCL), I’m here to shed light on the human side of our collective endeavors in the industries and trades we find ourselves engaged in. We'll talk about the people behind the projects: creating the designs, using the technologies, industry interactivity, and achieving the synthesis that makes it all work.



Tagged categories: Community service; Disasters; Hazards; Health and safety; Information technology; Marketing; Online tools; Smartphones; Social Media; Website

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