by Jonah Ort
Dan Farkas graduated from Ohio University in 1998 and returned 13 years later to teach at the school where he once studied. Dan now teaches the Strategic Communication capstone course, as well as the Strategic Social Media course. In the 13 years between his graduation and professorship, he worked at news outlets and PR agencies, earning over two dozen awards along the way. Dan Farkas is someone who is truly passionate about communicating effectively through social media. As his LinkedIn profile suggests, Dan seeks to tell stories online and help others do the same.
Farkas: I’m excited to hear what Professor Weed has you guys asking.
Me: I think the questions are really insightful. Really interested in hearing what you have to say. Ready to begin?
Me: Alright, cool. So the first question — and honestly this is super helpful– what is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social media professional?
Farkas: I would tell them to pop the bubble. And by that what I mean is… I think that social media professionals have to view their responsibilities far beyond the context of marketing, PR, advertising, or even communications. I’ve seen PR people not have a very broad set of interests maybe, and just be very focused on what they need to do to get by, and to a lesser degree advertising people are like that. But with social, you have to realize that that is something that is going to be utilized in every facet of an experience, ranging from trying to look for customers, trying to bring them in, giving them information, employee communications… it’s so wide ranging. The listening component is so significant that if you view yourself as a social media person and not part of something else, you’re going to struggle to do effective work.
Dan Farkas with his daughter, Leah.
Me: Yeah, I remember you talking about that in class and the importance of engaging with the other levels within a workplace and bringing everyone together. So what people or organizations do you follow to stay up-to-date on social media trends and why? Like, who’s putting out good tips out there?
Farkas: Criminy, that’s a tough question. It’s not so much a social media source, but there’s a group I’m part of called Solo PR, which I mostly follow for communications advice. I follow a guy I know called Eric Hanson who’s really smart and has really interesting ideas. There’s Muckrack, which is more of a PR/Media Relations thing that is nice to have. Scott Monty does a weekly digital thing that I spend a fair amount of time with, it’s a weekly e-newsletter thing. I think that’s a decent enough laundry list. I’m also curious as to what Reagan has to say, the Ragan PR blog.
Me: So this is my favorite question: What do you think is the most important upcoming trend in social media and why is that trend important?
Farkas: To me, the thing that matters most is the concept of geolocation. I mean it’s not that it’s a new trend, but it’s the idea of being very specific about the identifying what local means and how you can reach them. So Facebook for example, they’re advertising lets you advertise in a one-mile radius, so when a bunch of WWE fans are in Atlanta for a pay-per-view wrestling show, you can specifically target them. Foursquare has done a service where they can track foot traffic walking into a place. So the whole idea is how can you use that kind of local definition to see what the consumer experience is like. So that, to me, is the trend.
Me: What social media platforms do you think are going to be sticking around for the next 5-10 years and which ones are we going to see die out?
Farkas: I think social media companies that aren’t social media companies will have a much better sense of existing. For example, I think Facebook is a giant Big Data company. I don’t view Facebook as “Hey, I can talk to my friends online!” right? I view Facebook as…I mean, think of the amount of automation and artificial intelligence there is out there. That’s what Facebook is. LinkedIn is not a social media company. That is: “Let’s get a bunch of recruiters together and figure out how to aggregate that insane world.” So to me, companies that do more than media as a social platform have power. I think Twitter is kinda finding what that is, which is why it struggled so more. So I think those entities, those brand that think of themselves as part of a larger context are gonna be fine. I think those that don’t I think are gonna have a tough time to sort of sustain what they got going on. So I think Twitter’s going to be around as a company, there was just talk today about them having a $10 a month yearly subscription to basically pay the bills. That’s the equivalent to me getting a subscription to the New York Times. Those are the publicly traded ones. But if you’re privately-owned, you don’t have stockholders to appeal to. So a place like Pinterest for example can keep doing what it’s doing without facing that pressure. So I think that companies that keep doing what they’re doing and view themselves outside of a communications company are fine. I think the ones that view themselves as a media company are gonna have a tougher time to make that work.
Me: That’s smart. I read an article recently that was talking about, basically what you just said, that Facebook is not a social media company, it’s a data aggregation company.
Farkas: Oh yeah, they got out of that eons ago. The reason is: when they first became publicly-traded, their stock got decimated. And the reason their stock got decimated was because people were like “Wait a minute, people don’t care about the ads, people don’t like the ads, so what’s all the other stuff they’re doing?” And they, candidly, as a publicly-traded company, got out of that business. LinkedIn makes most of their money on recruiters spending a couple hundred bucks every year for a subscription and sales people using that for their sales team. They bought a company now that does education, webinar stuff. So they’re becoming an education and recruiting tool, not just “Here’s 5 Ways To Become a Sales Leader.” That’s the least of their issues, you know? And again, Twitter hasn’t found that, and that’s why you’ve seen them struggle. Eventually I’m sure they’ll figure something out. But that’s why as a publicly-traded company, they’re in more trouble than the private ones.
Me: And lastly here’s just a fun one: What’s the biggest blunder you’ve seen a company make on social media?
Farkas: The biggest blunder? Oh boy. Oh man.
Me: I know there’s plenty!
Farkas: The one I go back to, and I don’t remember the company that was doing it, but it was during the batman shooting. And they tweeted out something like “I bet the people of Aurora would love our new clothing line.” Just something so asinine. And the reason that’s the worst, and I talk about popping the bubble , some people might get that and others might not get that what means. That incident was so horrible, so tunnel-focused, and so unaware about what the point of a global conversation is. They were using it as a digital megaphone and they didn’t particular care what other noise was there. They just wanted to amplify their voice. They didn’t even realize, like, there are certain times… if you go to a steakhouse and you order a $100 meal you won’t have your cellphone on talking to someone in the middle of the meal. Like, the experience is beyond you. It was just that oblivious nature to it– that, to me, is an example of solely focusing on what’s inside your bubble and why you don’t do that.
Me: Jeez, that seems like the perfect example of what NOT to do. But I mean it’s common sense, right? I guess not.
Farkas: I teach stuff like this in JOUR 4530, which is “look at Google Trends, and see what’s going on in the world and find out if there’s a way to connect the dots. So they followed, like, what some blog tells you to do really well but they were oblivious to what was occurring. And that, to me, that’s what bothers me.
I really loved Dan’s metaphor of “popping the bubble.” It’s the whole reason why journalism majors at OU have to take so many general education courses. As writers, as communicators, we need to understand the world around us and the context in which our writing takes place. Obliviousness and ignorance are unacceptable traits for any writer worth their salt; and as Dan pointed out, oblivious social media writers are the ones making the biggest blunders.