NXNEi: The Social Media Circle Jerk

North by North East Interactive dropped in at the Hyatt Regency in Toronto for the first time this year as part of the North by North East festival. Workshops took place on Monday, with Tuesday and Wednesday filled with panels, presentations, and keynotes added to the events for films and music already taking place around the city.

As with any interactive conference, much of the focus was about social media, where it has been and where it was going. One of the most interesting panels of the day for me also had the most eye-catching title of them all: “Social Media Circle Jerking 101”. How could you not just stand up a bit with a name like that? The panel took a look at it and realized quickly that a circle jerk meant something different to each one of them.

While it may differ for each of us most of us, we have had those bothersome experiences using social media at some point because it is still relatively new. Ask Jamie Woo, the moderator who created the role of the Social Media Editor at the blog The Torontoist, who jumped right in at tackling his frustrations with social media, a topic that is not usually the focus of an entire panel. It was a great chance to take a critical look at how people and organizations use social media and the rules and traps they can fall into.

Andrew Lane of Weber Shandwick continues this line of thinking by saying that social media for many is all about the individual, self-fulfillment and is a way to get attention. Mark Evans, a consultant in digital and social media, says that many times people use social media to say what they never could get away with in person. That is something I think many of us have faced; social media can be an echo, and since you are not right in front of the person, how you talk changes.

A tweet can be read at a glance, and one thing Jamie found was that true useful criticism wasn’t taking place on Twitter. He thought due to the ease of following, unfollowing and blocking people, this made Twitter a safe place to provide constructive criticism. This has not proved to be the case in part because people most people try not to piss others off, so when you see someone call someone else out you know that is rare to most people on twitter.

You have to be careful of how you self censor yourself because it is so open. Welcome to the connected world: these platforms make it easy to broadcast your thoughts about anything, from what you had a lunch to your where you are going whether they have value or not – and sometimes that is the problem.

Mark said that one way to gauge if something is a circle jerk is to see if it has value to the reader. If it doesn’t, then the odds are it is a circle jerk. That is just part of the process in finding what works for us in this new space as we continue the transition into the new age of communication.