My social media breakthrough: How my father’s passing shaped my feelings on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus

July 8 2011

As I process everything that has happened in June, I am starting to pick out a few lessons learned that I can remember and apply to my life. One of those lessons is around social media engagement. It just happens that I identified the lesson just as Google Plus was launching. Actually, the first 48 hours of my usage of Google Plus really hammered it home. Let me explain.

On June 1st, the day my father has his heart attack, I posted a single note on Twitter about it. That posting made it to Facebook (because I auto-populate my tweets to Facebook). My uncle, while I was in the air, posted a note to my father's Facebook page directly. I didn't do anything else until I tweeted he passed, which also went to Facebook. I then wrote the blog entry and it made it's way to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, and all of the other social networks I barely use (Buzz, FriendFeed, etc). I then posted that blog entry on my Dad's page. Outside of Facebook, Twitter, and that blog entry, the only other communications I made were email (family, PSC, friends), a few texts, and calls to Dad's friends.

On the 1st, I had almost 400 tweets, about 50 direct messages, and about 200 posts and messages on Facebook. It was an outpouring of support I did not expect. It was amazing. As life moved on and I was getting ready for the memorial on the 23rd, I watched something happen that still floors me. My father had gone to his 50th high school reunion in October of 2010. He drove up to Detroit, MI where he grew up and attended the event. I didn't know but his reunion was why he joined Facebook. He had connected with about 50 of his classmates. One of those people saw the message and asked if they could spread the news to the reunion group - via Facebook and email. Between the time I left Orlando on the 7th and got back on the 20th (of June), there were over 100 messages and 20 cards. My friends, led by Gab Davis, has set up a donation in my father's name to Reading is Fundamental. At current count, over 100 people have donated to RIF in his name, and that doesn't include the donation that PSC made.

I felt such joy and wonder for this reaction. It was heartwarming to read how my Dad had impacted so many people. As I read thru some of his correspondence on Facebook, I was taken aback and just how much the communication channel of Facebook has facilitated this. At the same time all of this was going down, the 1992 graduating class of Wheaton Central High School started to plan our 20 year reunion for next summer. Done 100% on Facebook. This is where the lighting bolt hit me.

People love Facebook because it allows them to bridge communication gaps that are traditionally hard. Very few actually write written correspondence these days. Email and Phone (voice or text) is easier, but it isn't the best for group correspondence. The ability to search for someone by criteria that is not on a business card makes Facebook the king here. Sure, I can find someone on LinkedIN by a school name and year, but try doing that for high school! To reinforce this idea, I decided I needed to create a test.

The test: locate a lost grade school friend of mine from the Rochester, MI area. We haven't talked since I was 19. I know his name, his grade school, his high school, and his graduation year. Do a search on each site and see how long, if even possible, it takes to find them. And the results:

Google: none of the 5 searches I did brought back a hit in the first 3 pages (turns out that when I searched for name + high school + graduation year, his Facebook page was listed on page 22 as I found later)
Facebook: Found in 1 search by typing name in the search box, selecting "People" from the left, changing the filter to "Education" and then entering his high school in there. He was the first result.
LinkedIN: I did not find him using the criteria I had. Once I located him on Facebook, I was able to find his LinkedIN profile. He didn't have his high school listed on there.
Twitter: no results found his twitter profile and still not sure if he has one.

Does anyone think Google Plus would be any better? It's not even close to being able to work in that situation. I know, it's early beta, that isn't a fair scenario. Fine. How about the one about connecting with my fathers high school classmates? Nope. Posting a message on his page so people could see it? nope. Google Plus has a long way to go before it even gets into the conversation as being as useful as Facebook here.

Don't get me wrong. I think Google Plus has lots of possibilities. Like any other ASW, I like the idea of another place to pimp my content. Any vehicle that let's me engage with the audiences I choose to is a good thing. But Robert Scoble wrote two great posts to react to some of the 'Google Plus is going to kill Facebook' meme going on. Why yo momma won’t use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end) and Why yo daddy won’t use Google+: no noise control are both great posts. I think Scoble hits the key thing: Google Plus can't push Facebook out from #1 if it doesn't cater to the casual user. A person like my father. Someone who just wanted to see what his kids and friends were posting. Who engaged with people he hadn't seen in 50 years but shared memories of football games and what music was popular the year they graduated. Out of the 750 million users on Facebook, only a portion give a crap about 'how to engage in social media' or 'how to make their page have better SEO.' They care about getting people an invite to their BBQ and looking thru pictures from the past weekend. They want to play a few mindless games and have fun. For those people, Google Plus will not be fun. Google Plus is far too like FriendFeed or Buzz than like Twitter or Facebook right not. Both in design and how most of the people on their are talking about Google Plus, not content that lets me engage with that person on a personal level.

 I won't stop using Google Plus. But I have decided to take a different approach to it. I am not following everyone. The Twitterati or the digerati or the social media 'experts' or 'gurus' or the celebrities won't have any place in my Google Plus circles. I want to engage with people I know or share common interests. Without major changes to the site, my mother and siblings and friends who don't give a crap about technology or who's who won't go near it.