I am no expert in social media and also, not a very heavy user/time spender on social media sites. Yes, I do have a presence and do frequently ‘participate’ on quite a few of them. More so, as a practising manager, my interaction is more from the practical business perspective rather than living and breathing in the digital/internet world as does today’s digital generation !!
Having said that, when Geetanjali suggested that I do a short piece on social media, my obvious first response was to google ‘social media’ and try to learn more about it. So much for the strength and power of and dependence on the internet and social media today. Wikipedia gives a description of social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” Businesses also refer to social media as consumer-generated media (CGM). A common thread running through all definitions of social media is a blending of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of value.
There is abundance of data about the tremendously high prevalence, reach, usage etc. of social media and hence, let me not delve into those details and numbers. However, at a macro level it is man’s inherent nature and ‘interconnectedness’ that propel such developments. The story of human evolution is more about co-existence, co-evolution and collaboration than about destruction and fights. There is definitely a social set up and a ‘collegiality’ about the whole domain and it is this ‘motivator’ that acts as the power engine behind the huge success of social media. Promos of the movie ‘The Social Network’ (about the founders of Facebook, including Mark Zukerberg) say “You don’t get to 500 Million Friends without making a few enemies” !! The second part maybe debatable, but the relevant part here is the creation of a huge base of ‘friends’.
Some quotes from the film :
Mark Zuckerberg : People wanna go online and check out their friends, so why not build a website that offers that. I’m talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online.
Sean Parker : We lived in farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re gonna live on the internet!
In my own personal life, as happens to most of us with nuclear families and work pressures, my contact with close cousins and friends from schools, college and early career, had dwindled drastically. But over the last few years, with Linked In, Facebook, Twitter and some other sites, I have been able to rediscover and reconnect with so many lost contacts and more importantly, have stayed connected due to ease of usability e.g. my cousin in Scotland with whom I touched base after 25 years and an old colleague now in Beijing, not to mention the business associate in Toronto with whom I am exploring opportunities.
The progression of society and social interaction through social media is blurring the boundaries of professional, social, personal and family space that used to be in so formally water tight compartments earlier. My own work timings are 24X7 with personal and professional time and space boundaries diffusing and the two spaces becoming more and more nebulous and closer in feel to the now commonly used term ….. ‘cloud’ ….. in a way reinforcing the quantum physics description of the true ‘wave’ nature of matter/existence. Non routine work formats, network like loosely bound collectives (teams), weak links (due to larger intermolecular distances in gaseous state) ….. all are becoming characteristics of the way we tend to feel and work and the direction towards which social media evolution is taking us. Organisational boundaries get blurred as well and networks and matrix like working environments emerge, each requiring very different skills.
There are certain other clear characteristics of this rather ‘nebulous’ state of affairs that is emerging. Let me use a few quotes from the same movie to demonstrate these.
Speed, Recency and Accessability :
Marylin Delpy : The site got twenty-two hundred hits within two hours?
Mark Zuckerberg : Thousand.
Marylin Delpy : I’m sorry?
Mark Zuckerberg : Twenty-two *thousand*.
Marylin Delpy : [to herself] Wow.
Erica Albright: The internet’s not written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink
Reach, Scalability and Usability :
There was a similar feeling when electronic media went through a revolutionary phase in India in the early ‘90s. Overnight, speed and recency of CNN led to the print medium and other channels look archaic and becoming insecure.
At a more micro level, in terms of usage for marketing, it does provide a strong tool. In conventional direct marketing that I used quite a lot, the key factors were direct, focussed and two way communication. Social media allows great efficiencies and effectiveness to practitioners of this.
However, conventional marketing wisdom of Brand Positioning, Style, Tonality are still valid and cannot be overlooked. A marketer can use divergence to reach out and target specific potential customers (mass customised contact base and communication, respecting the tremendous diversity of tastes and interests that can also be captured very well) and inward convergence to get customers/stakeholders to reach back to the organisation, but the greatest benefit lies in the possibility of developing ‘stickiness’ of relationships if ‘trust’ & ‘confidence’ is built in the source as an authority/expert.
Needless to say, there has to be caution in certain areas too e.g. in handling complaints and negative comments that can also shoot out and spread with the same speed and reach. Says a recent newspaper report ‘within 48 hours of its launch, the facebook account of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) got 1278 hits and over 400 comments, mostly complaints. Only that MCD didn’t want to know about the civic mess in such gory details’. Life sciences and pharma players have to be very cautious in sharing information with lay consumers, lest wrong/half information create problems.
Specific tools, techniques and knowhow for this medium are also evolving as learning builds up, like for any new profession. There are already short term (one/two month) courses on social media that are coming up, to build and share a base of ‘knowledge’ related to this field.
Hope the skills and mass of knowledge in this area develop and this is one technology application which is truly used in growing love and not hatred in humanity, staying true to its inherent characteristic of ‘hyperconnectedness’ !!
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