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What is social media for?

Social Media

Good question; deserves big answer.

Sometimes we don’t have an answer already baked, a “here’s one I made earlier reply”, sometimes the answer is about continual discovery, allowing more organic growth and trusting that the universe is working itself out exactly as it should (perhaps with a garnish of strategic thought and nurture mixed in from time to time). Sorry if I sound a little bit like Jamie Oliver on acid, however big Q’s bring that out in me.

What is Social Media for, all this web2.0 stuff? Perhaps we should be looking at where did it all come from and how did it all happen in order to get our heads round the concept in the first place.

When I am out and about speaking to the various lovely people I meet on my travels as the NixonMcInnes’ Marketing bod, I still find myself having to explain what Social Media is and what it can mean to each of us not just individuals, but as communities. Very occasionally I get the chance to hypothesize with my fellow human beings about what Social Media will mean to the world, to this universe even. (By the way, I usually bore nearly all of my friends with all this kind of speak too; we are talking extremely blank looks and even more glazed expressions here.) Luckily I can talk Social Media with my mates at work (where we love it) and have the opportunity to dream and talk about these big Q’s in real time.

Do we have to understand it at all? I like this presentation that my fellow social media goodness guru Anna sent to me (it is a long one so watch out), but I invite you to take a look at slide 12 where Matt Webb from London design consultancy Schulze & Webb is saying the term Web 2.0 should be difficult to define as it is used to describe the “coming of age of the Web, where the Web is finally it’s own metaphor.” *Alert* – nerdy bit – I also really like slides 15 & 16 where they talk about 2008 being the year of peak attention and the web itself as a movement, all good brain fodder!

So this gets me thinking back to when electricity was first invented or the television. People didn’t know what to think, they didn’t really know how to utilise this stuff and they were even a little scared of it until other people came along and made it accessible to them, so they could use and play with these new technologies – translate them into their own lives.

So it will be with Social Media. This is my humble opinion.

Now back to the not so little questions that Will has asked under the umbrella of the big Q:

1. What do you personally think social media are for?

Dare I say it, the continuing evolution of mankind (yep back to that Jamie doo dah, doo dah speak. P.S. Sorry to pick on you Jamie it’s just you were on the box last night).

2. Can social media be employed effectively to make even a tiny difference to [big] issues?

Yes and I think it already is, let’s look at the following examples and please feel free to add more to this ever growing and burgeoning list (I know I have forgotten some good ones).

Political change

Open Congress
A social networking site for US citizens to track what is happening with their government. OpenCongress brings together official government data with news and blog coverage to give the real story behind what’s happening in Congress. Small groups of political insiders and lobbyists already know what’s really going on in Congress. OpenCongress think everyone should be an insider.

What is even more exciting is that OpenCongress is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation. Their work is free, open-source, not-for-profit, and non-partisan.

The soundtrack of change

Radiohead’s “In Rainbows Album”
Radiohead finished their contract with EMI following their last album and announced via their website that their new album ‘In Rainbows’ will be released purely through their website. The album download had no set price; you can pay whatever you want for it. The future of the music industry is changing.

Religious change

Second Life enabling better US-Islam relations?

Scientific change

Data visualization in Second Life

Charitable change

Second Life Relay For Life

Web change

Behold, Amazon Web Services

The concept of individual change in a collective environment

43 Things
Keep track of your life list and the 43 things that you want to do in life. Get inspired by what others are doing; share your progress with those around you. You can also see how many people share your goal (for example, 17,436 other people want to write a book).

Clever connections

The BBC iPlayer and buzz monitoring in action

Effective Simplicity

Zeus Jones wants you to eat well

However we shouldn’t be afraid of new inventions we should embrace them:

Beyond the digital divide lies a new world of intimacy
Guardian article – The rush to blame the Bridgend deaths on social networking reflects adult ignorance of the role of technology in young lives

Also there is a bright future if we want it:

Creating solutions to social problems… Social Innovation Camp, London

3. What is it about social media that might help address these causes?

I think in a nutshell message behind the essence of the Social Media is as old as the hills and I couldn’t put it better than Margaret Mead did by saying:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

It’s just a faster, more global medium than has ever been used before.

4. Which projects or causes inspire, grip or otherwise distract you personally?

I guess this one shouldn’t be a toughie. Really the big issues that get up my nose to such a point where I want to go on some activists march or something should make me want to shout and scream about them here, however I guess I am more interested in what everyone else thinks and where change can really be effective for the better good.

I personally would like to see a world without fear, however that’s a bit of a tall order, maybe I should try and break it down a little (not here, another time, perhaps another place, anyway…).

So that’s enough of my rant for now. I hope you liked or at least found some of my blog entry interesting. And if you did – well, I have used social media throughout to illustrate and accompany my words – which begs another big Q; if a picture paints a thousand words and the pen is mightier that the sword – what happens if we connect a community and combine the two?

Hmmm, she goes on…pondering.

This post was filed under Marketing & PR, Social media, Working culture and tagged Comments are currently closed.


  1. Great post! Enlightened and easy to read.

    Thank you for an inspired response to such an import question.

    How often do you have a chance to be a pioneer for something bigger than yourself?

    This is our chance.

    Posted 5th March 2008 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  2. I think “social media” is a convenient term for the kind of interactions that are fundamental to the internet.

    Concepts like blogging have helped to provide tools for expression to people. This is definitely a Good Thing.

    The current crop of social network sites may just have been in the right place at the right time as external factors aligned for it to take off. Factors like availability of cheap broadband and public acceptance of the internet as part of daily life for business, entertainment and socialising beyond the geek minority.

    … Something of particular interest to me (working in a marketing agency) is not only the opportunity of new channels but the responsibility.

    You can’t just push messages at people. You’re bound to be exposed if you are not in sync with your message – if your product or service is substandard, if your opinions are ill-informed or dishonest.

    Conversely if you *are*, the opportunities are limitless as people will gladly spread your word for you.

    There’s a real need to be authentic. That’s world changing.

    Posted 5th March 2008 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  3. Andy

    I get the notion of web 2.0. A mishmash of data, services and tools. These might be for social reasons or not – i guess that’s for the end user to decide. It seems that the consensus is to free up your information, services or tools for others to manipulate and i think that’s probably half the picture. There’ll be ppl with the desire to make some monetary gain out of their creation. That’s no bad thing either as it means they’ll probably invest back into their work – produce more or maintain a high quality of service.

    I’m not sure how i feel about social media as a term. does it mean information exchange between people that doesn’t stem from a corporate media provider? If so, it should fall into the melting pot along with everything else. Perhaps i’ve missed the point on this one.

    One thing that gets left behind is social exclusion. Ten years ago over two thirds of the planet didn’t have access to the telephone – a 100 year old invention. Though that’s changing fast the basic level is going to cheap mobile apps & sms for a number of years to come. AIDS education for African women has worked this way successfully. At the other extreme of technology, i can upload a map of AIDS density to maptube and it’ll appear in Second Life seamlessly.

    ah help, i’m wandering. hope there’s some valid points of interest there.

    Posted 5th March 2008 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  4. Great article!

    I like the idea that we don’t have to understand social media at all. Plenty of people don’t really understand the internet but they still use it with great benefit. Just like the dotcom boom, social media will soon settle down into ‘just another activity’ and people won’t notice they are participating because it will be a normal thing to do. All they will remember is if they had a good experience or not.

    To this end, we need to have a boom period of trying out new implementations – we already have some great ones and yes, many others will fail – but this is how we find out what social media is for. The people will decide…

    Posted 5th March 2008 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  5. I’ve just finished reading an incredibly inspiring book called Banker to the Poor by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

    I cannot do any more than plead/demand/encourage you to buy and read the book (or borrow it from the library ;)

    He ends with a chapter about the future, and talks about how the Internet is a great leveller, and how access to that can help combat poverty.

    I think this addresses the kind of things Alex is talking about above (‘social exclusion’ and so on) and for me is exactly what I want to get to with the incredible skills and talents we have in the Nixon McInnes team: how can we leverage these to employ them for the greater good, to address the world’s problems, not (just) to make profits.

    Posted 5th March 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  6. Is the Internet really a great leveller when only 20% of the people in the world have access to it ( That is still a remarkable number of people, but arguably the people who are affected the most by the world’s environmental problems are the poorest ones who don’t use social media. So is it a case of getting everyone online first, and then giving them enough to eat? Perhaps you can give a summary of that last chapter.

    Posted 12th March 2008 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  7. Paul, you cynic you. Read the book man, it’s worth it and I’m sure profits go to a good cause. Effectively what Yunus says is that the availability of information is a hugely important leveller for the poor and that it, along with things like mobile communications, can and has tangibly impacted the lives of the very poorest people.

    Posted 12th March 2008 at 9:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Pete Burden

    Seems to be a social network aimed at people who want to buy greener products.

    Posted 12th April 2008 at 8:59 pm | Permalink