In Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch Joel attempts to persuade and wrangle a generation of social media neophytes to the business side of social media. Specifically, he aims to highlight the benefits of using the internet and various social media forums when being used in conjunction with business and entrepreneurship. His “how-to” guide is predicated on his notion that “the traditional channels of marketing, communications advertising and public relations can be costly and prohibitive to some businesses” and believes that more contemporary tools of social media are more effective than those traditional channels.
However, what could have been a useful “how-to” guide lost itself in repetitive platitudes and became a mere transcribed motivational speech as the book continued. In the first chapter Joel expresses the six social needs that get fulfilled by social media:
1.)Online social networks provide people w/the ultimate tool for defining and redefining themselves
2.) Autonomy, recognition & achievement are essential to our self-worth & are fulfilled in online communities.
3.) People have a need to seek help and provide help to others.
4.) Online communities help people find people “just like them”
5.) A sense of belonging or affiliation alone is not equivalent to a true sense of community.
6.) People want to be reassured of their worth and value, and seek confirmation that what they say and do matters to others and has an impact on the world around them.
^These are the types of lists Joel rattles off that sound great when somebody is talking but then after reading are hard to put to good use. It seems obvious that social media helps people have a need to seek help and provide help to others. I know that the audience of his book is not me or probably anybody I know. I understand that his audience is one, possibly two generations older than I am, a generation that didn’t grow up with the internet and social media and so don’t find it as intuitive or essential to their career path as somebody my age might. However, just because his audience is older, and perhaps a little tech-challenged, doesn’t mean they’re completely brainless. Repetitive platitudes can only go so far, and I think where Joel falls short is his concrete advice. For example, one of Joel’s 6 ways to build a strong community was “build ripples, not splashes” a pretty metaphor that encouraged future internet/social media users to try to generate powerful conversations (ripples) about their product, but failed to express how they should. No offense to Joel, but that’s not exactly a unique piece of advice; building positive conversation about your product, brand or idea is useful whether it’s online or off.
In fact, that’s the problem with Joel’s advice: it’s inherently contradictory. He spends his time trying to cater to an audience that he thinks is afraid or just too proud to embrace social media, but can hardly engage them in the promises the internet has to offer when he offers advice like his 5 C’s of entrepreneurship (Connecting, Creating, Conversations, Community and Commerce) none of which have anything to do with the technological business age that we live in. In fact, it would have been better for him to use more technical jargon and include tedious steps of creating groups and instructions for what makes a good online profile rather than ambiguous over-arching themes like “create” and “connect”…his audience has most likely “created” or “connected” in the physical world, their problem is that they don’t understand how to do it in the online realm. He’s merely preaching to the choir, not giving them advice they can utilize.