I've been participating in a lot of discussions on a lot of blogs all over the 'net on the topic of social networking. There are lots of really smart people talking and writing about social media, some very talented, thoughtful and passionate people. Chris Brogan
, Jeremiah Owyang
, Connie Benson
, Angela Connor
, Shannon Paul
, Amber Naslund
and Mack Collier
are a few of the folks that I respect and read on a regular basis.
I've Got a Bone To Pick
The terms 'social networking', 'social media' and 'community' get tossed around a LOT in my biz, as if they were interchangeable words, all meaning the same thing.
It's All About Me. Really.
Social networking is about ME. Whether "me" is literally, me, or whether "me" is a company. Or an idea. I, Mark use social networking to gather or give information, to meet people, to establish a reputation, to share my opinion, to give the wonderful gift of me to as many people as want to share me. (read that last bit with a sense of humor, please).
In a social network, the attention is on ME. Facebook is a great example of a social network. So is LinkedIn. So is Twitter. Sure, I'm connecting to you, but it's really about me.
Ever comment or read comments on a blog? MOST of the time, there is no *real* dialogue going on. The blog author puts out an opinion or observation. (like this one) People comment, giving *their* opinion on the author's opinion. The author then comes back and acknowledges the comments, what a nice point the commenter had, or they disagree, and thus show that the blog author (ie; ME) is a gracious conversationalist.
But *rarely* does a commenter on a blog post comment more than once. Rarely do people acknowledge other comments and lead the conversation into a new direction, as happens in *real* conversations. The blog author is saying this is MY opinion, and the commenters are responding with "this is my opinion about your opinion."
(try this sometime: count how many topics you will cover in a 10 minute conversation with someone in a ftf conversation. start with any topic you like, and I'll bet that inside of 10 minutes, you will have wandered and touched on at least 10 different topics or reference points)
Any way you slice it, the focus is on ME.
Tool? Who Are You Calling a Tool?
Social media...well...that's just another word for "tools". Social media are the tools that one uses to connect either in a social network or a community. It's technology...it's the conduit which leads to connection on either end.
While folks like to focus on the whiz bang, bleeding edge things that can be called "Web 2.0", really, *anything* that connects people with other people is a social media.
A telephone (remember using one of those to actually *talk* with people?) is one of the greatest social media tools ever invented, until telemarketers ruined it.
Television is a great social media tool. Sure, some folks will say "but there is no interaction with TV, how can it be a social media tool?"
Well, if you're a football fan, you certainly DO interact with your TV set when your favorite player drops a touchdown pass. Or when you invite your friends over for the game.
How many people would talk about the latest Seinfeld episode, or American Idol in the office? I can't tell you how many conversations we've had at my work place about Lost, or a sporting event, the presidential debates or The Office. (full disclosure: I once crashed our network by downloading Office episodes to my iPod, and event that STILL gets talked about. Sheesh, you bring the network down once, and for some reason, people never forget that!)
Television, at its best, gets people talking. It's a social media tool. Whether it's as effective as other tools is up for debate.
Things like Twitter, AIM, email, FaceBook, MySpace, Bebo, etc...they're all social media tools, used to connect people. They are the pipe thru which connection flows.
Human Beings vs. Human Doings
Building Community is the whole point of social networking and social media. Connecting the ME and turning it into WE.
What *is* a community, you ask?
I'm glad you did. A community is...as a community does.
In order for a group of people to turn into a community, it must have a higher sense of purpose...and it must have *action* as its ultimate objective.
Without action, there is no community.
Wah? You Got Some 'Splainin To Do, Lucy...
Think of anything that you can obviously call a 'community'. A church. Your local PTA. Your climbing, knitting, biking, golfing club. Your homeowners association. A trade association you belong to.
Each of these has *action* as the reason for their existence. We identify with the community based on the action we take.
I'm a golfer, for example, but I'm not in the community of golfers until I join a club. And the club will take actions like hold tournaments, get discounts on lessons and equipments...in order that I can take the action of playing golf.
Fans of a sports team or a rock band or a tv show...are just fans...a collection of people...until they take an action.
Wearing a team jersey is the action of evangelizing for your community (team). If I'm sitting at home watching the game, I'm just a fan. When I invite my friends over, then we become a community, with our 'action' being to send our collective energy to will our team to victory.
If you think that's silly, well, in EVERY sport, there is a home field advantage that largely comes from the positive energy that the crowd supplies. If every fan just stayed home as an individual, there would be no advantage.
I might be a fan of Deadwood, but I'm not in a *community* of fans of Deadwood until I take some action protesting it going off the air and trying to get it reinstated. It's not just common interest that makes a community, it's common purpose.
My friend Dave Land
, who is the smartest person you've never heard of, made a comment to me on this subject that I love.
He said (well, tweeted, to be precise) "So a community is what it does, not who it is? Not disagreeing, I'm just sayin', is all… Are we human doings, or human beings?"
We Be as Me, We Do as (collective) YOU.
Which brings me to the final point. Yes, by ourselves, we are human *beings*. When I'm on Facebook, for example, I'm being me. I share pictures with my friends, I catch up on their lives, I am...just existing. (which is a perfectly good thing to do).
When I am on MyBarackObama.com though, I am *doing*. Which ultimately, has more power, people coming together around your product or service and *doing* something with it..and evangelizing to others to join them.
So What You're Really Saying Is...
If you're a marketer or a company considering getting into this 'social' space online, you should ask yourself what it you are really trying to accomplish--
Do you want people to DO something with you, or is it enough for them to just BE with you?
Either choice can be a perfectly valid choice, depending on your business needs, but they are two completely different business objectives.
It's just important to know the distinction.
What are your thoughts? Care to engage me in a conversation on this topic?