A couple of weeks ago Ashton Kutcher gave me a virtual smack on the nose. Don’t worry. I don’t plan on making this my claim to fame. I had tweeted moments before that he and Oprah didn’t seem to get that Twitter is about ‘tweeting AND listening’ and this was his response. I’ll say here what I said to my buddy Ashton in my reply – I want to be wrong. But I don’t think I am. See, engagement is a two way street. Social media isn’t taking off the way it is because we can more easily push information to the masses, that’s just part of it. It’s become a social phenomenon because of the interactive element – we put information, opinions and content into the universe and people respond to it. We have whole conversations, sometimes in 140 characters or less. But we have them. And sometimes we have them with people we might never have known or connected with had it not been for this digital network. I’ve always said that the web is the great equalizer – it gives us access to people and ideas that 20 years ago would have been impossible to touch. What’s more, because of the web, we can influence those ideas. Social media has taken that a step further by adding immediacy to the equation. I can tweet a question, a news link, an opinion, a conversation starter, and I get an immediate, and sometimes very diverse set of responses. It’s conversation in real time.
Before I got too far down the road in this discussion I wanted to make sure that my perspective on Twitter was accurate. What was the point? I mean — I see what the value is, and how it has evolved, and how the audience has responded to it. But I wanted to understand the thinking that was the impetus for Twitter. I happened upon this February article from the Los Angeles Times that discusses that very thing – why Twitter came to be. The article is sort of fascinating. But the piece that I found really intriguing was this:
The whole bird thing: bird chirps sound meaningless to us, but meaning is applied by other birds. The same is true of Twitter: a lot of messages can be seen as completely useless and meaningless, but it’s entirely dependent on the recipient. So we just fell in love with the word. It was like, “Oh, this is it.” We can use it as a verb, as a noun, it fits with so many other words. If you get too many messages you’re “twitterpated” — the name was just perfect.
“Meaning is applied by OTHER birds.” My issue with Oprah, and even Ashton, is that this social universe isn’t just about collecting followers. It’s about conversing with them. It’s tweeting and listening. It’s hearing them. Real engagement happens between people, not from them. So, while Ashton’s 1 million plus followers, and Oprah’s nearly 900,000 followers are impressive (to someone, I’m sure), they aren’t really the point. When I responded to Ashton’s reply to me I also said that I worry that this kind of communication will just be an extension of the celebrity bubble. I can expand on that here, because it’s my blog and I get more than 140 characters. Those beautiful people in Hollywood that entertain us on the big and small screens are called celebrities because we celebrate them. They are created and supported like any brand and, after a while, they are so insulated from the realities of everyman that they buy into their own celebrity. I mean, come on, how can they not? It’s the only world they know. And we’re as guilty of it as them – -we’re the ones who elevate them and give them this kind of power and hang on their every word. So Oprah really demonstrated a kind of entitlement that must come with celebrity when she signed up for Twitter, tweeted other celebrities right out of the gate, followed only 11 people (to the 900,000 following her), and now tweets every few days about random stuff (when she remembers to tweet). She’s not really responding to anyone. She’s not hearing people respond to her. Essentially what’s happening here is Twitter is another channel for Oprah to broadcast her wisdom.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no different than any other woman in this country. I love Oprah. I would vote for her if she ran for president. But I still don’t think she gets the *social* part of social media. And that’s fine too. She doesn’t have to. She’s OPRAH, for god’s sake. But what an amazing missed opportunity. For her and for us. Am I naive enough to think Oprah should respond to every nutjob who tweets in her direction? No. Am I stupid enough to think Oprah needs to bump up the people she follows to 900,000? No. But I do wish she’d take an interest in people that aren’t Larry King or Ashton or Demi. Because that’s the beauty of what’s happening here. It’s not our perfect figures or faces, our wallets or our celebrity that matter here (in the social media space). It’s our ideas. It’s our participation. It’s what we add to the experience. It’s how we listen to and respect and interact with others. We’re just birds. Oprah is just a lone tweeter. Tweeting at a wall. A lone bird isn’t music. It needs other birds to create a sound that stops you dead. That cacaphony. That symphony that gets you looking up and smiling and realizing what happens when birds are truly engaged. Oprah needs other birds.