Rumor has it there is an advertising executive in my hometown of Louisville who, five or six years ago, said, “The Internet is a fad.” While I’m not sure if he’s changed his perspective, I wouldn’t doubt if he hasn’t. Not to put words in his mouth, but I can hear him saying, “Social Media is a fad,” in similar tones.
There are probably a lot of people who might agree with that sentiment. They don’t believe in it. They feel it’s overrated. Their commonality is they don’t understand the power of social media, or fear it. They’re lost in the technology and tools. They don’t see the communications channel. They think about Twitter and not about customer service. They see anonymous bastards ruining the comments sections of our newspaper’s websites and not the wealth of learning and interaction happening on sites that hold their readers accountable.
Someone asked me this week why I love social media. I think the answer is something these curmudgeons should hear.
[flickr style="float: right"]photo:25091097[/flickr]I walked into the Pikeville High School lunchroom on April 8, 1990 and sat at the end seat of a long, white lunch table. I stared down at my rectangular pizza and sighed. More than anything, I wanted to curl up in a distant corner closet, away from the world, and hide. The day before I had done one of those stupid things 17-year-olds do. It’s funny if you get away with it. If you don’t, you become a social pariah, particularly in a small town because if they talk to you, they’re consorting with the leper.
No one talked to me that day. The whole day.
“There’s no loneliness like being lonely in a crowd.”
David LaMotte – “Northbound” from “Corners“
Fortunately, the cruelty of immature social norms wears off as we get older. We realize people make mistakes. We forgive easier.
Today I can turn to my social networks when I’m feeling depressed, sad, confused, excited, elated and immediately find comfort, reassurance and acknowledgement. The kids are all still sitting at the lunchroom tables, but they’re no longer unwitting assailants of our confidence, our emotions. No, it’s not a big happy love-in, but extending your networks extends the possibility of compassion.
People need compassion.
But the emotional safety net our social networks provide isn’t the only reason social media is sustainable. Social media is a method of communications. It is not unlike the telephone, email (which I would argue is social media in ways), television or letter writing. It’s just new which means people don’t see the commonalities and believe in the long-term viability of something they see as a trend.
Instead of trying to wrap your brains around how Facebook or Twitter or blogs will be used 10 years from now, think about how you connect or communicate with your customers, your employees, your friends. Think about the opportunities you’re missing, the roadblocks in the way of true connection or productivity or the reach of your messaging and how you can use communications mechanisms to improve results. Social media offers a variety of tools, technologies, mechanisms and platforms to help you.
Will social media become some industry all of its own? No. It will prove to be another channel of communications or set of tools to aide in communications that become folded into the mechanisms we use today. Those who embrace it will thrive. Those who do not, will. They will when they realize how foolish it is to not.
Shannon Paul said something to me recently that resonates with this topic. When referring to job titles she said that she doesn’t want the term “social media” in hers because it boxes her in and incorrectly labels her skill set. Shannon is a communicator, marketer, public relations professional, writer and smart business person. Being a “social media” something, in other’s perceptions, disqualifies her from the world of expertise she brings to the table.
I would push that line of thinking farther and say we shouldn’t think of social media as it’s own department, discipline or specialty. We should integrate it into the overall marketing and communications efforts of our organizations. It should be included as a component in internal communications, crisis communications, investor relations, customer service and marketing communications. Social media should be ubiquitous … natural.
But we’ve all got to buy in and understand for that to happen. We have a long way to go.
I believe we can get there. I believe we will. I have to maintain hope.
That long, white lunch table isn’t a place I want to be again.
IMAGE: “I Remember Pizza On Friday” by drp on Flickr.
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