How Social is Social Media? #38 #cong14

By Andrew Lovatt.

Social Media is off the rails. Everyone working in the field is looking for the Holy Grail, some "sociable" trick that will deliver Facebook-like numbers. Currently, social media is all about the numbers. You need millions of users to "make a buck". But is that what social media is really about? Or is it the best we can do with this medium?

Before Social Media you met new friends through other friends, business contacts through known business people, etc. You likely remember that this was an organic process. It took time. But there was a known value in all the relationships. Today, you can add "friends" even if you don't know them - with one click. This has diluted the value of contacts, while enabling millions to “self promote” through the social media channels.

This dilution of the value of relationships raises other questions. Is Social Media only about promotion? There are millions of people out there with big egos happy to blow their own trumpet. Companies now lead the pack in terms of endless social media releases. Individuals promote their jobs and careers. Others use it as a friends and family album, and seem happy enough to ignore the fact that all their personal details and all their relationships are no longer private but regularly seen by the NSA and other agencies. 

Social Media encourages us to connect with people we don’t know. That is both its strongest and weakest value. Strong in the sense that it allows us to reach out to new people. Weak in that the value of connecting to them may be, and is likely to be, of very low value. These “friends” are at best “online acquaintances”.

For the mainstream commercial Social Media channels, the more the merrier. They get their value from the high numbers of people using them. They have very little concern or focus on the value to the user. However, they spend a lot of time figuring out new ways to monetise the traffic and page displays. Both corporate and private users seem happy enough to have 1000’s of followers. Converting those followers to something of more value now requires “expert knowledge” and an industry has sprung up to cater to it. So Social Media is no longer an even playing field. Those who succeed in it are possibly very unique and “go viral” or they are paying experts to tweak the whole process. And it has become an increasingly long and complex process to convert these weak “friends” into a contact of value. This is usually a dollar value.

The definition of Social Media is changing with the advent of sharing Apps, such as SnapChat etc, and the growth of socially-conscious channels such as change.org and avaaz.org - both channels where you can support social, economic and political causes. The global reach and power of these channels is changing the way individuals engage with the world. It may even change the way democracy works.

We tend to understand Social Media as a commercial channel, but increasingly the technology is being used for non-commercial purposes. Our approach to Social Media needs to take into account that it is not a unified field or a one size fits all medium. We will need many hats to deal with the emerging Social Media landscape. We also need to understand and differentiate the value to be gained from each.

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CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie