Category:  Social Media

Social Media: The 5-year-old Kool-Aid

“The Social Network”, which opened Friday in theaters, reminds us that there was once life before social media. A time when people told family and friends about an engagement in person instead of through Facebook. A time when people talked about issues over the phone instead of on Twitter, and when the term “checking-in” was associated with hotels and airports, not Gowalla or Foursquare.

Social media has revolutionized society’s communication process, impacted branding techniques and changed companies’ engagement with consumers in less than five years. Now, there are college courses and books on social media because national and international corporations, governments and non-profit organizations need people who understand social media’s purpose and power. Times have changed, and while it is important to know and appreciate where we have been, it is more important to know where social media is taking us in the future.

However, some people still have not drank the social media Kool-Aid. While doing a series of site visits in D.C., I asked organizations like the Republican National Committee, Tech America and The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) how they managed their social media presence. More often then not I heard comments such as “we are determining the cost and benefit of rolling out a social media plan” or “we just don’t see the point.” It seems that organizations and people forget that even though they don’t have a social media plan or self-defined presence in social media, their name, brand and reputation still appear on the sites. Social media is a conversation. It is a network. It is the ultimate word-of-mouth machine.

Still not ready for the Kool-Aid? Consider the Park51 Twitter debacle with one of their interns or the fact that when the Department of Homeland Security had a bomb threat onsite, they alerted and remained in contact with employees through e-mail and Twitter. Think about how many times you hear “she tweeted this morning…”, “he updated his Facebook status to say….”, “we just received this picture from Flickr.” Social media has infiltrated news, educational organizations, government agencies, sport teams, corporations, non-profit organizations, cities, event planning, promotion and politics.

Additionally, social media has evolved from a social pastime into a powerful, comprehensive and popular communication tool. Personally, I think social media needs a name change. Perhaps “niche media” or “Tech Media” because, while there are still social aspects to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Gowalla and Foursquare, these sites engage consumers through several platforms (online, mobile, iPad) by using targeted advertising, strategic promotions and continually providing information users want to know. There seems to be a negative connotation with the term “social media”, specifically the “social” aspect. In the professional, political and corporate realm, social activities are downplayed in order keep employees as productive and effective as possible. Therefore, anything associated with “social” doesn’t have a place in the office, and this prevents people and organizations from understanding and accepting the importance of having a self-determined presence online. Social media started off as a social nicety but has grown into a social, professional and political necessity.

If we consider the launching of Facebook to mark the beginning of the Golden Age of Social Media, then this communication tool has changed the way people and organizations around the world communicate and engage one another within six years. It changed the communication process so much that many of my peers (people in their early 20s) don’t know any other form of communication. Even professionals who have been in business and communication for decades have had to learn how to be effective in this new environment with new technology, and everyone has had to cope with information overload and an overall lack of privacy.

Despite all of this, social media is here to stay because society has become dependent on this form of communication. Additionally, social media will continue to evolve and expand; the social media we know today will not be what we have in five years or ten years. It is time to embrace social media, become educated on its techniques and strategies and continually look for what is coming next.

But first things first: just drink the Kool-Aid.

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