Peter Shankman on the Future of Social Media

When my CEO sent me a friend request on Facebook last year, I had to rethink how I was using the site.

When Facebook changed its Terms of Service earlier this month, before quickly backtracking in the face of a growing uproar, I started to rethink my approach to social media overall.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation/Q&A with social networking guru Peter Shankman — who suffers from a self-described extreme case of ADOS (Attention Defici- Oh, Shiny!) and an abundance of eccentric charisma (one of his many claims to fame is as the original creator of the “It Sank. Get Over It!” t-shirts) — and while it was targeted to PR professionals and focused on his terrific Help a Reporter Out initiative, there were a lot of general marketing-related takeaways that I found interesting.

I wish I had taken notes, or live-Tweeted some of his comments, but I was so engaged in the moment that I didn’t want to be distracted by trying to share it with others!

PR is the most effective form of marketing and, these days, we’re all marketers at some level, no matter what our actual job title is or income bracket we’re in. We’re all influencers, and while our respective tribes might be small, through social networking we have exponentially more individual power than ever before. It’s something publishers are slowly realizing, though some might argue, much too late.

Shankman spoke a lot about Twitter, but went beyond the usual hype of it being the platform du jour, offering some excellent tips on communicating effectively that were just as applicable to email, telephone and in-person communication. We’re bombarded with an average of 17,000 separate demands on our attention every day — from family and co-workers to email to “don’t walk” signs —  so getting to the point quickly is crucial.

On Twitter (he’s @skydiver), brevity also happens to be a requirement: 140 characters to get your point across; always add value to the stream.

ie: don’t just Tweet “I’m eating yogurt.” Instead, Tweet “Pinkberry has 50% off coupons all day, today only.”

Shankman noted Facebook’s most frustrating feature, its lack of differentiation amongst “friends”, how there’s currently no distinction made between his mother, his girlfriend, his other girlfriend, and some guy he met at a bar the other night. You can use their privacy features to selectively screen content, but it’s a cumbersome process that’s impossible to have much confidence in. There’s also the “problem” of its limitation of 5,000 friends for any account.

He’s not a fan of LinkedIn, noting that glowing recommendations don’t mean a thing in the hiring process, and that there’s much more value in a potential employer seeing who your friends are and what they’re doing on Facebook vs. what they’re saying about you on LinkedIn.

I agree on both counts and think Facebook could immediately make LinkedIn irrelevant if they added better screening functionality than “Limited Profile” currently provides.

Most interesting, though, was his vision of social media’s future — which I’m totally paraphrasing here — where a Facebook-style platform takes things to the next level, leveraging the various intersections of our online lives and the information so many of us freely share about ourselves, and building a smart, real-time lifestream that emphasizes the activities of those we’re closest to or are on the verge of closing in on.  He gave a great example of friends from London being deemphasized in your stream because of the physical distance between you, suddenly being emphasized by a real-life trigger, like the purchase of plane tickets to London. The emphasis would happen slowly, starting a couple of weeks before your trip and increasing steadily until you actually headed overseas; this would be duplicated on their end, so that by the time you arrive, or perhaps even before, you’ve reconnected organically in your respective lifestreams, and presumably in the real world, too.

Surprisingly, to me at least, he predicts this is no more than 3-4 years down the road!

There’s a bit of a Big Brother feel to it all, but like the Facebook Terms of Service dustup, you realize the only way to avoid it is to opt out completely, something many of us either don’t really have a choice about because of the professional worlds we work in, or because we’re already in so deep it’s too late to turn back.

He made a funny point about people resisting television at first, too, until they realized no one could see into their homes from the other side of the screen. Of course, while that’s literally true, it’s also pretty much wrong, even more so nowadays as social networking completely tears the roof off our old ideas about privacy and flattens the world around us.

PS: Shankman also recommended reading Raving Fans, piquing my interest when he shot down a comparison to my beloved Tribes, praising Godin’s work but suggesting Fans was a more relevant book. It’s now on my wish list to purchase on my next Amazon run.

NOTE: The event was organized by Progressive PR Professionals, sponsored by the Strategic Communications program at Columbia, and hosted by GLAAD. Many thanks to all!

One thought on “Peter Shankman on the Future of Social Media

  1. I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about where my cyber life and my real (not the best term, I know) life come together. At this moment, it seems that the two are nearly separate, connected only by me. And I don’t know what to conclude from that and/or what actions to take, if any.
    Online, I do feel like I get to “cut to the chase,” so to speak. That is to say, I can talk about the things I want to almost immediately….poetry, social change, media, social networking.

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