Defining Social MediaMonday, May 18, 2009
Social media is one of those phrases that is thrown around and abused so frequently these days that it is often completely misunderstood, even by those who participate in it.
At its simplest, social media is a conversation. At its most complex, social media is a conversation. And just like with the dynamics of any verbal conversation, there is potential for a broad range of outcomes.
Everything in life is done through some form of conversation and communication, be it online or offline. Multi-million dollar deals are won (and lost) based on a series of conversations. Wars have been started because of an offense someone took from a spoken word, and peace treaties have been negotiated because of a willingness to communicate in a more humble tone. Couples even agree to marry each other with two simple words "I do".
Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are not social media. They are tools that help facilitate it, just like Starbucks or another coffee shop can help facilitate verbal, face-to-face conversations. The conversations that happen within those online platforms is the social media.
Where there is opportunity to speak, there is opportunity to be misunderstood, and online media is no exception. While getting started in social media is as simple as jumping in and starting a conversation or joining one, committing to it is not easy. It is risky and you have to give up quite a bit of perceived control (I say perceived because you weren't ever really in control anyway). Tone can be misinterpreted much more easily via the written word and passive aggressive remarks instantly have a larger audience. Being a hermit, however, is not healthy, either offline or on, and is not a solution to avoiding the important conversations that are happening.
It's important to note that the platforms used will evolve and be replaced, but the need to communicate with other humans never will. Social media will also never fully replace verbal communication. The days of speaking face-to-face or via telephone aren't going anywhere (though the phone might). The tools will always change; the core need to communicate and connect with each other will not.
That said, online communication is not a fad and social media isn't one of those things that was fun while it lasted. It is another form of talking with others, and it will only continue to grow. While Facebook has jumped the shark and Twitter is beginning to swim in some dangerous waters, social media is here to stay. If you're not willing to adapt and participate in the two way conversations online media enables, your business will suffer.