Growing Up Online

I return home from a long day of school, and take off my shoes. I throw a can of soup in the microwave and check my Facebook. Facebook tells me, “You have one new friend request”; it’s my dad. Since when does my dad have a Facebook, and do I really want to be friends with him? The answer is a resounding “yes” as I confirm his request. According to his wall, he has been a member for 2 days, has 30 new friends, and has uploaded 4 pictures of himself, my mom, and their dogs. Facebook suggests, “Greg is new to Facebook! Help him get started by suggesting some friends!” and I happily comply.

If someone had told me my senior year of high school that I would be e-friends with my parents, extended family, and even Function:, I would have never believed them. I would have said, “Social media is for fun, for talking to friends, for kids in school, not for adult communication,” and I would have been so wrong. As the years go by, social networking becomes less of a tool for fun and more of a tool for communication. Companies target their advertisements to me, using my “interests” to show me specific products. Apple sends me coupons, and STA offers me travel contests. Looking at the evolution of social networking, this only makes sense.

Let’s rewind to my 7th grade year. I’ve got 10 friends, and seeing them everyday in school isn’t enough. I’m starting a Xanga to keep them updated on the minute details of my life. Xanga is an early blog site, targeted to the younger demographics. You could friend people, write about your day, and comment on your friend’s days as well. Soon this became too juvenile, and by 8th grade I was a committed user of LiveJournal. Similar to Xanga, LiveJournal not only gave us our own place to write, but gave us communities where we could write as well. There were friend lists, group lists, and lots of exclusivity (I never got into the “rad” hair group…).

Then came Myspace, and the world of social networking exploded. Anyone who was anyone had a Myspace, and if you were really on your A-game, your page had lots of HTML slowing down the dial-up connection. Tom was our #1 friend, and he would send us updates via bulletin. Combining the journal aspects of earlier sites, Myspace gave you more room for pictures, room for less pointed comments (you could post on someone’s blog OR someone’s page), and room for bulletins (fleeting memos to your friend list, usually surveys about how often you were grounded). And soon, Myspace got too big to be both free AND advertisement free. Oh, the uproar when Myspace included ad banners, which increased ten-fold when Myspace was sold to News Corporation in 2005. Cries of “Tom sold us out!” rang loudly from the rooftops, and people started jumping ship.

Fortunately, there was a more luxurious, exclusive cruise liner floating alongside the Myspace boat for those jumpers to land on: Facebook. Initially only for college students, Facebook offered an easy layout and exclusive networks. Skipping the creepy aspect of Myspace, people were only friends with those they knew IRL (in real life, to use the lingo). The high-schoolers quickly caught on and clamored to be included, followed by the rest of the world. What people initially failed to realize is that Facebook had equal amounts of marketing and ads, they were just cleverer about it. Rather than slowing connections with html banner ads, Facebook first placed innocuous ads on a side panel, targeted to specific users. Next they got smarter, and allowed businesses to make their own profiles, complete with friends and “about me”s. Though there was still outcry, it was much less.

Soon the thought process became “if that business can market itself via social networking, so can I!”, leading to LinkedIn, Twitter, and my dad having a Facebook. As someone who’s grown up with social networking, I’ve enjoyed it’s benefits and lamented it’s downfalls for years. I loved talking to boyfriends on Facebook chat, and cried when break-ups happened through “relationship statuses.” Knowing the whole world’s business is fun, but do I want the whole world knowing mine? There’s a very fine line these days, and as social networking becomes more formal, the information we share and the ways we share it changes.

Users are quickly becoming aware of the “untag” button for those less than pretty pictures, and status updates are becoming bland. Profiles have moved away from people quoting themselves, and toward quoting respected public figures. Interests aren’t “listening to music,” but are instead “developing effective marketing strategies for clients.” Social networking is a way to sell yourself to potential employers, clients, and even friends.

Working at Function: has highlighted the uses of social networking in professional arenas. Since working here, the fun aspects have taken a back-seat to the business front of social networking, and I’ve learned a lot about the importance of using social networking to… well, network. It’s a great way to make contacts that can help me in finding a job when I graduate. Twitter is awesome for seeing when companies are hiring, and LinkedIn is like having an online resume.

While researching for Function:’s upcoming social media webinar, I looked into trends for the upcoming year. Interestingly enough, most of the blogs I saw discussed the de-socialization of social media. With the emergence of lists on Twitter, the “hide” function on Facebook, and the increased specificity of search engines, it’s becoming more and more difficult to get the same “face-time” as in past years. So how to stay on people’s pages, in their minds, and not annoying them with constant status updates? That’s the question everyone’s wondering, and only time will tell. These, and other emerging trends just go to show how important it is to be aware of the fluid nature of these networks, and how necessary it is to be “social media savvy.”

A few days later I check up on my dad, I wonder how his Facebooking is going. I’m amazed, he has 80 new friends and 2 photo albums, chock full of embarrassing baby pictures. As I begin the de-tagging process, I get excited to see where social media is going and wonder when I’ll see my grandma online!

allie sudholt
public relations intern extraordinaire
we’re into building things through marketing, design and public relations

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