Sunday, July 5, 2009

Social Media - a Fad?

Human beings love fads – the latest hair style, fashion statement, beverage. And, at the moment, we are fascinated by technology and the new technology-based ways of communicating. Journalists are writing stories and compiling statistics about Twitter use in Iran and blog postings about Michael Jackson's death.

Like so many fads before it, we’re inclined to think that social media will re-shape the universe. And, like so many previous fads, it won’t live up to the hype.

Scott Berkun has written a thought-provoking blog posting Calling bullshit on social media. It’s well worth reading as it clearly outlines some of the basic reasons for why and how we communicate.

Social Networks
First of all, he points out that we have always had social networks (families, clubs, communities), and we have always found unofficial ways to communicate (the Resistance in WWII Europe, Christians drawing fish). Twitter is simply a new communications device.

Quality vs. Quantity
Secondly, Berkun reminds us that quantity does not equate quality. As Berkun says, “I find all social media frequently consists of people re-forwarding things they were forwarded that almost none of them appear to have read, as they believe they are rewarded for publishing frequently above all else. . . . If you are interested in quality, and not volume, then the size of your network matters less than the value of what’s in it.”

Self Promotion
Berkun points to self promotion as one of the dangers of blogs and Twitter: “For all the upsides of any invention there are downsides and it takes time to sort out what they all are. Blogs and Twitter have made self promotion, and self-aggrandizement, acceptable in ways I’ve never seen before, and I’m guilty myself. Is it possible to write or publish without self promotion?”

What Problem am I Trying to Solve?
His final argument is particularly important for all of us who rely on communications to do our job. He reminds us that we should always ask, “What problem am I trying to solve?” Find the best tool, old or new, to communicate. It may be Twitter or a company blog, but it may just be a phone call or a flyer.

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