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Social media: reflections of a middle-aged luddite 


Social media: reflections of a middle-aged luddite 

by Atlas Director, Charlie Napier
As by far the eldest in our company I am frequently mocked for my lack of appreciation of the delights of social media. My youthful colleagues delight in my grinch-like attitude to Facebook and Instagram in particular and although I do tweet occasionally and certainly enjoy flicking through it, my attempts at making sure that I tag the right organisations/subject or don’t send out a boring blurry photo from the back of a room are looked at with ill-disguised pity. 

At least Charlie hasn’t done this…yet

Needless to say I enjoy playing up to it and when I suggested the title of this piece there was universal agreement that coming from me, that sounded about right. The same goes for life at home. Although my children are not at that full-on social media stage yet, the early signs are there and currently I think am ahead of the game with them although that won’t last long.

Their current obsession are emojis and although I do really enjoy a good emoji conversation with them, when I have not dissimilar emoji conversations with senior political contacts who in one case is running a multi-billion pound government department, I do wonder….. Still, the reversion to what are essentially updated Egyptian hieroglyphics is rather brilliant, and like hashtags the ability to say in a picture or a phrase a whole heap of meaning is a welcome development so long as it is well directed and understood.

Perhaps Charlie could follow this example: 23,000 Instagram followers and counting..

I am perhaps a little more ambivalent about Instagram. Someone once described it as the ‘Narnia of narcissim’ and having flicked through my wife’s feed I do have sympathy with that view. It is like a personal version of the sidebar of shame in the Daily Mail and dangerously addictive to boot. That said, I do appreciate the endless communication opportunities it can bring and I have enjoyed watching a friend of mine build a profile which now means she is starting to make money from it; fascinating and somewhat horrifying to see in equal measure.

The recent Toby Young, Jo Marney and Jared O’Mara Twitter issues got me thinking about the pitfalls of social media again. It caused me to scroll back through my tiny amount of tweets to check if there was anything that I would regret if I should ever re-enter public life. I don’t believe there is but then I have always been super-careful about what I put on my social media channels, preferring to err on the side of caution. Boring I know and probably 90% of my tweets are pretty anodyne but as Mr Young has shown there is no room for ill-advised comment. 

Off the back of the Toby Young story, I asked my work colleagues to look back through their social media history and tell me if there was anything there they either regret or, if they were to seek public office, they would delete. Interestingly, all but one (the second eldest in the company) admitted that they had at least one tweet or Facebook post that they would delete if they were in the limelight. Most were youthful indiscretion and I certainly have sympathy with the attempts to bring in a law to allow people to delete their pre-adult social media history. Obviously the trick is not to post anything in the first place but of course you can’t help what other people may post.

Talking of which, the younger members of our team have been teaching me some further social media terms. I was a bit taken aback by the term being ‘fraped’ (i.e. Facebook raped), with its flippant use of a very serious crime, although the phrase ‘sliding into her (or his) DM’ was amusingly creepy. The conversation got us onto social media etiquette and ended up with a discussion about the problems of trying to get someone to leave a WhatsApp group. How long do you wait until you take a former colleague off a work WhatsApp group for instance? We all (including me) had stories to tell of not realising who was on groups and saying the wrong thing. Mine involved family mistaken identity. I tried to dig hard when I realised my mistake but eventually threw my spade away, held up my hands and exited myself from the group #onelessxmaspresent.

You may be reading this and thinking, these are slightly odd things to be admitting to for a comms person and you are probably right. However, the glory of setting up your own company and staffing it with bright young things, is that you are constantly learning the latest trends which means that even this old dog can learn new tricks.

I have often whinged about public affairs being too same-old, same-old but in recent years the marvel of social media has meant that campaigns can communicate far more effectively with even the stuffiest of politicians. After all, 89% of MPs are on Twitter and 87% have a Facebook page. Although there are clearly pitfalls and no doubt, massive sensory overload, cleverly done, funny and interesting social media campaigns, combined with the traditional communication arts more familiar to my generation, mean that the impact and interest can be so much greater than before.