Online social media is hardly new. Online BBSes have existed since the 1970s. Even yours truly geeked out for a bit on packet radio in the 1980s. But today we have reached a sort of critical mass on the Internet where, like sex and drugs in the 1960s, “everyone is doing it”.

Except that “everyone” includes a myriad of business entities — not just people. This includes coffee shops. All of which is part of the modern wonder of social media marketing, where each of us is told that we must excel at social networking or die trying.

Who are these clowns, and why do they keep following me?Call us digital dinosaurs, but we want our cafés to be focused on great coffee — not on trying to be interactive media companies. That thought hit us like a ton of bricks when we stumbled across this post today: Starbuck’s Joins Flickr and 10 Reasons Why As a Photographer I’m a Fan | Thomas Hawk Digital Connection.

Harking back to an old post here with the cranky grandpa rant of, “Listen, barista, I’ll take my joe talk straight,” we came up with the title for our post today.

Oh Starbucks, will you be my friend?

To explain today’s inspirational post, an excerpt should suffice:

I was pleased today to learn that Starbuck’s has joined Flickr. I’ve been a big Starbucks fan for a while and have personally consumed thousands of their beverages over the years. It is great to see them join Flickr where they can participate in social media with photographers.

Blog posts oozing with that level of brand affection/sucking up are a retail marketer’s wet dream. They can’t pay people to write this stuff. Well, actually they can — just that legally they now need to disclose it.

And while Starbucks‘ marketing department recently crowed over reports suggesting their brand ranked highest at social media engagement, other social media experts have viewed their efforts as a business failure.

But next, combine this consumer fanboydom with a new business wisdom, still reaching for conventionality, that suggests Twitter (or shouldn’t that be spelled “Twittr”?) could be used to promote independent coffee shops — generating all sorts of pent-up demand for mediocre coffee that never existed prior to all these pedestrian cafés creating Twitter accounts.

Social media diseases and their discontents

So here’s the problem. All this social media stuff is superficial fun and games when you’re catching up on your dog sitter’s new skin rash. But why should a business — let alone one that manages to follow 7,349 others on Twitter — be part of my social network?

Calling all friends, calling all friends. Come in, please.Every day, multiple businesses ask us to follow their Twitter feed, to get excited about their Facebook fan page, to friend them on MySpace. You can’t listen to a commercial radio station anymore (yes, they still exist) without them telling you to follow them on each and every one of these services. (Ironically, radio is apparently not one of these services.)

It took me a decade to stop from doubling over in laughter whenever high-profile talking heads were asked to stumble through aitch-tee-tee-pee-colon-double-yew-double-yew-double-yew-dot-slash-dot-dot-slash on the air. Now whenever I hear the litany of social media service options read out for each business, I feel like I’m listening to the legalese disclaimers of some anti-depressive medication advert.

It it called “social networking” if it’s not with another person?

It’s bad enough that we’ve given corporations the same legal rights as individual citizens. But look, Starbucks — you’re a corporation, you’re not my “friend”. And yes, that even goes for my favorite neighborhood café.

Operators are standing by for your Twitter retweet I don’t want your RSS feed of mindless chit-chat fed into every pore of my existence. I don’t need to have 47 TV sets each tuned to every message-spouting orifice of your business, desperately afraid that I might miss out on one of them.

Here’s the deal: you serve the coffee; I give you money. That’s it. No expectations of RSVPs to weddings and bar mitzvahs. No holiday card or gift exchanges. No arranging play dates between our children. OK?

Clearly, do not send me any electronic hamburgers, do not write on my “wall”, and I honestly don’t want to hear about your movie likes and dislikes. And don’t even think about messaging me through eight different channels that I can save a dollar on your wretched vanilla mocha pumpkin pie latte this week. Please. Just pour the damn coffee. And above all, make sure it’s good coffee. The rest is just froth.