Editor’s Desk

Column: In-box me, if you’re still out there

November 18, 2013 

If it seems like the crush of social media options is just overwhelming at times, there’s hope on the horizon. Regular readers of this column have seen me vent my frustration over the difficulties I’ve experienced just communicating with my own children even as we expanded the tools in our communication tool box. Email used to the primary way we communicated electronically.

But then came Facebook and my children all but abandoned email. Soon I was sending them emails and realizing that I needed to alert them to that fact by sending them a Facebook message.

Now, it seems that’s on the verge of obselesence as they (and many like them) have abandoned Facebook for Twitter. Now my Facebook messages go largely unheeded and I find it necessary to chat them up on Twitter.

On Tuesday, I spoke to a group of middle school students at Wendell Middle. As I was talking to them about careers in the newspaper business I explained that newspapers, too, use social media to reach readers who may not pick up an actual newspaper to read it.

Figuring they were about the age of folks who really start investing their time in social media, I asked how many of them had a Facebook page. Most of them raised their hands, but one boy in the back of the room explained that, while he has a Facebook page, he doesn’t look it very much.

Instead, he tweets, or posts photos on another social networking site called Instagram. Like my own, slightly older children, today’s middle schoolers seem to be abandoning Facebook in favor of Twitter.

The shift is also apparent in the two company’s stock prices and in the experience both had when they first became publicly-traded companies.

Facebook’s IPO was disappointing according to many analysts. Opening day prices weren’t quite where investors expected them to be. And the stock price has tumbled since that initial public offering in May, 2012.

Twitter, though it’s still very much in the early days of its history as a publicly-traded company, has fared much better thanks to some of the decisions the company’s owners made prior to the IPO.

Regardless of the business decisions the two social media giants have made, perhaps the greatest judge of the companies’ success will come from people like the students I heard from Tuesday. People like those students are important to both companies because they serve as a barometer for the popularity of each outlet.

If investors sense that a major demographic group of customers is shifting its allegiances from one to the other, it could doom the loser to a MySpace-like relegation to second- or third-class status.

If there’s any good news in all that, it’s this: For an older generation, the death of one social media outlet - even if it’s a slow death - makes it easier for a generation that didn’t grow with computers to sift through all the chatter.

That might not be all bad. Communicating with teenagers, even in the best of times, is a challenge. Trying to figure out what social media site they are hanging out in today can be a bigger hassle than just talking to them across the supper table.

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