The “social media” concept is still pretty new, even though Facebook has been around for almost a decade. Just as with other new communication technologies, it’s taking people a while to figure out how to use it. And I don’t mean figure out in the sense of “How does this here newfangled thing work?” I mean it as in “Let’s decide what this thing does and doesn’t do well.”
Remember that little invention called the telephone? Pundits of the late 19th century forecast doom and gloom for face-to-face human interaction, and even the art of the personal letter. No more mail from your sweetheart! No more traveling to see loved ones back home in old Virginny! Why visit when you can just pick up a black Bakelite crescent and talk to other people? Why put pen to paper when you could blurt out your love through a plastic cylinder, and have it heard thousands of miles away? We’re doomed!
Yeah, we see how that turned out. And say what you want about the end of the U.S. Postal Service—it’s not happening anytime soon, if the amount of physical mail I get every day is an indicator.
Social media can be an effective tool for so many different uses. Business can stay in touch with customers much more easily. With Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and blogs, musicians and artists of all kinds get their work seen and heard much more directly than through traditional PR means. Social media can help people find new jobs. It can spark creativity and lead projects in new and exciting directions. Social media can even spread rapid social and democratic change—Arab Spring, anyone?
Social media is incredibly powerful. When used well, it’s a highly effective communication tool. Used poorly, though, it’s a quick way to make a fool out of yourself.
Social media makes the entire world feel like a very small town. A very small, nosy, gossipy, judgmental town. Nearly 24 hours a day, everyone knows what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and with whom. People keep repeating the old clichés: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” and “Any publicity is good publicity.” But those clichés were created in the “old media” days, a time before 24-hour satellite news, the internet, and mobile phones.
Time to rethink publicity.
We don’t have to look far for examples of dumb social media moves: Anthony Weiner. McDonald’s. Comcast. When we open our lives (or our organizations) to worldwide public scrutiny, there’s bound to be trouble.
This series of posts will discuss smart, effective social media strategy. I’ll feature good and bad examples of social media campaigns—with some contemplation of how these new avenues of communication shape our society.