Social Media: The ‘Why’ Needs to Come First (Part 1)

Since I started “doing social media” back in 2009, I have found plenty of great articles with tips covering the “how-to” and etiquette for lots of specific social media tools (here are some good articles on Twitter, Facebook, and video blogging use for instance.)  There is even an excellent post on overcoming social media roadblocks.  Likewise, I have also heard all those shocking statistics meant to build a sense of urgency for getting involved in social media.  (If you are not one of the 2.7 million viewers already, check out the Social Media Revolution video by Socialnomics to get you excited.)  But what I don’t hear nearly as much about is “why” we should be doing it as an organization or government agency in the first place.

This point was made quite clear to me as I sat in the only social media presentation available at FDIC in Indianapolis last month listening to a fine explanation of using the latest tools when someone from the audience raised his hand to say that Facebook and Twitter were banned at his organization and he was there primarily to learn why he might challenge that position.  It also struck me that he wasn’t alone.  The nodding heads showed that at least half of the audience in that room was there not to learn “how” to use these tools, but to leave with an understanding of “why” they should use them.  That moment felt a little like the Today Show hosts describing the Internet in 1994.

A cynic may suggest that the reasons for its use not being discussed more often is because they are not yet clear even to those who simply enjoy cutting themselves on the bleeding edge of technology without the forethought of its application.  These “innovators” at the early end of Geoffrey Moore’s curve often face such descriptive abuse just as others before them faced at the introduction of email.  But I suggest that most of the stammering is really because the answer is so elementary.  These new social media tools are being used for the exact same reasons that the now older media of print, television, and radio have been employed.  It is all about communicating your story to a select audience.  But we must be careful in using this logic since that line of thought also masks the real differences between them.

The differentiator in social media is both in how the audience is “selected” as well as in the intimacy and immediacy of communicating that message.  Older media forms broadcast a calculated corporate message to a broad audience in hopes of reaching just a few percent of a captive crowd through interruption.  Social media, on the other hand, builds personalized relationships over time through trust to grow a dedicated group of “followers” actively listening to an unfolding story.  While the direct “reach” expressed in numbers is often smaller for new media by comparison, it is a highly focused presence more accustomed to drive relevant action.  Social networks are hardly made from passive spectators, but rather they are often vocal activists that multiply “reach” by creating “amplification” of your message.  Social networks are also often imbred technologies in that they intersect with each other through cross-posting between various social media tools effectively increasing both reach and amplification beyond a direct following.

As Erik Qualman remarks in his video linked above where he poses the question, “is social media a fad?”, he states “we don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”  To this statement I propose four basic responses:

  • you can ignore it thinking that what you don’t know can’t hurt you
  • become a voyeur and simple listen to stay informed without sharing yourself
  • try to control the conversation to prevent any “off message” remarks
  • or honestly engage with a community through active participation.

Of course there are always costs and rewards for each position, but the greatest value, as shown graphically in the diagram below, is found through increasing active participation along with the level of cooperative engagement.

"Social Media Strategy Options"

Social Media Strategy Options

Another major distinction is that the presentation of your message, or thoughts, are direct to your willing recipients through social media.  You have editorial control of the media now in your hands instead of being at the mercy of the reporters filter or biases.  For good, or for bad, you are only a single step away from your listeners.  This also shows the danger of a potential mis-step in quickly losing that receptive audience.

Engaging with social media then, while achieving the same ends as older media forms in communicating a message, is inherently a very different proposition that requires a distinct implementation strategy and presence of mind.  The reward for taking this new route includes the direct communication of a message as well as the creation of personal influence.  An influence built on trust creating an authoritative presence that can drive relevant action where desired.  Still, this explanation provides only the first half of the answer of why we should be involved in social media.  The second half relates to the specific new functional applications created by social media which will be explored in my next post.

1 Comment

  • Keith Davis says:

    Very interesting read and as someone who doesn’t tweet and is not on Facebook, I was taken by the statement…

    “is social media a fad?”, he states “we don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”

    That is one powerful statement… stopped me in my tracks.

    Look forward to part 2.

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