My perspective on social media and how it shapes business relationships with customers was formed from how I was raised and the places I have lived.
The Bubble Girl
The Southeast Heights of Albuquerque in the 70’s was an eclectic mix of diversity. My family was the youngest on the block, just down the street from Bandelier Elementary School and one row of houses away from Hyder Park. My parents arrived there when I was three after leaving the beaches of southern California via Route 66 with their two daughters. Their truck broke down in Albuquerque, they found a place to rent, had two more kids, and 14 years later I was graduating from Highland High School, located just off of Central Ave., the old Route 66.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents were hippies. Bare feet or flip flops were the norm, my dad had several motorcycles and played loud music, my mom had a leather purse with tassles and long, brown hair. There were curtains of beads hanging in several of the doorways in the house, some wooden and some green and orange plastic. Burning incense was common. The bookcase that was made of bricks and pine boards offered interesting reading material, such as lyrics and artwork by the Beatles and various fiction and nonfiction paperbacks. I learned to roller skate, skateboard, hike, camp, box, change oil, spar and punch through half-inch pine boards. But overall, my dad was adept at sheltering his four daughters from the outside world, and I grew up under the auspice of believing that my dad’s views were all there was.
My hippie dad who was a plumber and into computers and high-end stereo systems kept the family close to the house. I felt like a bubble girl, with no knowledge of what was outside of my small realm of reality. Yes there was school, swim team and riding the bus, but growing up I didn’t have close friends that I hung out with, we didn’t go to social events, and only my older sister ever once had a birthday party that included other kids. So picture this tall, skinny, awkward teenager with prefect attendance and straight A’s, a member of the National Honor Society who didn’t go to parties or watch early 80’s television that her peers were seeing, and having her cultural influence being reruns like the Monkeys, the Avengers, the Munsters, the Addams Family, and Leave It To Beaver. I knew very little about popular culture and society around me because I wasn’t involved in it.
The day I graduated from High School a naïve, sheltered, un-worldly teenage girl, my parents moved with my two little sisters back to southern California. I was suddenly on my own for the summer, renting the house I had grown up in and sharing the place with my older sister who was back from her first year in college. My best friend Carol was a woman I worked with at Wendy’s fast food while she finished her degree in Computer Science and interned at Sandia National Laboratories. Carol dated a guy in his early 30’s who had big hair and was a drummer in a late 80’s band called Puppies With Guns. Oh, the memories…
Discovering the world
Rather than let my new found freedom go to my head, I became simply an observer in the new world that I discovered around me. I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted without my dad’s domineering, everything-is-my-way mentality hanging over me, I had a fake ID to get into bars and see live music that I had never heard on the radio. Carol’s boyfriend had an album that made a big impression on me. It was Depeche Mode’s Strangelove, the extended LP, and it was definitely not like the Madonna, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Top 40 music that I was listening to. I had never heard people discussing what Martin Gore was singing about in 1988, but I liked it and it spoke to me. Follow that with a discovery of Agent Orange, the Smiths, Steel Pulse and the Cure and it was as if I had entered a whole new world that I didn’t know existed, kind of like the internet, but that wouldn’t become mainstream for another 15 years.
After spending much time at the coast learning how to snorkel, scuba dive, sail, surf, play beach volleyball, canoe, kayak and enjoy the sounds of the waves crashing at sunset, I took a trip to a little town in southern Colorado. In the fall of 1993, Pagosa Springs had one stoplight, no fast food, and an anti-Californian sentiment. There was a long metal fence uptown where someone had spray-painted the words, “GO HOME CALIFORNIANS.”
But 17 years, five stoplights, three kids, two divorces and several dogs and a cat later, I am still here in this magnificent mountain town, and it is because of my years in this small town environment where I feel so at home that I have a greater understanding of how social media works.
Small town niche = Online community
Just as sitting through hours and hours of local town and county political meetings as an observer can help one grasp the political dynamics on a much grander scale at the national and international level, watching local social interactions between individuals and businesses has helped me to notice how social media interactions work on the grand scale of the World Wide Web.
Communication, openness, referrals, helping others, being able to take criticism, sharing, excellent customer service – these are all things that are essential to business survival in a small town, and these same traits will be essential to businesses as they exist in an online environment that exposes them to a world population.
Having the unique niche of growing up with technology and computers, living my adult life as an observer and active participant in the world around me, and being in a time with an availability of knowledge and teaching at my fingertips due to the world wide web, this niche as given me a insight on the growing world community that is found online, where everyone can be connected if they want to be.
With social media tools, anyone can reach out to the world to share their story and connect with others who can relate to them. Perhaps only fifty people will find this article, read it, and respond in some way. But that means that there are fifty people in the world who I have connected to, and that means that as different as I feel, I know I am not alone.
Businesses who use online social media tools to share their own unique stories will find that they are the ones who will make it through the long term. Tools that allow customers and clients to feel connected to a business will generate the same result as a business who builds their personal connections through one-on-one interactions and referrals in a small town. The average business comes and goes, but those who find their niche in a little corner of the internet and offer something honest and unique will indeed find their audience.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.