April 2, 2020

Social Media Isn’t A Cocktail Party

Stephen M. FellsContributor: Stephen M. Fells

If I called you stupid I wouldn’t expect a positive response. Few people, when asked “So, who here is an idiot?” will eagerly raise their hand, yet rarely do we react when faced with information that suggests we are. And that is never truer than with social media.

There are still many in the ‘I don’t get it’ crowd and that’s part of the problem – they are easy targets for the plethora of social media ‘guru’s but I believe we owe it to ourselves to at least try to understand it.

I throw down the gauntlet why? Because I continue to hear people compare social media to a cocktail party and as Venessa Hudgens sings “It just ain’t right!” It’s time to fight that dumbed down analogy unless, of course, you really are too stupid or lazy to find out the truth. This all stems from an event I spoke at earlier this month.

I was on a panel about blogging and of course the conversation was heavily biased towards social media. I commented about not buying into the ‘social media is like one big cocktail party’ analogy and added that dumbing it (social media) down to that level was offensive. My comment was met with nodding heads but I was soon to be challenged.

The very next day I listened in on a panel about how to build your social media profile. To my surprise, one of the panelist’s commented:

“The gentleman yesterday said social media isn’t a cocktail party and it is!”

Now I have no issue with someone disagreeing with me. What I do have an issue with is the reason this particular panelist (who is a very successful and respected Realtor) disagreed. After the session I approached her and said (with a smile) “Do you really think Facebook is just a party?” To my shock she replied “No, but you have to explain it like that for Realtors to understand”. Wow! While I acknowledge that all Realtors aren’t created equal I find it particularly offensive to assume they are all stupid. In a room of several hundred (paying) Realtors I wanted to respond with “stupid is as stupid does!”

Perhaps I am wrong on this. Perhaps social media does need to be simplified so most people ‘get it’. Perhaps we really are at the start of our social evolution and so should act and think like neanderthals? When I listen to Miss Carolina (“people out there in our nation don’t have maps“) and Congressman Hank Johnson (“My fear is that [Guam] will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize”) I can’t help but question my stance. But Winston Churchill is whispering in my ear. We should fight the temptation to believe this historical step forward in our ability to communicate is nothing more than playing Farmville and talking about American Idol. We shall fight on Facebook, we shall fight on Twitter, we shall fight in the conferences and in the Barcamps; we shall never surrender!

And so to social psychologist Sam Gosling, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Gosling examines what an individual’s online networking profile can reveal about their personality, focusing on social networking Websites. It’s more than refreshing to hear him talk about the significance of Facebook and there’s not a cocktail glass in sight!


  1. Ryan Hinricher says

    Thanks for this article. I’m personally tired of the cocktail party myself. In fact, some people do behave the same way at a party as they do online, meeting you and immediately soliciting you. We know, of course, this is less than smart.

    I’m also grown fatigued of social media mavens, ninjas, and other monikers. To me social media it’s more comparable to reality than it is a party. I think having a succinct and professional profile is a good place for many to start.

  2. Stephen: This is an insightful piece and presses a number of hot buttons. I think it would be a great topic for a group dinner discussion or perhaps a Barcamp discussion. I wonder who could lead the discussion…RG

  3. Sir Fells, if SM is user-generated content and social networking is the conversation or the content distribution channel, then the combo should not be seen as a party. However, if users just stay in touch and share family photos on social networking sites, then maybe their use is akin to an online party. The objection from practitioners such as yourself and those members of the lssmc, occurs because SM input, distributed through SN channels has a PURPOSE. That purpose is usually to provide value to readers and is designed to demonstrate the proficiency of the writer in their field.

  4. Stephen, there’s nothing that Sam Gosling says that dissuades one from looking at SM as a cocktail party. I’m tired of the analogy, too, however. It’s well worn and simplistic (as are many analogies on closer inspection.) Certainly, SM shares some qualities with a cocktail party, but it is much more — in fact, it’s very powerful — when used by excellent communicators who are well connected and influential.

  5. Chris Frerecks says

    So long as we’re sharing good information and answers with our messaging, why is wanting more visibility, more leads and more new business so hard to fathom? I agree Steve- o. Let’s get it out on the table: we’re leveraging social media platforms as informed advertisers.