What’s the value of social media?

A couple of nights ago I joined a few friends for an after dinner drink on the rooftop. One of them informed me that he had just joined twitter and concluded that it was nothing but a waste of time. A 45 minute debate began. Here are some of the things I took from that debate.

People waste *a lot* of time on social media, yes. But is there actual value to it?

As for most things in my life, I like to apply the law of diminishing marginal utility. I believe that consuming social media up to the point in which you are getting the most for how much time you put to it can yield great benefits. Spending any more time than that, would result counterproductive.

I will not get into whether looking at pictures of your new born niece, or knowing what your friends are doing at any given time adds more value than the time you “waste” on it. It is too subjective, but here are some examples in which I have personally benefited from devoting <140 characters to my social networks.

Customer service: I have found myself in a pinch trying to find something specific at a grocery store. So, instead of going from store to store looking for it, or calling and trying to navigate through the touch tone menu I generally just tweet at them. @wholefoodsATX is notably the best responder. Many times they have answered my questions instantly (including the isle number in which I can find a product) and even offered to buy me a breakfast taco when I tweeted that a bird outside the store attempted to steal the one I was holding away. (I love Whole Foods!)

Recently I was on an American Airlines flight DFW-MEX and 45 minutes before landing we were told that we had to return to DFW do to problems with the navigation system which would impede us from landing in MEX. It caused a total delay of about 4 hours. I [somewhat] jokingly sent the following tweet:

A few days later I was informed that 4,000 miles would be added to my account. Score!

Networking: One of the arguments the person I was debating with brought up was that no one can have 500+ “real friends” so Facebook is really just a popularity contest. I see Facebook as a directory of my connections. A way to easily find people I have met in the past, and although I do not necessarily try to keep an active conversation with them, I know that they would help if I ever traveled to their city, for example. Inversely, I am more than happy to provide information to them.

Recently I expressed interest in moving to San Francisco in my status message. Immediately, people I had not talked to in a long time who live in the bay area leaped to my aid. They offered to send my resume around and to give me advise on places to live, restaurants, etc…

I could provide a million other example in which social media has brought value to my life, but it would make this post so long that it would immediately diminish the utility you are (hopefully) getting from reading it! My conclusion is: Social Media is as useful as you want it to be. When committing to creating an account on a platform ask yourself what you want to gain from it. The quality of information is dependent on who you follow and how you use it.

Finally, I asked my followers in which way SM enriches their life, here are some of the responses:

@lizwinks I’ve meet an incredible number of really wonderful people that I never would have known without it, and now enjoy new friends.

@lizwinks – Massive amounts of information with very little effort.

@lizwinks It allows are widely diverse population to interact and communicate directly in ways never before possible.