Social Networks: Compatible or Competitive?
I was in Las Vegas, but it wasn't all just spending quality time with blogging buddies. There was work to do - we were there for the Social Health track (sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, MedPage Today, Alliance Health, Campaign for Nursing, and WEGO Health) to help inform others about the discussions taking place in the medical blogosphere, and the power of these communities.
The panel that I was participating on was Social Networks & The Medical Blogosphere: Compatible or Competitive, with fellow panelists Kevin Pho and Bryan Vartabedian, moderated by the fabulous Kim McAllister. The big question was "Are these social networking technologies helping or hurting the blogosphere?"
Our BlogWorld panel: Kerri Sparling, Kevin Pho, and Bryan Vartabedian
We, as a panel, gave this a lot of thought as we prepared for our discussion, and we ultimately settled on the answer of "Well … both."
Blogging was the first online venture I participated in. Back in 2005, I started my blog to help me connect with and participate in inspiring a community of other people with diabetes. At first, I started posting several times a month, then once a week or so, until I realized that I've been posting every weekday for the last three years. The posts are written by me, for the most part, and the comments are from the readers I have been blessed enough to have over the years.
So I blogged for a few years, but then there was this whole crop of different social networking tools that came on the scene with prevalence and relevance, with Facebook and Twitter leading the pack. Our panel was trying to figure out whether or not these new tools were helping move the blogosphere forward or assisting in clipping its wings.
For me, the blog is my online home. It's public-facing, open to any reader (whether they comment or not - I love the lurkers), and it's where I write daily about my life with diabetes. While I do have a Facebook page (two, actually - one for my family only and then one for everyone else) and an active Twitter account, I would delete both of those profiles if it came down to choosing between them and my blog. I like having "home base." It makes me feel safe.
But my blog is almost always a once-a-day post, with comment moderation and responses. I don't have a running, real-time discussion on my blog, like I do on networks like Twitter and Facebook. (Maybe because "social networks" have mobile apps? Is it true that online adventures are going more mobile, and anything that's not easily accessible from a mobile device will be left behind?)
One of the questions was about whether or not participating in social networks impedes content creation and participation on your blog. While I do agree that lots of comments take place on Twitter and Facebook, instead of in the formal comments section of my site, I don't think this detracts from my site. Actually, I think it helps extend its reach, in a controlled way. Links are reTweeted all over the place and Facebook friends often leave comments on the Six Until Me page, so the discussion is taking place in a lot more venues, giving the chance for diabetes-related commentary to reach outside the confines of our little (but powerful!) blogosphere.
Sites like Twitter and Facebook help to drive traffic back to blog content. Also, Facebook helps provide a more "shielded" area for health care discussions. Twitter helps flesh out the patient personality behind the blog, giving real-time access to disease management strategies. Twitter and Facebook also offer a place to share links that might not inspire a full blog post (or ones that don't have any diabetes relevance at all). Posting pictures and thoughts that I'd prefer to have either in short-form or "behind the wall." Each different posting venue (i.e. blogging, Tweeting, or Facebook) has its own set of pros and cons. But, without a doubt, all three can be time-consuming.
But there can be waaaaay too much naval-gazing on fast-paced sites - Twitter in particular - ("I just ate a croissant and am now covered in flaky bits.") and it can be challenging to make a discussion point within the 140 character limit. Also, applications like Foursquare can be very dangerous if people are giving too much information about their regular day's business. Sharing information like that opens Tweeters up to stalking issues.
What's the future? I think blogs will remain in the mix, and a big part of the discussion. If a blogger can retain their editorial integrity and keep their online presence consistent, blogging and social media can and will go hand-in-hand. I believe that people will phase out of the "Oooh, how many 'likes' do I have today?" and will move away from the popularity contest aspect of social media. Instead, good content will rise to the top. As it always does, regardless of the newest and shiniest tool.
Do you think Facebook and Twitter are going to kill the blogosphere? (Is a "blog" become like a rotary phone?) Or will dedicated bloggers stand the test of time and new technology?