8 Feb 2011

Can social media really change the world?

How much is social media changing our world? Is it simply a matter of keeping in touch with old classmates, or of supplementing the structure and activities of our daily life? Or are we talking about more radical change, of democracy spreading across the world, of entirely new models of content and new targets for that content?

There is obviously no easy answer to those questions. But people are starting to really dive into them, and as communicators, we need to pay attention, to be both attuned to the current climate and looking two steps ahead. It's that kind of world right now.

The hottest buzz on social media right now is in Egypt, with much talk about demonstrators organizing on Facebook, with the government shutting down the whole internet for days (with some unintended consequences like less spam) and with a Google executive jailed as a key leader of the democracy movement.

Stratfor has a long and nuanced take on the role of social media in the Egypt demonstrations. Basically, they say that social media is a tool, a powerful tool, but don't rely on it. Leaders still need to get out on the street and there needs to be personal contact. From their take:

The role of social media in protests and revolutions has garnered considerable media attention in recent years. Current conventional wisdom has it that social networks have made regime change easier to organize and execute. An underlying assumption is that social media is making it more difficult to sustain an authoritarian regime — even for hardened autocracies like Iran and Myanmar — which could usher in a new wave of democratization around the globe. In a Jan. 27 YouTube interview, U.S. President Barack Obama went as far as to compare social networking to universal liberties such as freedom of speech.

Social media alone, however, do not instigate revolutions. They are no more responsible for the recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt than cassette-tape recordings of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini speeches were responsible for the 1979 revolution in Iran. Social media are tools that allow revolutionary groups to lower the costs of participation, organization, recruitment and training. But like any tool, social media have inherent weaknesses and strengths, and their effectiveness depends on how effectively leaders use them and how accessible they are to people who know how to use them.

This more or less agrees with Malcolm Gladwell's story in the New Yorker subtitled "Why the revolution will not be tweeted," in which he argued that personal links on social media were far, far weaker than links developed face to face. He got roundly criticized by social media advocates, as many in the blogsophere extrapolated that conservative Tea Party activists - more likely to have actual meetings - in the US were more cohesive than, say, the liberal (in the American sense) internet-based groups that helped get Barack Obama elected president in 2008.

But enough of the serious stuff. What about movies? Like "chick flicks" or action movies? Johanna Blakely at TED says they may not be long for the world.

In her talk, she points out that with social media, marketers and content producers know ever more about what we like and do not like. However, they actually know less about what big demographic groups we fall into. So they know that I am a baseball fan, like The White Stripes and that I went to journalism school, but they might not know that I am a white male in the coveted 18-49 age group.

Since most mass media and advertising is aimed at big demographic groups - if you are a working, married Hispanic 30-year-old woman you must like product X - this new source of information could cause a revolution in what groups content is made for.

She specifically talks about how this could end gender stereotyping, as women are targeted more for their actual preferences than for presumed "female" ones. She uses the demise of the fluffy romantic comedy as a prime example.

Is that as big a deal as Egypt? Nah. But it sure could change Saturday nights at my house ...

Nathan Hegedus

Andra bloggar om: ,

No comments: