What is Social Media?

Thu, Jan 12, 2012
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Post by Meredith, Dig Media Meredith
Dig Blog, Features

By Mike Rodger

Before Christmas, I set myself the goal of figuring out “social media” over the break. I’m on Facebook, I blog on Stockhouse, I have a Twitter account. I’ve even tweeted, but I only have 7 followers, so I’m not changing the world.

But I didn’t really use these things much. I didn’t know what everyone was so excited about. (I felt old, too.)

Part way through the break, I read an article about tech company Atos banning internal email. This article lead to an ‘aha’ moment: Social Media is the evolution of non-verbal communication.

Think of how photography has changed since it went digital. For example, 20 years ago if I wanted to share photos with my friends, my options would include:

  • drawer full of photos – introvert
  • stack of photos on the table – extrovert
  • photo albums – organized extrovert
  • slide shows (including projector, screen, carousels of slides and hopefully lots of alcohol) – for organized extroverts with friends to lose

That’s it!

Think of how different it is now. As Kodak teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, you have many, many more options to share your photos. Add them to , put them up on Flickr, tweet them one at a time, sell them though iStockphoto, use one of a gazillion programs to create a slideshow and add it to YouTube. Add them to a blog on blog.com or blogspot. You can create your own books for a fraction of the cost of 10 years ago, you can have them all on a digital picture frame or just load them onto your phone and show your friends that way. You can even create your own motivational posters.

The point being that with digital photos and the internet, everything has changed. So much so that it wouldn’t be recognizable to people from 20 years ago. And it’s still changing.

The non-verbal methods of communicating are in the midst of the same evolution. You can text, tweet, blog, (is that a verb now?), instant message and, of course, email.

What non-verbal communication options did we have 20 years ago? Snailmail. Telex (don’t know what that was). Telegrams? Memos sent around by courier? Letters to the editor? Obituaries! Notes on cork-boards. Annual reports. Even as I write this, it amazes me how much things have changed.

So non-verbal communication has evolved. Now we send text messages rather than phoning. We send emails rather than write letters or memos or telegrams. If you are like me, you email a lot. Just about my entire life is buried in my email somewhere. I’ve become very good at searching my email, whether it’s for a password or a quote or an article on Atos banning internal email.

I’ve realized that using email for everything is a little like loading all my pictures onto an electronic picture frame and then carrying it around with me to show people. Kinda sad, even to me.

So off on the new frontier. Using instant messaging to ask a quick question rather than emailing. Tweeting an interesting link rather than emailing. Blogging about my social media progress, rather than an email that would go in the “to look at someday” folder.

And likely most important, spending some time thinking about the best way to communicate with our audience, our clients and with industry thought leaders. It can’t just be email any more.

Note: I’m leaving faxes out of this conversation. I remember working in an office before faxes. And I’m pretty sure I will work in an office after faxes are no longer used.

Give us another 5 years and I think people will look back and say “remember when we used to fax?”. Just like 15 years ago when people said, “Remember what it was like before faxes?”.

Faxes are a technological anomaly. But perhaps they were a necessary stepping stone in the evolution of non-verbal communication. Maybe we needed faxes to help us bridge the gap between the age of analog and our current world. Like CD’s and DVD’s. Maybe that’s why books haven’t jumped into the digital realm as quickly – no stepping stone between pure analog and pure digital.

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