Social Media Week (SMW), a 7-day international affair, has shown impressive growth since its inception in 2008. The weeklong schedule of events provides a digital snapshot of new media practices around the world and this year saw over 4,000 attendees in Washington D.C., alone. So, what can the other 51 weeks of the year learn from this one week?
Lesson 1) The key word in social media is ‘social’
Although the topics on the tip of the social media tongue may be changing quicker than you can read this sentence, the keyword is still social. True, it is all too often the case that social media gets tagged – or used – in antisocial ways, which can eliminate interpersonal chatter on the bus or, encourage phone-induced stranger-bumping in the streets. However – it is important to remember that some of the most successful and promising instances of social media use have been truly social.
A central tenet throughout the SMW talks in Washington DC was ‘empowerment through collaboration’ and one need only look at the top hashtags of 2011 to see this idea exemplified. Indeed, #tigerblood and #improudtosay do feature in the top-10 list however, so does #egypt (number 1) and #japan (number 5). The stories behind Twitters’ roles in both Egypt and Japan are well known and they demonstrate the vital role of social in social media.
Notably, one of the most promising avenues for the growth in businesses also relies on a similar principle: the tapping of the social in media. Ogilvy experts have suggested that the Web 2.0 of social media is the social business, which incorporates customer participation into its architecture. This demands transparency, respect, and active engagement (i.e. socializing) with customers.
Lesson 2) We don’t need another Facebook
Unless a new platform can perform much better than Facebook or tap into a population base that Facebook has not yet reached, then it can easily disappear below the tumultuous waves of media. Thus, any new platform must have an answer to the question: where is the added value?
One example comes to mind: ResearchGate, the new academic platform, which seems to have a convincing answer. ResearchGate connects academics from around the world, allowing them to share specialized knowledge while simultaneously side-stepping the publishing business and offering an alternate avenue for academic evaluation (based on colleagues’ reviews and comments as opposed to solely on published articles in prestigious journals). To borrow a word from Buchanan, ResearchGate taps into the power of weak ties and fosters a collective knowledge for purposes beyond what you did last weekend.
Lesson 3) It’s quality and quantity that matters
Not all social media platforms and campaigns aim for millions of users and followers. Similar to the non-mediated world, the target audience of a particular social media message can be precisely defined and the effects of that message could be measured not necessarily by the millions of users but by the direct impacts on a few. For example, a growing trend in social media use is inter-organizational platforms and many companies such as Deloitte and IBM now use wikis or specialized ‘Facebooks’ as a means of encouraging sociability, networking and new forms of collaboration within a defined, trusted space.
Needless to say, social media moves quickly. SMW 2012 provided but a snapshot of digital activities over the space of a week, yet the next 51 weeks of the year will surely bring plenty of new developments. For more ‘lessons’ from this year click here.