Saturday, February 19, 2011

Social Media

We watched this fabulous four minute video called Social Media Revolution 2 at a school division meeting I attended earlier this week, and it cemented the knowledge I already possessed that social media is not going away. It's not a passing fad. Facebook and Twitter and possibly blogging will change forms many times in the future, but they will continue to exist in some form, and it is counterproductive to bury our older heads in the sand and hope that these forms simply disappear into the night.

Social media is here to stay. The video is based on the book Socialnomics by Erik Qualman, and it makes points which are very hard to ignore about the power of social media. The world I grew up in, where we bought products based on print and television advertising, no longer exists. Now we want to hear word of mouth (or "world of mouth" as Qualman calls it) before we pay hard-earned money for anything.

Radio took 58 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13 years, the internet took 4, and Facebook added 200 million users in less than a year. The world is changing at the speed of light, and social media is the delivery system for this information. It is the future of our children. There was a lot of discussion at our table about the negative aspects of social media, and very few positives were highlighted.

Some of the concerns raised included the etiquette of teens using smartphones instead of communicating in person with actual human beings, kids inappropriately using Facebook and Twitter to air grievances and share too many personal things, and the frightening decline of the proper use of the English language through ridiculous abbreviations for texting and social media. I could not argue with any of these. I agree wholeheartedly, but I made the point that these concerns are not limited to teenagers. Many adults struggle with the same problems.

As I see it, the learning curve for social media is steep, and is to blame for a lot of the negative associations people have for Facebook and Twitter in particular. None of us know how to use them properly, and we are all making mistakes. Anything new requires all users to feel their way blindly through the maze for a period of time, until you find your groove and feel more sure of yourself.

It's easy to blame teenagers for what is wrong with social media, but we must also look at ourselves. Do we use our status updates to engender sympathy for our various sicknesses or to complain about how awful our lives are so that people will make the appropriate caring noises? Do we brag about what used to be hidden good deeds so we will be lauded for them? Do we share when we are weeping and so lonely we can't stand it on our Facebook status instead of picking up the phone to call someone who could actually help us?

There are so many positives to all forms of social media, and the same amount of negatives. Learning how to use them effectively is primarily an exercise in trial and error. For the promotion of business and products you want to sell, there is no parallel sales tool as efficient as social media. Positive word of mouth will get you more sales than any costly advertising campaign, and Facebook and Twitter connects people and provides a conduit for instant information, both good and bad.

None of us can ignore it. It's here and will always be here in some form. For those of us who are over 35, it can be challenging to stay current, but if you want to thrive in the world our kids are growing up in, you are better off jumping on board sooner rather than later. Someone has to light the way so the path is not so dark and uncertain for the kids we are raising. Social media is not our enemy; it is simply new and requires a willingness on our part to learn and change as it evolves. The same things which were debated when the internet was birthed are at play again when we consider the dawn of social media.

The etiquette side of the equation has yet to be determined, but I want to be in there helping to negotiate a better solution than what I'm currently witnessing. I want my kids to put personal interaction ahead of staring at a screen. This is easier said than done, I'm more than aware of that, but if I'm glued to my iPhone and my husband to his BlackBerry when the kids are talking to us, they will learn that it's okay to tune people out. They will then do the same thing, and it's not fair for me to complain about their lack of respect when I showed them the behaviour in the first place.

We are all living in an exciting time. Everything is changing, and instead of focusing on the negative, we have a chance to make it work for us and for our kids in the most positive sense. But we have to be aware of it, and invested in using technology to suit our needs and not being overtaken by it. I don't want to be left behind when my kids are in school and leap-frogging over me with what they can do when it comes to technology and social media. I want to be there with them. They can teach me, and I can teach them, but I cannot pretend that it will eventually go away.

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