Dear Matt, we’ve never met. However, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet by branding yourself as a Facebook hater. As someone who spends a great deal of time explaining the worth of social media and as a general lover of all things digital, Facebook haters are a personal challenge of mine. I could start by starting a “Get Matt Labash on Facebook” fan page to prove to you my skill at viral messaging, but that would fall into the category of insipid ways to use Facebook and might unintentionally give you the impression that the Facebook community needs you. You seem intelligent, so I will try a different tactic. I will explain to you why Facebook matters.
Facebook is not about collecting friends, vague acquaintances, or long-lost loves. And Facebook is not about watching the minutes tick by as they complain about their smelly cab drivers. Facebook is about capturing the sentiment of America and the opinions that are driving them to act.
Ten, or even five, years ago, public opinion in this country was driven by a very elite caste of society; the people consultants like me call “opinion leaders.” We’ve all heard the statistics—these are the people with a high-net worth, college degrees, mortgages, and voter registration cards. They are the readers of magazines such as, oh, The Weekly Standard.
But as that group got lost in their Blackberries and BMW payments, a new group has emerged with a new power to drive public opinion. That group is the Everyman—or Every-Facetard, as you would call them.
The Every-Facetard is energized, connected, and deeply biased. They are biased towards their personal self-interests. While you find this superficial, I find it the single most important change in addressing how public sentiment can be influenced in America. In order for an issue to matter today, it must matter to the Every-Facetard, and it must matter in a way that drives them to act. Whether that act is to get Betty White on Saturday Night Live, donate to relief in Haiti, or elect a president.
In the time it took you to write your book and get published, millions of opinions and actions have been driven by the act of sharing information on Facebook. In fact, in the time it takes for someone to read the title of your book, a movement can be born. It’s the constant churn of thoughts, frustrations, and jubilations that now fills our world with information that is constantly being “focus group tested” by your circle of friends, your friends’ circles of friends, and so on. Information is the lynchpin of efficiency in the economic engine and this holds true in the marketplace of ideas as well. The more we know about what is happening around us, the better we can decide what to really care about.
Those who cringe at the mundaneness of it all are missing the point. Sometimes you have to cull through the mundane to fine a shiny idea. Sometimes it’s a number of boring ideas that spawns a great idea. Sometimes it’s just about knowing there are people are out there, going through what you are going through, that illuminates for us what matters. Between picking up the dry cleaning, posting pictures of Cabo, losing a dog, you find meaning. Facebook is about being human and what makes the human experience better or worse. For policy makers and all of us involved in the political process, isn’t that ultimately why we go to work?
Since you ended your tirade with a quote from my favorite author, I will leave you with a quote from another who also embodied the search for meaning in American life. “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Sue Zoldak is a Vice President at Goddard Claussen, a non-partisan issue advocacy firm, and can be reached at email@example.com.