Are we going silly over social networks?

March 23, 2009

twitterbird2Are we going silly over social networks? That’s the question we ask in the latest edition of Campaign Middle East.

The exploding popularity of sites such as Twitter and Facebook have generated a massive amount of interest.

On the plus side, these social networking sites offer immediate sharing of information, news and opinions. Abha Malpani, a former professional blogger and now a new media consultant at  Asda’a PR, is a keen advocate. “What I get out of Twitter is the instant connectivity with people that you wouldn’t get otherwise,” she says.

But there fears that sites such as Twitter, with its limit of 140 characters per post, are dumbing us down by encouraging shallow thinking, short attention spans, selfishness and gossip. In situations such as the vastly exaggerated Melbourne aeroplane incident, rumours on Twitter take flight and are accepted as reality when there’s no substance. This introduces more serious concerns about the spread of misinformation and the possibility of stolen identity.

Francis Matthew, editor at large of Gulf News, says: “There is a disturbing trend that you get a lot of personal impressions.  It’s very ‘me, me, me’ and there is not enough fact and authoritative third-party reporting. That’s a real danger.”

Then you throw brands into the mix. Marketers are getting involved in social networking – either reactively, to defend their reputations and answer complaints online, or proactively, by using these sites as a new way of  engaging with consumers.

But this is a difficult path to tread, says Mohamed Elzubeir of analysis agency Mediastow, as many web users react against what they see as corporate intrusion. “Very few brands have spokespeople who can connect with the public at such an intimate level,” he says.

So what do you think? Are sites like a Twitter a useful tool or are they turning us into dribbling, ignorant dummies?