Accelerate your Community – The Power of Social Media

Social media is all the rage these days. Twitter is a buzz word and media sensation and Facebook has become the de facto method for keeping track of your friends lives. Despite it’s popularity its easy to miss the revolutionary power of social media. Socialization technologies are changing the very fabric of how we connect and stay informed. Many people fail to realize why they should be participating in social media and this is my attempt to explain what you would be missing by sitting on the sidelines.

The power of the network

There are times in each of our lives that we will never forget and I clearly remember the day I discovered the power the network.

In the mid-1990’s I spent most of my days connected to the internet via a local dialup ISP. One afternoon I rushed home to initiate the familiar beeps and hums of my modem but was dismayed when I discovered that I couldn’t connect to the internet. After several failed attempts I simply stared at the screen wondering, what do I do now?

It was at this very moment that I had my epiphany. I’m sitting behind a personal computer, one of the greatest inventions in the history of man, but without the internet it was essentially useless. The computer was not what mattered to me, it was the network.

Fast forward to modern day and consider what it feels like if your internet is down. For many of us it feels like part of your brain has gone on strike. One of my recent associates compared it to coming home to a house without electricity and another chimed in that, “No, its worse” . It is an astonishing realization to become conscious of the power of being connected.

The introduction of social networks

For almost 2 decades humans have been fascinated with the internet but it was essentially a static resource of information. It was a vast warehouse of information but it was mostly a spectator sport. We simply consumed content. Then around the turn of the century a new phenomenon known as blogging began to spread like wildfire because it invited spectators to become producers. This ushered in a new era of interaction and gave power to the individual voice.

The latest incarnation of the internet occurred within the past few years with the emergence of Social Networks. Sites like MySpace and Facebook not only invited you to create content but to share your content with friends. We’d moved from simply producers to editors and distribution channels. The online community was born.

These initial social networks have been joined by a myriad of online communities that are redefining interactions and community completely. To best understand the anatomy of social networks or social media I find it useful to categorize social networks in 1 of 3 categories:

  • Real Life Community, Extended – These social networks are primarily connecting people that already have a “in real life” (IRL) relationship or connection and provides increased interaction. (Examples: MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn)
  • Created Online Community – These networks are usually built around common interests, conversations, and shared content. The community is primarily online only with very few users being connected IRL. (Examples: Friendfeed, Digg)
  • Hybrid – Although most social networks have the potential to be a hybrid, because the makeup of the community is controlled by the user, certain social networks trend toward a hybrid of a digital community and with IRL connections. (Example: Twitter, Brightkite, Dodgeball)

So we understand their beginning and their audience but…

What is the significance of Social Media/Networks?

The significance of social media can be quantified in 3 ways: Content, Conversations, & Connections.

What do you do if you don’t know “something” and want of find out more?

The natural human response is to ask a question. Or phrased another way, We Google it.

But what if you could ask 5 informed people? What if you could ask 100? Now consider that if one of them doesn’t know the answer they in turn could ask another 100 people. The chances of finding the right information quicker is increased exponentially.

This is even more evident when asking a subjective question. Being a recent purchaser of a Wii I asked, “Which Wii games do people consider to be must-haves?”. By only using social media I was able to generate a discussion with hundreds of people. I didn’t need a single “authoritative website” and it didn’t require a single Google search. I queried the best content filtering engine on the planet. People!

In addition to discovering answers (i.e. content) the question sparked fantastic conversations. These discussions proved to be as valuable as the content themselves. They provided detail, nuance, and experience that is lacking when I’m provided with content alone.

Social media provides an arena where content becomes the catalyst for informed discussion. For thousands of years these conversations were limited to face-to-face interactions and were constrained by time and geography. Social technology has enabled a worldwide discussion that can be continued for indefinitely. A poor comparison would be to imagine you are standing in a room of the smartest people you know, you can share anything and ask anything and you can return at any time. Call it crowd sourcing, hive mind, call it whatever…. it is one of the most powerful harnessing of human intelligence ever created.

Lastly, social media enables connections. It can enhance connections with people you already know and it can develop connections with people you may never meet in person.

Allow me to demonstrate through my own experience. Through my use of social media I now converse with this region’s most influential talk show host, the state’s best political commentator/observer, the best information security minds on the planet, and hundreds more intelligent and interesting people. Social media has provided me with a method of tapping into an enormous digital community as well as radically extending my “real life” connections. I am now involved in my friend’s lives in a way that few could have even imagined 10 years ago. It’s helped me discover local people and organizations that I might never had the ability to find on my own.

Social Media has taken my ability to find content, have conversations, and connect with people and put them all into hyper drive. It is truly amazing.

You’re Invited

So, if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines allow me to personally invite into my online community. You are intelligent and interesting and I’d love to learn from you and get to know you. Join up, get a twitter account and/or a Friendfeed account and let the conversation begin. I can’t wait to hear from you.

Twitter: @tsudo

Friendfeed: Tsudohnimh

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