Monday, 31 August 2009

Social media: hype or hope?

Call me slow but I’m kind of puzzled by the hype, especially in marketing circles, around “social media”. A provocative discussion “Does social media work, or is it just a time drain?” (in group on LinkedIn) got me thinking.

To me FaceBook was like just another step along from email, group discussion forums, and Chat rooms: another way to “stay in touch”; a new place for conversation; a place to exchange ideas, think, express, be, grow, get to know, belong, hang-out; a place with Face; a place for community in a world of failing community, disconnection and alienation.

So it didn’t surprise me that people found it and began using it; that the more who found it, the more wanted to find it, intrigued, not wanting to miss out; that it became the place to be, to be seen - a global fashion phenomenon. Most seem to use it to talk to people they personally know; to make friends through people they know; to engage; to belong, be useful, known, valued; to be.

“Social media” is kind of like the new grapevine and village meeting place rolled into one – the new virtual market square of community “on speed”: community apparently offering new scope to be; for new beyond-the-village identity. No wonder people are flocking there.

But fundamentally we’re village people and the commerce of the market square is natural, integral to our community. So why the hype and hoopla? Seems to maybe come from folks who want to make a quid as experts on the new market square; to somehow claim it for their own.

For all that, it’s about people, relationships, and trust. The communication rules haven’t changed, though literacy is an advantage in what’s currently still mainly textual media. Old skills really, maybe needing a little reinterpretation and a lot of re-learning.

In my work I’ve found that people who for whatever reason aren’t confident at talking with others, prefer a textual medium. It gives them time to digest what’s been said, to compose a response. And the internet has an added power-levelling effect: as an English-as-second-language student once said of me, “When Steve enters the chat room he gives up his power.”

It levels the playing field and they get to try being themselves, to communicate with new others. Pretty soon they are demanding to speak, to know who they’re talking to, and be known; demanding order in the chaos of random conversation.

It’s my hope that beyond the hype and hoopla, with winnowing of wheat from the chaff, the new social media will help release and connect diverse talent; help release entrepreneurial spirit from the psychic prison (Gareth Morgan. 1986. Images of Organization) of conventional organisation.

PS I’m a mature extrovert: a Rational Inventor (Myers Briggs); an Influencer (EDISC)

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