Last updated on March 30th, 2021 at 02:46 am
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’
— Mark 8:36, The Holy Bible, New International Version
Remember when social media in Toronto was fun? I remember my first encounter with Twitter back in 2008 when I hit a marketing event with Sarah, who I’d only just started dating. There was a Twitter stream projected at the front of the room, and I posted tweets with my signature brand of crazy, getting lots of laughs from others attending. In fact, it’s where I first met Zaigham, who I’d get to know a little better over the years. (Also, Sarah was not impressed with my antics. Only a mere six months out from her Humber postgrad in PR, she believed that “reputation was everything”, and that if I didn’t seem professional, I was only shooting myself in the foot. Five years, 35,000 tweets and 2,300 followers later, I think she’s okay admitting she was wrong.)
The point is—it was fun. Twitter was full of random tweets about anything, and it seemed like no one cared about being rowdy in public. Back then, Twitter was a party 24/7 with everybody invited!
But then something changed. The better people got at tweeting, the more the world took note. Businesses wanted in on this virtually untapped market of clients and the influencers who spoke to them. Everything started getting Twitter handles associated with them—TV shows, ads, businesses cards—the magnetic pull of Twitter was inescapable.
Which makes it a bit funny that it’s been dead quiet in Toronto for a while now.
I know that our social medialites are up to stuff—there’s never a shortage of brand-sponsored events in Toronto—but by this time last year, we’d already had DefineTO and Social Media Week Toronto. We got together for drinks on patios and birthday and dinners and parties. There was a stronger sense of community in Toronto, and no matter whether you blogged or not, or if you had 100 or 1000 followers, there was a place for you.
So what happened? Where did everybody go? What made the world we know change so much that everything seemed to just up and vanish, leaving a social void in its wake?
Has the Toronto Twitter scene had its time in the limelight? Are we moving on to other tools that better serve the needs of the social medialite? Or, have the people who were big on Twitter a couple of years back simply grown tired of it and moved on, making way for a new generation of social media ne’er-do-wells?
Turns out that it may have just been a long time coming.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Maybe the social media we know never really was all that social. Or perhaps it was a means to an end, and we’ve seen the game through to its next phase. Maybe it’s time to look at social media in a new light.
There was a time where the Twitter experience was a lot less strategic. You had the people who were all business, all the time. You had those who were a little unhinged, causing trouble simply because they could. But more people fell somewhere in the middle, tweeting and hitting events to see who else was in their city, make new friends and step out from their comfort zones, trying to get a little more of what life had to offer.
The rules of the game have changed: no longer is a social medialite simply a person with a phone who’s painting the town red; social medialites are commodities. Resources who brands choose to court to put a human element to products and services—in the best cases, synergy happens between brands and social medialites, and they weave a story together.
But all of this takes time. It takes time to plan an event and make it memorable enough for being to want to talk about it when they get home. Tweetchats don’t happen by themselves—they need promotion and targeting to make sure the right stuff gets to the right people. And it’s not like there’s a magic swag fairy who just picks people at random, leaving goodies on their doorstep—you need to know your market and who’d be the most likely to use and promote your product.
And who better to know who to find than the social medialites interacting with them?
But when you’re spending all that time making those connections and creating the best content you possibly can, you show up to friends’ parties a little less often. Your tweets are a little less random, with more of them promoting your blog or events you’re hosting.
But there’s no manual to social media. There’s no guidebook showing us how to go viral and make millions from our content. But we still try, clinging to the hope that we’ll somehow break apart from the pack—while still making it up as we go. Many of us have mastered how we use social media and how we package our messages, but that’s not enough. In Toronto, everyone wants to be the best. We all want to be different from everyone else and excel beyond our peers. But is it our ambition that killed the social in social media?
It takes two to tango, though. While the tool’s changed and its legitimacy makes it a lot different from it was when we first crossed paths, the people who use the tool have changed too. We’re all a little older, a little wiser and a little harder from the years we’ve spent on social media. Social media’s like everything you’d experience in a regular life amplified—but you can only keep the pace for so long; life reveals your path sooner or later. I chose to get married and have kids—I see Tiff and Val are hot on my heels (for the marriage part, anyway). People like Christine Estima, Anne and Jorge up and left the city.
Or there’re things that mark us and make us a little less social. Christine Pantazis recently lost her grandmother. Chris Vollick lost his mom. We’re reminded again and again that social media isn’t everything and that we need to strike a balance between all the facets of our lives and not just gravitate to one just because we like it better.
And in several cases, when a tool founds your relationship and you stop using the tool like you used to—something else steps in to fill that void, and it’s usually not the company you’ve kept online.
Did our real-life commitments kill the social in social media?
The New Media
So what happened to the social media scene in Toronto? Did it sell out? Was it abandoned by a user base that got too big too quickly, changing how they interacted with the very tools that got them where they are? Or did “life” simply get in the way with its relationships and jobs and babies, leaving little time to tweet ‘n’ greet?
It’s a little of Column A, a little of Column Z. There’re likely a million reasons why those who were the most visible in the scene up and vanished to what we hope are better places, but I think everyone just grew up a little.
Growing up means different things to different people. To some of us, it means taking blogging more seriously and working toward writing for a supplementary income. To others, it means more of a traditional approach with relationships, children, or other added responsibilities. In any case, many of us have shifted from using social media as a primary source of information and connection to a communication tool. We’ve learned how to structure interaction in one-hour blocks with tweetchats. We’ve learned how to communicate our thoughts in 140 characters or less to engage an audience. Now, we plan events, develop strategies for brands and take images and Vines that tell a story.
We’ve become so good and engrossed in our media that we’ve forgotten all about the social. We’ve passed the torch along to those entering the world of social media today. Twitter and Facebook are established, and in ways, they’re already the tools of the yesteryear, with their biggest demographics already in their late 20s to mid-30s.
Is it all worth it? Is severing the ties just to make names for ourselves really the only thing that matters? Are we all but mere stepping stones to one another in a quest to reach our true potential?
I sincerely hope not.
The New Toronto Media Scene
For now, it’s a little quieter in Toronto. The events are more exclusive and the crowds aren’t quite so loud. We have an army of Toronto social medialites sharpening their skills and honing their abilities with no end in sight. We’re becoming the best we can be individually… while forgetting that we could accomplish so much more collectively.
So I say rest in peace to Toronto’s social scene. We’ve chosen our allies, we’ve figured out who to trust. We’ve made our mistakes and celebrated our victories. The blogosphere spins ever on, but so many of us run lonelier than we ever did to begin with.
Welcome to the new Toronto media scene. Please enjoy your stay.
13 replies on “The Day the Social Died”
Toronto’s Twitter circa 2009 – 2012 essentially equates to University. You go in fresh. You meet a shit ton of people (online) you didn’t know. You party with them (tweetups). See them around campus (city) and have a pint. Sometimes you have classes (marketing seminars) together. Out of the hundreds you meet, you make friends with a handful. Now University is over. You’ve all got your degree in Marketing, PR, Event Planning, etc. The friends you met and called to party at your dorm and sleep on your couch are the ones you’re calling to have dinner with now or brainstorm with. The rest are just that, the rest. You may never see them again and if you didn’t you wouldn’t care either way. That’s not a dead social scene, that’s just kids graduating and growing up.
Yeah, I think I alluded to some of that in the post — but you’re right. It is a part of growing up and knowing more of what you want out of something. I’ve had to get rid of poisonous friendships and relationships in the past, and yes, it was all part of growing up.
But for me, the question still lingers — is the Toronto social scene as we knew it dead, or was there ever really one in the first place? Perhaps it was just a training ground and everyone’s just a little harder and better at what they do now?
I don’t think there’s one clear answer on this.
I LOVE this reply! It definitely resonates with me.
The biggest difference for me is back then I started Twitter in 2009 (hey-o!), I had a lot more time on my hands. These days, with a FT job, recently I had school FT too, freelancing and blogging… I find that I don’t tweet nearly as much as I used to.
And I still post about random things, but for those of us who started blogs – there is obviously an increase of tweets directed to our own content. But if you’re true to yourself and aren’t doing it for the fame, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all.
And it’s inevitable… the bigger the audience, the more we (whether consciously or not) “watch” our tweets to make sure they’re aligned with our brand. But if your brand is consistent with who you are, then there shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Something you mentioned in your post, Casey, “We all want to be different from everyone else and excel beyond our peers. ” Like you said, SM is real life amplified. I don’t think we have to try so hard to be different… we already are. Instead of trying to be “the best”, just be yourself (how cliche, I know.)
And I think the “silence” in the Social Media scene in Toronto is actually because we’ve made so many connections since we all started that now, we don’t necessarily need a tweetup to meet our Twitter friends. We speak and meet with each other in private now instead of public tweets.
Casey… Bravo for an awesome post! 🙂
All good points, Maria 🙂 The nature of our interactions with social media have changed altogether. It makes me wonder whether the people who’re just entering the arena now encounter all the things we did back then, or whether it’s all advanced enough to make it a wholly different experience?
Thanks for coming by 🙂 I thought it was high time to start taking a look at what made our environment what it is today.
Business/corporate skew the equation. I’ve watched it happen in the competitive gaming scene over the last 5 years. It used to be a scene run by the players for the players. Small but amazingly fun events with little to gain aside from making new friends a little cash. Now, with major companies throwing literally millions of dollars into the scene, the gaming scene has become an eSports scene. You can’t say and do what you want, or you’ll lose sponsorship.
Look at a recent event we attended. A person made clear they couldn’t be caught on camera smoking. You think it was just for their benefit? Business is watching the content pushed from events, whether written or better still, in photo or video. “Our generation” of Toronto’s Twitter isn’t a social community anymore.
It’s a talent pool.
A talent pool. I like that.
I was telling Reema earlier that I feel like “Stay Thirsty” helps take a look at where there are some current problems with the Toronto social media model, and this post takes a bit of a look at the past… I think I’d eventually want to run some data and take a look at trends and what the future looks like.
But that’s no small project 🙂
Very, VERY solid post Casey! As a someone that has “entered” the scene in the last year this was a fascinating read.
In the limited events I’ve attended this year (I’m a social introvert, give me a break), I’ve had several people mention to me that the initial fun of meeting new people at tweetups has gone away since it’s the same people that usually attend.
It’s a shame since the people I’ve met at these events are some of the most amazing, friendly people I’ve encountered in Toronto. There are a lot that
I do agree that a new community needs to arise and I’d love to be a part of it.
Thanks so much, Pauline 🙂 These past few years in social media have been wildly different from almost anything I’d experienced before that, and I felt that it was time to take a look back at what’s changed since then and all the things I’ve learned.
Personally, I think it’s better not to charge first into event overload, but you learn and experience what you can from the events you DO go to and hope that you don’t become as jaded as so many in this environment 🙂
I think, for me, I’m going to keep hammering away at content like this and see what can come next. I’m optimistic that we can still make something of it all, yet!
Oh, by the way — I think you got caught mid-thought on that second-last paragraph 😉
Oops, remind me not to type comments at work during my lunch break… I got distracted and did not proofread (I know, I know – no lectures for me please)
What I meant to express was that there are a lot of awesome people in the Toronto Twitter community that I would love to see again – not only because there’s only so much interaction you can manage on Twitter, but I’d like to think there was a good connection with the people that I’ve met and chose to stay in touch with. Once you’re a friend with me, you’re a friend for life! 🙂
I don’t think it’s just Toronto, necessarily. I think it’s our entire generation. We are the ones that essentially ushered in the age of social media – mostly when we were young, in our early twenties. Now we are growing up and growing out of it, a bit. There’s a lot of pressure to stay on-point, especially once companies started throwing money around. It got commercial, and it got watered down.
There used to be a lot of tweetups in my area, and I had a whole batch of “Twitter friends” – whether the scene has faded, or whether I’ve simply just stepped back and don’t notice it anymore, is hard to say. But I do feel like it’s evolved, we’ve evolved, and we’re not using it like we used to.
I kind of miss the days when it was simply a bunch of individuals slinging witty one-liners around, I do think that the arrival of The Corporations changed the dynamic quite a bit; I also think that the platforms falling into the hands of, say, high schoolers has also changed the dynamic. I have been on Facebook since 2004 – the spring of its birth. I have seen the entire spectrum of its evolution and I can definitely tell you that my experience has only gotten more and more negative as it has become less and less exclusive. There are too many people that don’t “get” it and it’s enough to make me throw my hands in the air and trash the whole thing. Except, I can’t (or won’t) because I’ve made too many friends via technology (such as yourself!) and it’s infinitely easier to stay in contact with them using such platforms. It’s a Catch-22.
It may all go the way of MySpace; it may end up becoming a mandatory chip that the world governments make us have to keep track of us. Who knows? I know that we’re giving our lives over to it, and I don’t like that. I feel like a sign of maturing tends to coincide with a significantly scaled back social media presence. The Internet is great, but our lives are lived off the grid.
My two cents, anyway. I’ve been trying to put my finger on this for a while and your post kind of made my thoughts click. I haven’t said anything profound, but it at least helped me get my thoughts in order a bit.
Kelly, I feel like whatever reply I give will be inadequate to touch on everything you’ve built off of what I started, but I’m going to try anyway.
You’re totally right. I’ve been on Facebook since its introduction into the Canadian market (2005) and joined Twitter as soon as it started to gain traction up here. I undersell it a lot and fail to think about it, but I’ve been using social media for a LONG TIME. And yeah, as we learn more about the tools we use and how to use them “correctly”, we end up pigeonholing ourselves as “experts”, “elites” or whatever other masthead you want to append to our names. We develop ourselves and the people we put value in, and we fall into some sort of niche that we never really understand.
The Corporations helped to LEGITIMIZE these niches and fuel them enough to keep them going and growing, but I don’t know whether they changed the dynamic or merely gave people the tools in order to separate themselves from the rest of the flock.
I feel like so many of us have lost our ways since this, in a lot of ways, is entirely new terrain, but I also think that there’s some profound meaning in all of it buried beneath all the layers of activity happening every time someone tweets something out. I’d like to think that eventually we’ll be able to navigate through all the madness and figure out what makes each one of us as individual as we are, rather than just getting caught up in a set of arbitrary rules and regulations.
I guess all I’m saying is that I cling onto some hope that we’re not careening into a dystopian outcome where it was all for naught. I’ll keep writing to examine what we’re doing to ourselves, we’ll keep being friends, and hey. Maybe there’s sunshine and rainbows in the future for all of us — we just can’t see it yet.
Sorry it took me so long to reply. I have a lot to say on this subject (as you know), and I feel I’ve been quite vocal IRL, in blog posts and on twitter about the loss of authenticity, and relationships.
There are many factors.
1) People work, have lives, family other things outside the social media world to focus on and found that SM was interfering with it, or has nothing to offer them – so … “they gone”.
2) Greed. Many have seen the success possible and regardless of education, skillset, or … CLASS, continue to beg, and hack their way into what they might consider “Profitable” relationships. Those actions drive rifts into the community. Not cool
3) Many Brands get it, MOST DON’T. The same invites go to the same people no matter what. Regardless of weather or not the SM peep is a good fit. Don’t get me going on MARKETING 101
4) Something to Prove. It seems many of us have something to prove. I’m not excluding myself here. I need to continue to push out content on twitter/ twitter chats/ blog / FB /instagram (other platforms), so that my clients (and future clients), continue to consider me an authority in my field.
5) Contamination. So many of those who are considered “Important” in the Toronto SM Shit where they eat. They’ve contaminated it for the rest of us. We don’t want to be them, to succeed but, they’ve created a norm. Brands expect us all to be / act Not good.
6) EXPERTS, for the love of god… I can’t take these people anymore. I’m tired of their BS and frankly if one more client pulls my friend is an expert crap on me…. I will loose my shit.
I better stop. I can go on for ever and no one has time for that.
All solid (and impassioned) points, Christine!
I’ve tried to make a solid balance between the real life stuff and the social media stuff, and I think I’ve done okay at it, but it’s not easy. I think people fall too deeply into the social media well, and they don’t come back out without their scars… if they come out at all.
It’s like a bunch of us have said on here already — and what I said in the post itself — Social Media is real life amplified, and what media teaches us is that we can be anything we want to be regardless of how high the cards are stacked against us. Uneducated celebrities, ex-con heroes and people who go from homeless to Hilton — why be normal when the world tells you that you could be SO MUCH MORE?
We’ve survived the infancy of social media — now we’re in the infancy of an age where social medialites are trying to act like businesspeople. There’s still such a long way to go until we start to get it right, but I’d like to think that the people who start really sowing the right seeds today will truly benefit tomorrow, because things AREN’T GOING TO STOP CHANGING. Twitter won’t be the “go-to tool” forever. Something new is always around the corner, but manners stay manners. Trust is always trust. Living in the now without planning for tomorrow will only have people end up as memories of the past. I don’t want to be one of those people, so I work hard to build something that can LAST.
It might not seem like it now, but the people who add no value can’t keep it up forever. Dirty laundry eventually comes to light and reckonings happen 🙂 It might not come from me, or come from you, but everything happens for a reason.
Just gotta keep working your butt off and let things play out the way they need to!