Celebrated writer and thought leader Malcolm Gladwell is relatively – and deliberately – absent from the social media landscape. His blog posts are biannual, his Facebook page is void of content and his Tweets are few and far between. The Globe and Mail spoke with Gladwell during his recent trip to Vancouver to gauge his perspective on social media, and to understand why he hasn’t capitalized on it to promote his work.
While Gladwell’s overall assessment is that the balance of social media’s innovation is a net good, he also believes it bears some deficiencies;
The ease with which you can organize people means you no longer have to go to the trouble of things like building strong grassroots organizations, developing a coherent message, forming strong and lasting ties with individuals.
Gladwell also doesn’t believe that social media equates with emotional connection or engagement, instead relying on other platforms to communicate his thinking and work over the long-term;
If you follow me on Twitter, I do not own your heart. I may own your pocketbook momentarily. And I may own your attention for five seconds, but that’s it.
Arguably, his most interesting perspective is around the ubiquitous question of identifying social media’s tipping point, and long-term viability;
The problem is, we’re still in the experimental phase. The thing about Facebook is, it’s insanely new. This world of the Internet, if we know anything from its brief history, it likes nothing more than to build someone up only to topple them. Who has an AOL account these days? Not that long ago, AOL was the single most powerful player on the Internet. Who has a MySpace account these days? MySpace sold for billions of dollars not that long ago. I’m very reluctant to crown Facebook king of the future. They certainly are flavour of the month. This is not a world that respects loyalties and longevity.
While most of us may take a less accusatory perspective on social media and its benevolent or malevolent desires, Gladwell doesn’t prognosticate on social media’s future, or on the longevity of today’s key players. The rapid pace of change and relative unpredictability of when consumers’ rapt attention will become boredom is an ongoing challenge for social media players to continually understand their users, lifestyles and consumption habits – and to adapt to keep them engaged.