“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.