The other night, I was hanging out with a couple of friends who I hadn’t seen in almost ten years. We went to school together a very long time ago, in a city far from here. Talking to these friends of mine, it occurred to me that something pretty special brought us together: social networking.
As a PR practitioner, I want stay on top of the latest everything. From Britney’s breakdown to business buyouts, it’s important to be trivial. A few years ago, before PR was even a realistic career move, I got into social networking. At first things were lonely. Really lonely. As others can understand, it’s only fun to be in early on something when other people discover that something and it becomes popular. That most certainly applies to the only two social networking sites that matter, Facebook and MySpace.
The funny thing about them is that for me, MySpace is still lonely, whereas I have no shortage of friends on Facebook. Doesn’t that sound strange for a network that got out of the gate far ahead and was talked about ad nauseum in the media for months on end? I think it’s bizarre, but there’s an easy explanation for it all: Facebook is for extending existing friendships online. It’s for staying in touch with old friends in a way that IM or email simply fail. MySpace is for, in my opinion and experience, everything else.
It seems obvious now that I spend a few minutes thinking about it. MySpace is good at promoting music, celebrities, movies, comedy, arts of all kinds, and generally showcasing people, places, and things. MySpace is a showcase. It’s also, more or less, a lightweight content management system, like blogging software. It’s like the new Geocities: ad-supported web space for all. It might be meant for connecting friends and being social, but Facebook does that far, far better.
Facebook functions far better as a social network than MySpace. It doesn’t set out to try to be everything to everyone like MySpace. At first, it was a students-only social network, free of commercial interests and completely free of advertising. Since that time, the only thing that has noticeably changed is that the network is open to all. Nobody on Facebook is bugging me with personal messages or random wall postings about something they’re trying to sell. At least not yet. Right now, it’s a utopia of social networking.
The similarities between the two are obvious. The difference is that Facebook connects people. The groups are basically channels that people affiliate themselves with. I associate myself with my grade school’s channel, my high school’s channel, my University’s channel, my college’s channel, and my city’s channel. I can easily connect with people in my channels through the intelligent use of hyperlinks Facebook uses (and MySpace doesn’t). I’m not sure how to describe it, but Facebook is categorizing their users’ information much better than MySpace. The users, in both cases, create the information/content/groups/channels/whatever, but the way things are organized just works far better on Facebook.
After all that, I still think I need to explain why MySpace is for marketers and Facebook is for PR people. First, I don’t mean it literally. I don’t mean to say that MySpace is where marketers should inhabit and Facebook should be the place to find PR people. In terms of philosophy, MySpace is for marketers and Facebook is for PR practitioners. It seems obvious that for marketers trying to bring products and services to consumers, MySpace is the ticket. Relationships on MySpace aren’t solid, as most people’s friends are celebs, athletes, musicians, and the like. People spending time on MySpace are there to be entertained, advertised to, and promoted to. Thirty-second spot’d. That’s what Facebook is about: spectacle in short burst. I know I’m selling the world of marketing short saying this. I’m certainly speaking in generalities, and for that I apologize. But for the sake of my argument, just go with it, marketers.
PR people, in a perfect world, are real people first and foremost, trying to reach out to other people on a more individual level. We’re more interested in building relationships than moving units. We don’t care about the spectacle of promotions or celebrities or messages requesting friendship from someone with over one million “friends”. We’re trying to persuade gently. We’re not in your face at all. Most PR people will gently stroke your ego (some while reaching into your pockets in search of loose change, but that’s another topic of discussion altogether) instead of trying to sell you on the latest craze or hottest new act. That’s what Facebook is about: relationships.
Now that you’ve come through the other side of this post, I bet you’ve figured out which social network brought me and my two long-lost friends together, haven’t you?