Social Media Circus

By: Annet Bos
On: October 16, 2011
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About Annet Bos
Master student New Media after finishing the bachelor Media and Culture @ UvA | MediaLAB student 2010 | interested in how new media affect soceity | entrepreneurship | field hockey player | travel addict


Last week I saw Boom Chicago‘s ‘Social Media Circus‘ comedy show. With sketches, improvisation, stand-up, video and music the actors provide a hilarious show “deflating the hype, speaking the truth, attacking the fools and celebrating the heroes”. It is the only theatre show where they will ask the audience to let their mobile phones on (on silence mode). You’re free to use their wi-fi and make comments via Twitter which you will see back on a big screen next to the stage.

Social media is hot, they claim, but isn’t it too hot?

“Let’s take a deep breath and think this through. Most Facebook friends aren’t real friends, after all. LinkedIn won’t get you a better job. And the majority of tweets are just boring.”

We see how a guy gets picked out of the audience and needs to show his Facebook page. The crew pick a letter and the profile of the first name to pop up in his friendlist is shown. The guy has to answer some questions. Is this a good friend? (yes). When is the last time you spoke to her? (about 6 months ago). Then the others in the audience can decide wheter to keep or to unfriend this person real time by making as much noise as possible. Of course, everyone got ‘dumped’. Besides Facebook Twitter is of course also made fun of. “You’re most loyal follower is not on Twitter. It’s your dog”. And then there is Marktplaats (de Dutch equivalent of e-Bay). One of the actors made a prank phone call to the advertizer of some silly product being sold on Marktplaats, where the actress had to use certain words and phrases chosen by the audience before.

The show was funny, sometimes even hilarious, and a lot of times a bit dull, silly and cliche.  But it made me think. Are we indeed living in a social media circus? Is ‘hype’ the right term to describe the phenomenon? I don’t think we can still speak of it that way. Not as being a hype, it has proved itselves too stable (and useful) for that. But I do see something in the word ‘cricus’.

The popularity of social networking sites is growing and growing. The attention to the death of Steve Jobs, who’s products have a lot to to with new/social media, was overwhelming and when the internet services of Blackberry crashed lately, the sky was falling. As a response to this, many jokes circulated around Facebook and Twitter, as e.g. “what does my microwave that your Blackberry doesn’t? *ping*”, a joke that would not have been misplaced in the Boom Chicago show. Aslo read in the media lately: a cafe in Zwolle (Hete Brij) refuses the mobile phone scrabble game Wordfeud, after they have had too many customers playing this with as a result a lot less talking and communication. Wordfeud has become very popular in a very short period of time. It is not only customers that seem to be ‘obsessed’ with the game, also large companies and brands have interfered, which revealed into a social media ‘battle’. Big names as Heineken, KLM and Vodafone have Photoshopped an image of a Wordfreud screen and put words referring to their brand in it.

Social media played a big role in the revolutions of the Arab Spring. “The way these revolutions began called the World off guard. The weapons of the activists of the so-called Arab Spring were not guns and bombs, but the internet and mobile phones.” (Mishal Husain ‘How Facebook changed the World: The Arab Spring’). In this documentary BBC journalist Mishal Husain shows how the activists reported the protests that were going on, while the mass media hardly didn’t. The reports got spread on social media platforms, mainly Facebook. The following massive indignation was one of the causes of the protests. It clearly shows what kind of a snowball effect social media can cause.

Not only politics and revolutions, but also branding and PR are more and more about social media. Online marketing, e-commerce, all can be seen on social media platforms. Maybe social media is a circus, at least it can be a serious circus.

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