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Social Media: What is it and why should you care?


By Paul Kiser

“It’s a big waste of time,” is the most common reaction I hear when discussing Social Media (SM) with a novice or rookie user. That statement is followed by, “How do you have the time?”  It’s hard to discuss the topic with non-believers of the SM tools like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn because the subject is difficult to fathom unless a person fully appreciates the impact of the new world of communication created by the Internet.

The best place to start would be to attempt to define the term ‘Social Media.’

Social Media is the personal interactive use of Internet through fixed and portable devices (computers, phones, etc.) that allow text, voice, and/or visual communication and sharing of information that is accessible to multiple people in real-time, near real-time, or available as a file location at a web address.

Note that phone calls on cell phones don’t fall into the Social Media category; however, a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) call using the Internet is subject to debate.  My take on the issue is that a VoIP call falls in the Social Media category because it bypasses the traditional phone system and it is personal interaction that can include multiple people.

Still not clear? Here’s a Kiser Rule of Thumb: If it allows a user comment or user response then it is a Social Media tool. That includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, personal blogs, instant messaging, Flickr, email, music and video sharing sites, etc. under the Social Media umbrella.  Wikipedia has a great list of Social Media tools.

(Wikipedia – Social Media Definition and Examples)

Why is Social Media NOT a Waste of Time?

To understand the value of Social Media you have to understand what has changed for individual communication over the last 40 years.  For simplicity I’ll do it in chunks of 20 years.

1970 – The height of the Age of Mass Communication. Individual remote (not face-to-face) communication was possible only by phone and postal service mail. Long distance phone calls were expensive and mail was slow. Mass communication was possible through one-way, strictly controlled, expensive media like newspapers, magazines, billboards, radio, and television. Society’s flow of communication was primarily one-way and the individual was a receiver.

1990 – The dawn of the Age of Interactive Communication. Individual remote communication was possible via phone, postal service mail, and email. Email allowed rapid personal interactions that avoided the long-distance fees of the traditional phone company and the sloth-like speed of the postal service. This made email it an inexpensive and rapid method of personal communication. Internet websites offered a new type of mass communication that bypassed the control and expense of newspapers, radio, and television. Society’s flow of communication was beginning to become two-way.

2010 – The Age of Omni Communication. Individual remote communication has become group remote communication with random conversations between strangers who often find they have similar interests. Communication has few geographic barriers only economic, political, and geographic technology disparities.  Discussions between people on social media sites influence micro groups of people who may be observers, but don’t necessarily engage in the conversation; however, they gain new insight and understanding by being a silent third-party.  A person can  now express her or his ideas through blogs and social media sites that allow freedom of expression and opinion never known in the history of the world.  Mass communications now struggles to compete with free market communication and finds itself too slow and too expensive. Society’s flow of information is moving in multiple directions at the same time creating a flood of knowledge for those who are connected.

People can choose not to engage in the new Social Media tools, but a person will likely become more and more frustrated and mystified by a world that seems to ignore him or her.

Paul Kiser’s Blog can be found here

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