What Birch Trees Mean for Social Media

In August 2009, I decided to make a Twitter account.  Back then, if you talked about using Twitter, you’d probably get some weird looks and hear something like “do you like reading about what other people had for breakfast?” So that got me thinking: What irresistible Internet conversation was happening on Twitter that I just needed to join?

A quick trip down memory lane revealed 2009’s latest crazes, from Octomom to Michael Vick.  While the topics of conversation might be a bit different, it’s clear to the tech world now that Twitter was only the beginning.  Going from under 30 million monthly active users to over 317 million now, Twitter is a powerhouse of a social media platform that undeniably pioneered the concept, together with sites like Facebook, before anyone could have fathomed a monetization plan capable of taking advantage of such a complex and, in some ways, intangible platform.  Even with a United States President now among those publicly pontificating in 114 characters or less on a regular basis, it’s the business side of things that still doesn’t look incredibly promising.

To me, Twitter’s fame has always looked more like a grassroots rise of the voice of the Internet more than a tech venture success story.  Twitter took the idea and put a few simple rules on it to keep the content succinct and on a level playing field.  It might be for this very reason that Twitter is struggling monetarily today—their user base is their strongest asset, which allowed them to build a brand over time, but without a comprehensive plan to monetize the community the stock has slowed, and each day is looking more financially gloomy than the last.

But I think the dismal business outlook speaks to the greater narrative that the rise of social media wasn’t about the company, but about the people.  Companies have come and gone and even though I have to post videos to my snap story now instead of Vine, the conversations are outlasting the platforms, which I believe is a healthy indication that the best might be yet to come.

In particular, articles like this one from Professor Kane that talk about how social media today struggles to meet everyone’s varied needs highlights for me the vast blue oceans for more individualized types of communication.  Just as the dot-com boom put previously niche businesses and boutiques on the map for the first time, I hope new ideas will be able to build on the intangible social success of companies like Twitter as more defined segments learn to harness the power of social media.

I want machine learning and artificial intelligence apps for pizza delivery drivers by pizza delivery drivers that no one knew we needed.  I want an app that understands everything the average college student needs to accomplish in a day and puts it all in one place.  I want someone to decide that, based on their data, it’s vastly more effective to be connected to X number of people than to Y when discussing a particular topic.  If social media is criticized for dumbing down human interaction, I want something that enriches it like we’ve never seen before.  If Millennials of New York can be born out of a network like Facebook that already exists, imagine what that could mean for a new standalone platform built for that purpose.

So I don’t really mind if pretty infographic timelines of social media brands become over-saturated with new and shiny logos of misspelled and made up words if it means one of them can inspire meaningful conversation or give someone a voice online who didn’t have one before.

When I worked for my local public access TV station there was a local guy who made monthly painting tutorials.  When we started uploading all our different content to YouTube, you can bet we did not expect How to Paint Birch Trees to become our most viewed video to date.

No one would have believed such a low budget and highly specific lesson like painting birch trees would garner a whopping 74,000 views, but that’s exactly what happened.  The best part is it happened naturally and wasn’t content contrived by a business trying to drum up interest in a product.  Despite being from 65 different countries, YouTube brought together all these different people who just love painting.

So when I get frustrated by all the spinning records on Facebook telling me Devin and his mom have been Facebook friends for 5 years now, maybe I’ll be just a bit more patient.  A social network is only as good as the people and the content they share.  In that case, I believe the more specialized the service is, the better the user experience will be.  To me, the future of social media not only looks bright, but even more meaningful.

2 comments

  1. Nice post. I’m often surprised at what content takes off in this class (and what doesn’t). There’s often no accounting for what the “crowd” is looking for!

  2. katherinelgold · ·

    This is such an optimistic post! I love that you’re able to wade past the dumb, distracting trends and apps to see the shining light of innovation. Too often we become overwhelmed with app suggestions and trends on social media. You did a great job of pointing out the magic of the people on social media. “Even though I have to post videos to my snap story now instead of Vine” was one of your most interesting sentences, showing that the real power of social media is the people. I’m really curious as to if the people will revive Twitter’s business side, or if they will migrate to another platform eventually.

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