Social Media Snarketing

There was a time when “social media” described newspaper folk rubbing elbows. But like the word “thong,” the term has come to mean something else entirely in our new millennium. Speaking as an accredited member of the media, I can say I approve of the reassignment of both terms.

With “Web 2.0” came a deluge of social media sites and key among them is Twitter. A micro-blogging site that asks one to reduce one’s missives to the masses into 140 character aphorisms, Twitter posts are akin to something between a telegram and haiku. I “tweet” myself (the preferred term for engaging the service, though prescriptivist linguists might argue the term should be “twit” – which I’ve not heard in earshot since middle school).

For a more thorough explanation of Twitter, ask Oprah, its latest celebrity acolyte. For an analysis of its raison d’etre, ask yourself “What is the meaning of life?” then subtract the Hallmark card treacle. Take what remains (I was left with simply “because”) and you might have an answer. Sort of. Twitter, it seems, is what you make it – or, as it seems recently – what social media marketers make it. Whereas pornographers used to aid the proliferation of new media (Debbie did VHS, not Beta), marketers are often the first to embrace social media.

Consider, Hospice du Rhône, which breathlessly bills itself in all caps as “the world’s largest international celebration of Rhône variety wines.” The wine advocacy group joined forces with Sonoma’s Estate restaurant for last week’s Twitter Taste Live event, which successfully integrated the micro-blogging service and a worldwide tasting event staged in various locales. Throughout, imbibers tweeted their experience. This is what I managed to post whilst juggling a wine glass and an iPhone:

“Ah, the Hahn syrah — the cheapest wine by the glass at the girl and the fig. A local fave… 7:36 p.m.” “Bruce McKay is pushing the Landmark. Tackle him and bring the bottle to me. 8:08 p.m.”

“We’re in the midst of a brawl. 9:34 p.m.”

Of these pithy tweets, the last was an outright lie – McKay could kick my butt with a mere twirl of his mustache. Regardless, this troika of tweets was not only mixed into the global chatter, but also projected on a large screen at Estate so that we tweeters might enjoy a fleeting moment of celebrity before the virtual graffiti was washed away by a torrent of other tweets. Cheap thrills repackaged digitally? Sure, but it is illustrative of the peculiar combination of banality and revolution at the event horizon of modern communication.

Other popular uses of Twitter include using the service to fling oneself all over the world. Remember Paul Smith, the so-called “Twitchhiker” who graced these pages last month whilst circumnavigating the globe tweet by tweet? He made it back to England by way of, well, the rest of the world.

I just received a press release regarding yet another Twitter travel phenomenon – in this case, three “Kiwi” students who have dubbed themselves “Team Ellen.” By leveraging social media, the trio managed to get transported from New Zealand to the Ellen DeGeneres Show. They arrived on Wednesday. DeGeneres herself (or at least her flaks) tweeted to her 800,000 or so followers, “Check out these 3 New Zealand students with an ambitious goal of traveling to visit my show…” And then –  presto! or, um, tweeto! –  Air New Zealand (which also flew the Twitchhiker at one point) and Discover Los Angeles (a travel portal) footed the bill. Why? Because they knew someone would tweet about it and maybe even make mention of their largesse in the legit press (curse you, marketing people, you’ve tricked me again!).

Darling readers, I can offer neither airfare nor airtime, but I can offer you this: Tweet me your 140 character (or less) summation of an iconic Sonoma experience and I’ll print the best in this column. Then you can be a twit like me.