Facebook creeping for new news

BY ADAM SULLIVAN | JUNE 11, 2009 7:26 AM

“I want to just delete all the information off my Facebook profile,” a friend recently told me. “Then I’ll just use my account to look at what everyone else is doing.”

There’s a name for “looking at what everyone else is doing.” It’s called Facebook creeping. Forget statistical probabilities, social sciences, and archeological processes; if there’s one thing college students (myself undoubtedly included) know well, it’s Facebook creeping.

While it is, by definition, creepy, there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, I do it literally (but not really “literally”) all the time. Really, Facebook creeping is a great use of social networking.

Social networking — that’s kind of a queer term, isn’t it? It’s too young to be defined in either the Oxford or Meriam-Webster dictionaries. The one thing both words have in common, though, is that they are supposed to go both ways. The “both ways” part is what big companies — recently one of the biggest presences on the social networking scene — are missing.

There has been a huge push just in the past year to put social networking to work. Businesses, pseudointellectual bloggers, and politicians have enlisted Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace as a means of promoting their content, products, and information. These social networkers are really good at the output aspect of social networking; they cram links down your throat until you can barely breath. The intake part, though, (because, remember, social networking should move both ways) is where they’re lacking.

The solution to this online ill? Creeping.

Late last month, Jennifer Preston, the New York Times’ social-networking director, started an account on Twitter. Her inaugural post set off a near firestorm in the new media world. She said, “Hi, I’m the NYT’s new social-media editor. More details later. How should @nytimes be using Twitter?”

It was a simple enough question. The resounding answer? Pay attention.

The New York Times has numerous Twitter accounts. Its headline account, named simply nytimes, has more than 1 million users, a milestone only a dozen or so other users have reached. However, the account only follows around 150 users, almost all of whom are Times employees.

What do those numbers mean? More than anything, they indicate that while lots of people are paying attention to what the historic New York publication has to say, said publication isn’t paying attention back.

Moreover, the nytimes account is used entirely to post headlines and links; it essentially functions as an RSS feed.

Instead of using social networking to spew its links onto the World Wide Web, new outlets, celebrities, and businesses (anyone with something to sell, really) would do much better to utilize social networking as a means of eaves dropping on the masses; indeed, these entities should “creep” on their (potential) customers, consumers, and viewers. Never before has anyone had the opportunity to be tied in to such a far-reaching network of people.

At the DI, I operate a Twitter account called DrDaily (available at www.Twitter.com/drdaily). Dr. Daily is meant to be a personable online embodiment of the newspaper. I use him to promote our website by posting links to stories, but more importantly, I use him to tune into what readers are talking about. I can pick up on criticism, find out what people are interested in, and catch potential story ideas.

If newspeople can effectively use the Internet to communicate and converse with the masses, they will undoubtedly put out a better product. While we can’t know in what form journalism will ultimately end up, I can say with some certainty that the more connected we are to the world, the better chance we have of surviving.

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