The start of a beautiful friendship…
I’ll admit it. I’m a social media skeptic. The thought of people I barely know reading about my (often) mundane life makes me feel like I’m in a scene from Nineteen Eighty-Four. This feeling of Big Brother knowing exactly who I am with just a few quick searches feels invasive, unnecessary and often precarious.
However as I delved more into the world of communications and public relations, social media was no longer avoidable. So I dived right into Twitter and Facebook, and like millions of other users, I became hooked on checking my social streams at least once a day. When I did not check Twitter, I often felt like I had no idea what the day’s events were like, and what people were talking about. Was it Apple’s latest product? What song did Glee perform yesterday? And what’s going on around Wichita tonight?
The constant itch for me to check social media never made me feel comfortable, as I felt I became too reliant upon reading and responding to statuses. Now I’m not pretentious enough to think that there are people who would actually want to know what I had for lunch so I deleted my accounts and was social media free for a year (speaking of, there should really be a Social Media Anonymous don’t you think?). But I recently re-joined Facebook and Twitter before starting my social media class at Wichita State University determined to make use of social media on a more professional level.
As much as I felt reluctant to participate in social media, I still enjoy learning more about it, specifically as a business tool. There’s no doubt that social media is a powerful medium for creating relationships and facilitating discussions. It is becoming much more than updated statuses however, as “the people formerly known as the audience” is using this platform to report, respond and generate news that is relevant to them. His essay introduces a way of reaching people not by traditional media, but through social media. The ramifications of these social networks represent a shift from media gatekeepers to “the people formerly known as the audience” as Jay Rosen put it.
His essay discusses how media has rapidly changed. The power of news and reporting has shifted from large printing presses and radio to blogs and podcasts covering whatever and whenever people want. Electronic media has drastically changed the way we consume news and entertainment, while social media has shifted the “where” and “how.” Rosen says that Big Media is no longer on their clock, but instead users are determining when, where and how they will engage in a movie, television show or news.
I think Rosen’s take on this new audience is refreshing and on-point with how media has transformed within the past few years. There certainly has been a shift, and whether they like it or not Big Media has some competition with citizen reporting, independent news channels, and blogs. While social media can empower tribes and consumers, these social media networks has an immense amount of information, personal and public, about every single user that has logged on. I heard someone say recently that Facebook has almost become a population register; a large database that has every user’s names, phone numbers and birth dates- basically if you’re not on Facebook, you don’t exist. While this idea is a bit overreaching, one can’t help but wonder just how much control “the people formerly known as the audience” has over social media networks.
“Engage or Die”
There is no denying the social media effect, especially when it comes to businesses. As Brian Solis says in his book Engage!, “Social media is about speaking with, not “at” people.” Social media in itself requires two-way communication especially if companies are attempting to reach out to consumers.
One of the main points that Solis advocates is to “Engage or Die.” In essence, for organizations to make it in a post-Twitter world, they must engage and communicate with the new layer of influencers on their products or services. Thanks to networks like Twitter, tribes of people are forming and they are actively listening and influencing each other.
Solis discusses the socialization of information through social media. He talks about how organizations can now implement an integrated communications strategy quickly by focusing on multiple markets and influencers who have a greater impact on brand resonance. For example, by reaching out to someone who is a leading voice in mobile apps and has plenty of loyal followers, an organization can certainly push their new product. One can also see how this works on a local level as well.
The author advocates for companies to change the way they release messages and challenges them to create conversations instead. Traditional marketing often does not have room to learn about consumers outside of their buying habits and demographics. Solis mentions how social media really incorporates aspects of sociology, anthropology and ethnography as well.
Solis proposes that human interaction is what helps build the bridge between organizations and consumers, potential or otherwise. And that human interaction can be achieved (inexpensively) through social media. Understanding these social sciences can also help for marketers and managers to understand consumers not just as numbers and figures, but humans- that is often forgotten in my opinion.
“The inability to know people for who they are and what they represent prevents us from effectively and truly seeing them- which then impedes our efforts to reach them,” writes Solis.
However, social media is just one component of a marketing communication strategy and certainly not the answer to every promotional problem. Social media should instead by incorporated as a strategic effort to connect with customers. If a company engages with a customer or market, they must do it in a social, two-way channel that not only shows them talking, but listening as well. Solis discusses how a company must engage or die.
“Transparency and Authenticity”
In her book Open Leadership, Charlene Li argues that business leaders must let go in order to succeed. They must let go of business ambiguity and secrecy, and embrace transparency and authenticity instead- preferably through social media where the conversation about the company is happening with or without them.
“Being open should be not a mantra or philosophy, but a considered, rigorous approach to strategy and leadership that yields real results… The question isn’t whether you will be transparent, authentic, and real, but rather, how much you will let go and be open in the face of new technologies,” writes Li.
And I could not agree more. Social media has allowed many organizations and citizens a glimpse inside the organization. While strategic messages are still taking place, Twitter and Facebook allows “the people formerly known as the audience” to interact and draw a clearer picture of what the organization stands for.
A great example of this would be local advertising agencies that post pictures or updates about participating in charity events, benefits, etc. And it’s usually not in a boastful way at all. More often then not, these organizations want consumers to see that the organization is more than just an office, but a participating (and valuable) part of the community.
Social media also allows for more openness and accountability of the businesses. Surely everything that a politician or famous CEO has done online (such as taking pictures of himself, hiring escorts, etc.) is never hidden for long. More often then not it is social media networks that adds fuel to the fire by reposting the links again and again. This pressure of accountability can be a double-edged sword for some organizations, but if you’re company has nothing to hide, then social media should remain an important vehicle for humanizing your company and developing relationships with different markets.
“Politics of Privacy”
In her speech “Networked Privacy”, Danah Boyd discusses how our individual privacy is, now more than ever, connected.
“We’re all connected. Our data is connected. Our interactions are connected. Our privacy is connected. And privacy matters, not just for the individual, but for the collective,” says Boyd.
But just what exactly is privacy? Sure there are plenty of definitions out there, but what is privacy for you is not privacy for me. And certainly now with social media it’s a bit out of our control with what happens on social networking websites with photo tagging, and blogs. Like Boyd says, because of this networked world, it’s no longer just what you do that goes on your permanent record, it’s everything that everyone else does that might implicate you.
Boyd discusses how privacy is essentially about two things: control over a social situation and agency to assert that control. Control is knowing what’s going on with the social situation and the ability to create privacy in public. Agency is “the freedom that people have to make their own choices without being constrained by structural factors.” Privacy combines both of that: having enough agency to feel a sense of control over specific information.
It is extremely common for people who use social media to assume that they have privacy- that’s what privacy settings are for right? But just because one blocks certain people or locks their account does not mean they have privacy. In fact, privacy in its fullest terms is not possible to achieve in social media networks. Even if I delete my account, Facebook still has every status and photo that was once available. That’s an enormous amount of information and power that a single company has over each of us.
Social media is about relationships. These leading authors have made a strong case for the use of social media, particularly for businesses. When used as a means to communicate with current clients, concerned consumers and even naysayers, social media is a wonderful (and inexpensive) vehicle for cultivating those relationships.
Although social media can be a positive tool, it’s constantly changing in people’s minds. A recent study by Pew Internet found that only 50% of use social media, and their attitudes to describe it are mixed. (http://mashable.com/2011/08/26/adult-social-media-stats/). And perhaps the biggest issue with social media is privacy. I think the next steps in social media is to ensure our privacy, and perhaps to regulate it- which is sure to be a controversial topic.
Still, one cannot deny how integral social media has become to our lives and culture. It has truly revolutionalized the way we think, act and behave. And that’s something to Tweet about.