Mitch Joel’s “Six Pixels of Separation” Review

I happen to be a strong advocate of Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation” for businesspeople and entrepreneurs who are relatively new to the world of digital marketing.  The book is unmistakably intended to be used as a catalyst to get a very specific audience involved in a newer area of business that is increasingly necessary.  Consequently, rudimentary details of social media use are largely omitted and replaced with the emphatic repetition of bigger-picture concepts.  Thinking like a businessman or an entrepreneur does, Mitch Joel employs numerous somewhat cliché, yet catchy and inspiring catchphrases and stories in order to deliver his readers a compelling call to action.

Although “Six Pixels of Separation” is from 2009, the vast majority of the concepts featured in the book still hold true.  Joel’s primary goal is to demonstrate to businesspeople that there is unlimited business potential in the online world, that if they don’t take advantage of the opportunity then their competitors will, and that the leap can be made somewhat seamlessly—as long as they have a proper understanding of what a successful online presence looks like and can develop an effective strategy accordingly .  A few major concepts about social media are broached multiple times throughout the book; these primarily include concepts of content, trust, commitment, and community.  These are, in actuality, fairly complex concepts, so Mitch Joel simplifies them and infuses them with powerful and inspirational messages.  For example, he gives a very good, concise list of do’s and don’ts for content creation, but he doesn’t delve into the intricacies of how these can potentially affect SEO.  Why?  Because for someone who is reluctant and/or fearful about venturing into social media, it is reasonable to assume that they simply would not be able to understand those concepts in their full capacities.  I have had significant exposure to digital marketing and I still don’t understand all of the nuances of SEO.  However, that is one of the primary intentions of Mitch Joel’s incessant encouragement for businesspeople to be mindful of their content.  And the book does tie this in rather well; in the very beginning there is a chapter that states “your business is not what you say it is, it’s what Google says it is.”  This bold statement is the simplest way that people could understand the power and business opportunities represented by search engines.  Later on, the book comes full circle when Joel explains fervently about how and why people need to maintain quality content.

Joel’s explanations of content are entirely appropriate for the target audience at hand.  He explains the potential range of content from text to images to audio and video, and then he explains the value of content diversity.  More importantly, however, is that he wraps that up by saying that not all of these potential content forms are fit for everybody; this is where the anchoring subject of strategy is tied in.  Although Mitch’s audience may be new to the online business world, they are likely not unfamiliar with business and strategic planning.  Mitch gives them the tools and information they need to assess on their own whether or not and what kinds of content would be worthwhile investments for their respective business goals and purposes.  Similarly, he presents an array of the opportunities for social media outlets businesses ought to consider venturing out into (which, naturally are somewhat outdated since this book is from 2009), and then gives the readers ample information to decide for themselves which of these outlets would best fit into their strategies.

On the note of social networking sites, which are perhaps some of the most daunting digital marketing concepts for unknowing businesspeople, as previously mentioned, Mitch Joel does not give the specific how-to’s of each website.  He does, however, tie them into a bigger picture message about online communication strategy.  Particularly effective for the marketing dinosaurs who are used to the mechanics of traditional marketing and advertising, he explains these outlets in a context of integration as well.  Integration, as it turns out, is a significant way that Mitch Joel connects to the audience; he provides a bridge between what is familiar and what is unfamiliar for the audience, and gives it an optimistic appeal that excites and makes sense to them.  So instead of explaining how each member of a company should tweet, Mitch Joel explains that online presence is further solidified and made more impactful as presence grows across various social media outlets—that is, assuming the content is diverse and valuable in all of them.  And this online presence can mutually reinforce the offline marketing and advertising efforts.  Advertising online is another concept that Joel touches on with regards to PPC and other options, but only in minor detail.  From what I gathered, the point of mentioning online advertising was more to spawn awareness of its existence and potential, as well as bridge the online and offline gap, rather than to delve deeply into the deepest technicalities of it.

The next, and indubitably one of the most important takeaways of Mitch Joel’s book is regarding trust.  Mitch Joel significantly writes that “trust + community = ROI.”  Return on investment is the one thing that is guaranteed to invoke the attention of conscientious businesspeople, and this is a concept that they can grasp.  Social media can often come off as fake or pointless to spectators who are unfamiliar with how it functions.  In fact, even people who are familiar or moderately familiar with it can maintain this perspective.  Mitch Joel’s goal here is to emphasize how important it is to see the value of a genuine attempt to put your business out there, give it a voice, interact with consumers, and grow a community.  He gives several powerful examples of how the cost of advertising is lowered tremendously when your loyal consumer-base advocates and advertises on your behalf for free.  Studies show that user-generated reviews and peer recommendations are supremely influential in purchasing decisions, and this is the very apex that defines the necessity of an online presence for businesspeople.  Not only is it a relatively low-cost investment (considering the price of advertising or generating content online versus offline—notwithstanding the costs of investing time and effort into social media campaigns), but it generates strong community-based sales effects.  Hence, we arrive at the very notion of “six pixels of separation;” whereas in the past, we could all be linked through a multitude of connections, now we have the capability of being instantly connected to exactly who we need to connect with.

In essence, “Six Pixels of Separation” is an empowering book that calls upon businesspeople and entrepreneurs who may not understand digital marketing to embrace it for the endless business opportunities it provides.  The inspirational narratives are intended not to instill false hopes in readers, but rather to speak to them in a language of empowerment and success, which undoubtedly resonates well with them (as evidenced by any business convention that has ever happened).  They don’t want to hear about theories and they don’t want to see empty speculation; they want to hear the facts, they want them to be corroborated, they want to feel inspired and they want to get a return on their investments.  This is how Mitch Joel’s book functions so beautifully.  It is not the only step, but it is a remarkable first step for newbies venturing down the digital road to success.

Sex[t] Ed.

Cell phone distribution is ever-increasing, we are living in an increasingly sexual consumer culture, and sexting has inevitably found its way onto most of our radars in some way.  Is it an issue?  I don’t know—perhaps we should ask Anthony Weiner.  Seriously though, whether we are partaking, contemplating a moral crusade against it, or feasting on it as our local news scandal fix, it is abundantly clear that sexting is a tremendously prevalent phenomenon in today’s society.  The larger issue, however (aside from Anthony Weiner and fellow pervs in the public eye), is that sexting has spread ominously into the realm of underage youth.  Stemming from being angry irrational drama queens in an incredibly vulnerable part of their lives, witnessing immense peer pressure, and myriad other reasons, teenage girls in particular are dangerously undertaking sexting.  This is certainly not all teenage girls, nor is it even a significant percentage.  In fact, according to Kimberly Mitchell’s study, only 9.6% of teenagers had sent or received nude pictures to/of peers.  Of those, only 2.5% actually appeared in the pictures.  So why is this such a massive and incredibly publicized issue?  Two words: child pornography.

Child pornography is, unquestionably an issue.  People (parents especially) intensely fear the nightmare audience—52 year-old predators—getting their creepy paws on naked pictures of their babies.  That is very rarely the case, but it is undeniably cause for concern.  It is better for those pictures simply not to exist just for the mere risk of that occurring.  But if we have such profound concern for the children who could be potentially victimized by such creepers, then why are our laws regarding sexting so unbelievably archaic and off-putting?  Specifically, as it stands now, a teenage girl who takes nude pictures of herself and distributes them is typically charged with a felony.  The ones whom the government sought to protect then become the very ones they victimize and destroy.  A 48-year old man stumbling across a nudie pic of a 14-year old is devastating, but so is that same 14-year old never being able to have a career or a normal life as a result of her troubling criminal record.  It’s a lose-lose situation.  One might then say, “Well, then why don’t those teens just not do it?”  That’s as good of a solution as exclusively promoting abstinence as birth control.  Sexual deviance is unfortunately a fact of youth culture.  Particularly so in the sex- and pressure-filled climate they live in today.  So, it is patently clear that we should take extra precautions to ensure that it doesn’t happen and give kids reason and encouragement not to partake.  For those who unfortunately do, however, there needs to be some kind of alternative.

Mitchell’s conclusion in her study stated, “subjecting youth to severe penalties for activities that would be legal for an 18 year old as long as no exploitation was involved is increasingly being recognized as draconian” (7).  Clearly, this is true, as more and more states are jumping onboard to find reasonable alternatives.  An NBC article from March 20th examines the new law in New Jersey around sexting and minors, which will be enacted in the next two weeks.  Under this law, “teenagers will be provided an educational program rather than criminal punishment for a first time offense.”  The article explains the benefits of this reform, quoting several entities, and drawing sexting back to the larger concept of bullying and abuse via technology.  I obviously agree with the reform of the law.  For the first time, the law will actually be true to its word on “protecting” young people.  And I think that education is indeed the best way of informing and reforming people (in spite of that ridiculously cliché MTV commercial—compelling stuff!).  That said, this article is also incredibly biased and flawed.

There is a side of sexting that never really makes it into the news.  This would be the Hasinoff-esque perspective that re-envisions sexting as a type of media production, and moreover as a kind of female empowerment.  The NBC article is quick to make a tie between cyberbullying and sexting.  In fact, this conclusion comprises about half of the entirety of the article.  In doing so, it completely discounts a) the fact that it is not always bullying—sometimes teen girls know exactly what they are doing and can/should take responsibility for it—and b) there can technically be a positive side of sexting, depending on how we look at it.  Amy Adele Hasinoff, in her “Sexting as Media Production” article, identifies the ways in which sexting can be a form of sexual freedom for teen girls.  I’m not saying I completely agree or disagree with it, but I do find it fascinating that this argument is almost completely ignored in the public eye.  A news search of sexting will provide articles on subjects largely having to do with victimizations and horror stories of youth, but also how sexting is destroying face-to-face intimacy, etc.  Why are we so quick to demonize sexting altogether, when such a small—albeit terrible—percentage of these cases are very seriously criminal?  Education, whether before or after sexting incidents, is a great start for informing youth, I believe.  For the rest of us, I really don’t know.  People are just so weird.

How Your Relationship gets Caught Up in the “Web” (and Eaten by Spiders)

Being a single old spinster gal, I haven’t experienced much of the drama or tension underlying the convergence of romantic relationships and social media.  On a subconscious level, however, I have always been acutely aware of it.  Each time Facebook relays relationship information about my peers, I am mesmerized.  I don’t have to know the people well, and I like to think my relatively insignificant level of “Facebook stalking” has spared me the red-flag level of voyeurism that plagues plenty of people on many social networking sites, but that is one thing that strangely captivates me.  I’m intrigued by what people will and won’t reveal about their relationships, how they publicly interact with their significant others over social networks, and how they interact with other people of the opposite sex when they are clearly (or not) in relationships.  This is why I was particularly interested when I found a local Colorado NBC News article, “Social media can both help and hurt real-life relationships.”  Having just watched the utterly disturbing documentary Life 2.0, this timely article piqued my interest.

The article begins by addressing the magnitude of how many people are using social media today, and on that note, seeks to issue a friendly Valentine’s Day warning: “Social networking sites can open a Pandora’s box of relationship destroyers – unleashing everything from affairs, the rekindling of past toxic relationships, jealousy, imaginary online relationships that replace face-to-face intimacy, and online stalking, to name just a few.”  That’s a pretty daunting “few.”  The rest of the article lists bullet points of the most common relationship problems developed or exacerbated through social media.  They begin with words like “Trust” or “It’s Permanent,” and follow with a definition of what that means and why it’s ominous.  While those theories are relatively interesting (and may be a good lesson for the legions of negligent internet idiots out there, what is slightly more interesting to me than the actual content of the article is the way in which it was written.

The article was undoubtedly written from a negative perspective on the role social media plays in relationships.  The bulk of the article comprises the problems caused by social media, and how and why to avoid them.  The other significant portion of the article builds up the importance and usage of social media, so as to frame the subsequent argument in the utmost profound context.  A reader begins with the notion of “wow, social media plays SUCH a huge role in my (and virtually everybody else’s) life—I really can’t imagine life without it.”  Then, they are hit with a cautionary warning about how their relationships are in jeopardy as a result of using those precise networks.  The beginning sends a message of profundity, community and solidarity, which is then shaken with fear over something highly personal, and issues stemming from things that most people are in some way guilty of doing.  What I love is that right before issuing the cautionary warning, the writer inserts a blind, uncorroborated “The potential to enhance intimate connections is unlimited.”  Despite the “unlimited” positive possibilities, the writer neglects to insert just one (Facebook sexting, anybody?).  And yet, negative consequences are doled out like they were kugel at a Yom Kippur break-the-fast.  There is definitely a clear bias.

Even the words selected to demonstrate the problems are spun.  One bullet features the bolded words “Full disclosure.”  Last I checked, this article wasn’t a legal briefing.  And the point the author is trying to make is that significant others should be public and honest about their relationship status on social networks.  Why they didn’t merely use the term “Honesty” is something I will be scratching my head about for the next while.  I do think that picking something so serious and negative sounding makes the issue sound worse.

Another interesting component of this article is that we don’t even know who the writer is, yet they have taken the liberty of giving the world some much-needed advice.  I don’t know how credible they are as relationship experts, but their suggestion surrounding trust issues is that “if a trust issue has come up and your relationship is potentially on the line, both partners should be willing to share e-mails, Facebook and text messages to provide reassurance.”  I may not be experienced in dating in the age of dominating social media, but I’m pretty sure that is a creepy suggestion.  At least for relationships that are not marriages.  And maybe even for marriages.  Regardless, that is a bold suggestion to make without readers even knowing the background of the writer.  I would feel more inclined to follow the advice of Sue Johanson, since I at least know who she is and that she is credible (though she is bizarre and makes me moderately uncomfortable).

I’m happy to read this article after viewing Life 2.0, because I think it reaffirms how I initially felt about the film.  I was upset by how biased people felt it was.  I felt like it was pretty honest.  Perhaps it felt negative because the truth is not pretty.  I thought it was fairly realistic, and as honest as the context and goals would allow for.  They did not ignore the positive components of the site (as a certain biased article mentioned above did…).  Even the people who had was one might construe as “sad” endings had happy and glorifying moments.  I think that is what I felt made it click.  I think people may not have appreciated the lack of coverage of users who went on Second Life “in moderation,” however, I’m quite certain that those types of people were not meant to be the means or ends of the documentary.  The goal was to depict three different (but probably common) types of situations for heavy users.  And in that frame, I think we got a pretty comprehensive view of what their lives, their behaviors, and their backgrounds entail.  It’s interesting how that kind of a film gets shot down by so many viewers because it is so bitterly honest, and yet people will glaze over an article like the one listed above and just mindlessly slurp up all the tips.  I will cease to be amazed by how little people can recognize what they are actually being manipulated by—but then again, it’s all subjective and nothing is without bias, so that is just my humble opinion.

Blog 1: Social Network[ing] Sites

Social media is a relatively new and constantly changing phenomenon.  As such, it is difficult to examine and interpret it in a truly scholarly way. Ellison and Boyd, however, took an honest shot, and for that, I must give them props.  Their primary goal is to establish a definition for what, exactly, social media means.  The result is a three-part definition that identifies social media as a “web-based services that allow individuals to (1)construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (211).  Next, they go about differentiating the online “Friends” (note the capital “F”) with offline friends.

Unsurprisingly, their attempt at defining and interpreting social media is not without enormous faults.  In trying to understand the phenomenon in an academic context, they end up understating and misconstruing a lot of information.  Their narrow definition of social media, for example, demonstrates their preoccupation with semantics over practice and ideology.  Boyd and Ellison dedicate a significant amount of time to their justification in opting out of the term “networking.”  They defend this for a few reasons, emphasizing that “what makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks” (211).  This is a bold statement.  The article is clearly outdated, but I am curious as to how Boyd and Ellison would react to the capability to hide one’s friend list (or rather, “Friend-list”) on Facebook.  And based on how I recognize and understand behavior around blogging and microblogging, I think that Boyd and Ellison are too quick to belittle the uniqueness and profoundness of connecting with strangers online.  Social networking sites are indeed unique because they allow individuals to meet strangers.  True, not all of them serve this purpose.  But some of the ones that do, such as Twitter (and many, many others), create a global community.  It is unique to be able to meet someone in a moderately personal, albeit online, setting across the world.  Prior to social networks, there were online chat rooms.  Despite the simple notion of being able to meet a stranger online in a chat room, it does not possess the same meaning or significance.  On a social network, one is more likely to be established and have a persona—even if that persona is not exemplary of how one is in their offline, everyday life.  It gives the phenomenon far more depth in that respect.

Per the “Friends” and “friends” differentiation, I am surprised.  I was struck a few years ago when a professor pointed out that the interactions that occur online are, indeed, “real.”  Many of us are quick to romanticize the “realness” of face-to-face interaction, when technically, interaction through other mediums are every bit as “real” as that of face-to-face.  I think that perhaps because online communication is still so new and so consistently evolving, it is difficult for many of us to comprehend.  This is in large part due to the fact that social networks involve a set of communicative rules that inform and are influenced by the norms and reality of online communication.  Boyd and Ellison deem online relationships “Friends” with a capital “F” because “the connection does not necessarily mean friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied” (213).  This is an absolutely ridiculous claim.  If that is the case, then we must go back to the tradition of pen pals and capitalize the “p” in “pals.”  The internet is not the first incident of strange or unconventional communication with strangers.  Writing and telephone were likely broached with the same insecurity and confusion with which Boyd and Ellison approach social media.  I don’t think it is entirely their fault; I do believe that because they were examining the phenomenon in such an early phase of its existence, their results simply don’t apply now in the way that they might have several years ago.  In fact, I cannot say with any security that a study conducted today would even have any significance or validity in social media within the next 5 years.  The rapidity and consistency with which it changes, then, I think is a more important subject to understand before we try to set some confining rules over what social media entails.  Then, I believe that we will begin to understand what social media truly is when we understand how and why people are using it.