Friday, February 20, 2009

Social Media for Organizations

I wanted to give some friends and colleagues a bit of a primer on "Web 2.0" technology. I don't want to talk about the tools specifically, but about a particular kind of approach.

In order to give folks a starting place, I thought I'd post a collection of recommended books, websites, and articles that can give them an overview of the world as it's becoming. But first, some context...

Media, since the time of its inception, has been about three things: Consuming, Sharing, and Producing. This may sound like an odd statement to most people. For my entire adult life, and likely yours, Sharing and Producing have been difficult. Consuming has been easy. Therefore, consuming has been the norm.

My generation, and my parents' generation, have been conditioned to be only consumers of media. Television, radio, and newspapers are each a one way conversation, with writers, producers, and advertisers addressing a silent audience that was largely isolated from each other. Whether we like it or not, thanks to the Internet, this is no longer the case.

Today, we are talking to each other. Sure, we are talking about our families, our friends, or dreams, and our wistful unmet desires. But we are also talking about products. We are talking about corporations. We are talking about government. We are talking about any organization that has previously considered us as silent and isolated consumers.

We are talking about them behind their back. And our voices carry. We control their brand.

We make videos on YouTube. We write blogs like this one. Through social media sites like MySpace and Facebook we share our musical and literary tastes, and stories about products, companies, and organizations. Sometimes those stories are flattering. Sometimes, they are damning. But one thing is for sure, we are having those conversations largely without them. To be sure, some companies and organizations are starting to understand this. Zappos.com is a great example of an organization that 'gets it'. Right on their main page, they let customers review their product, and not all the reviews are flattering.

Here's a list of material if you want a deeper understanding of social media:

1) The Cluetrain Manifesto

The definitive document on this phenomenon of "markets as conversations" was written a decade ago, if you can believe it. A group of four visionaries saw all of this coming. There is no better place to start than here. Best of all, you can read it online.

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.

2) What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis.

A great book on how to deal with new openness between organizations and markets. He takes the lessons learned by Google's success, and applies them to all sorts of enterprises.

Here's the author describing his aims for the book.


I'm not an advocate for everything Jarvis has to say, but he is seeing the problem (and the opportunity) for what it is, and is trying to get a handle on it. He discusses his ideas on social media (largely discussing it's effects on journalism) on his blog BuzzMachine.

3) Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, by Clay Shirky.

If you look at nothing else on this list, at least pick up this book. It's a tour guide of social media, and the fundamental shift it portends for not just the Media, but for society as a whole.

# Page 102:
Every webpage is a latent community. Each page collects the attention of people interested in its contents, and those people might well be interested in conversing with one another too. In almost all cases the community will remain latent, either because the potential ties are too weak, or because the people looking at the page are separated by too wide a gulf of time, and so on.

# Page 105:
Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring... It's when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen.

4) Where You Find The Time to Spend Online

After you've consumed all this material, you may be wondering how you'll ever have the time to participate in this wild new world? Here's a great talk, also given by Clay Shirky, on where we find the time. In itself, is has some frightening revelations for those who grew up only knowing one method of interaction with media: Consumption.

These few selections will give readers a real understanding of the fundamental shift in perspective that social media demands. For individuals, there's no substitute for experience. The best way to learn about social media is to get out there and play with it. You've already started! (You're reading my blog, aren't you?). No matter if it is starting your own blog, text messages on Twitter, links and notes on Facebook, photographs on Flickr, or any number of other outlets for your participation, just get our there and try things.

But for organizations, the stakes are much higher. If a company leaps out of the gate and immediately starts talking *at* its customers instead of *with* them, they can do irreparable damage to their reputation. Here's some advice from Universal Mcann International's report on Social Media on blogs and other social media tools:
All companies and brands should consider employing them to create open and honest dialogue. Any blog that spins he truth will be found out. In a world of social media, honesty is the only policy. The future of marketing is about acting how you want to be perceived instead of talking about it.

So, while the following rules apply to anyone interested in social media, they are especially important for organizations that have an identity or brand to protect and promote:

1) Observe and Share - Look around. See how people talk to each other. Learn the local customs before talking with the natives. Like what you see? Share it with your friends on Facebook. E-mail a link. Get in the habit of distributing worthwhile material to your friends.

2) Comment - When you're familiar enough with the territory, offer your own take. Comment on a message board, or on an article on the New York Times. Heck, comment on this blog! If you are an organization, go find out where people are already talking about you, and offer them a human voice to associate with your cause or company. Dip your toes in the water. Make sure you like the reaction you get. It may not always be warm.

3) Create - When you're finally comfortable with the environment and the tools, post some videos on Youtube and share them. Take some photographs and post them up on Flickr. Heck, start your own blog! People may love it--they'll tell you. People may hate it--they'll definitely tell you (and each other).

Most of all, whether you are contributing to the media landscape as an individual or an organization, be honest, be personal, be open. Always ask, am I talking *with* these people, or am I talking *at* them?

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