I write about digital strategies and communications — and their intersection with culture, politics, journalism and social activism.

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A Year in Five Social Media Movements

Reports on social media trends in 2009 are ubiquitous -- here's one of the most useful lists from Adam Vincenzini in The Comms Corner -- as are cogitative posts about what to expect in 2010 like that by David Armano blogging at the Harvard Business Review.

My assessment of what mattered last year is shorter and more personal, and I am too deferential to the forecasting abilities of others to speculate on 2010:

  1. Many words, occasional invective and a lot of social media blood were spilled over the demise of newspapers and its effect on journalism and those who practice it within the historical news delivery infrastructure. I weighed in often enough because I believe there is a radical shift in the sources of reporting, the formation of public opinion through communication, and the opportunity for individuals and groups, when motivated, to work around the traditional news infrastructure to exchange information, ideas and opinion for social change and political purposes.  The critical words on this issue in Canada may have been spoken by The Supreme Court of Canada. In late December its ruling on responsible communication made it clear that such communication is not just the province of journalists, but of anyone engaged in public communication including bloggers  As David Eaves so eloquently summed it up in his post "The ruling acknowledges that we are all now journalists and that we need a legal regime that recognizes this reality."
  2. During the Iran elections in June 2009, Twitter became the means for getting images and news out about the repression of democratic protest. Recognizing that Twitter was a tool by which people in Iran were communicating with each other, and the world outside, even the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to delay its scheduled maintenance outage in order not to impede the flow of information. In my view, this was the single event that brought Twitter naysayers to heel, especially cynical journalists. News was being reported by citizens through a social network that some silly luddite columnists (still) see as "little more than the glorification of self indulgent trivia". (Martin Vander Weyer in The Spectator, January 2, 2010). 
  3. Speaking of reality, it is now being augmented in ways that are mind boggling. Augmented reality refers to the overlay of the virtual on the real. As explained by Ben Parr last August "These applications combine virtual data into the physical real world by utilizing the iPhone 3GS or an Android phone’s compass, camera, and GPS system. The result is that you can see things like the location of Twitter users and local restaurants in the physical world, even if they are miles away." While excitement has been focused on fun apps like being able to wave your iPhone or Android in the air and find the nearest pubs, there are obviously hundreds of other uses, especially for product seeding . . . about which I know nothing. As for reputation management, corporate communications or issue identification and control, well, I'm not sure.
  4. I am a little surprised that Google's Sidewiki has become a non-story. At first blush, it seemed to have the potential to be a game shifter in how people interact with web content about which they have strong opinions, pro or con. It may be that social networks are already platforms for interaction about web content and Sidwiki in the context of opinionated and criticism-friendly social networks is simply redundant.
  5. As a consultant over the past couple of years, I have been recommending social media strategies as pivotal in the success of reputation management programs largely because they are community (or affinity) rather than media focused. Clients are buying into it. But the conversations I've been having with companies over the last few months lead me to think we are at a social media tipping point (no, I have not read Mr. Gladwell's epnymous book). According to the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts, "Social media is mainstream. Forty-three percent of Inc. 500 companies consider social media important to their business, with 91 percent of Inc. 500 companies employing at least one tool in 2009." Employing one tool, however, is not a strategy and many companies and organizations are recognizing that the one-off Facebook page or Twitter handle isn't giving them traction, nor will it. They'll want -- or should be wanting -- the full game plan.

So, I lied: Number five is a 2010 forecast.

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Reader Comments (8)

Thanks for the UofM stats, I can use them right now to prove a point! Gov't management is on board but some colleagues are still sceptical and not willing to help. The fstest growing companies are exactly who we are targeting, and social media is a great way to speak to them as part of the overall marketing plan.

January 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia P.

Glad to be of service . . . cheers:)

January 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBoyd Neil

Much of your post is useful. But we are not all journalists now no more than we are all PRs (watch out because Jeff Jarvis says we're toast just like journalists are and for similar reasons).

People have long been able to think, talk, read, write and take pictures, but that did not make them philosophers, good public speakers or writers or academics etc. Of course social media is a big deal, but it has not transformed people into what they are not equipped to be by virtue of some technological fix. I'm not saying that news is not generated by amateurs - the phone has long been a tool used to inform newspapers and mates of news by little old ladies peeking through the curtains - I'm saying we should care about value of professionalism, quality, and, yes, control.

Barack Obama never Twittered and he couldn't hardly use the iPhone he clutched throughout his campaign, he's since told us. Your Iran example does not survive much scrutiny (read Andrew Keen). It was mostly - though not all - hype. Moreover, SM is a very clumsy vulnerable transparent tool in Iran and North Korea that's easily monitored, so its use value is limited in such situations for security reasons on the part of oppositions.

The game to play is the Susan Boyle game - bouncing between social and mainstream media to spread the word and ride the wave (bi-directional). The content of most social media - like gossip and ideas generally - is sourced and in a sense constructed (elitist in the sense of mover shakes, thought leaders and doers still more top down than bottom up despite appearances). In the transmission of ideas we still need philosophers and for his sins the likes of Simon Cowell and for all their sins we still need professional journalists and PRs.

The world and the rules which govern it have not changed so much as some people suggest. That said, the rules have shifted and digital networks of people connecting and relating and debating do matter, I agree, and we should leverage them for all their worth.

January 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Seaman

Correction: Barack Obama clutched a Blackberry, not an iPhone.

January 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Seaman

You're right about the Susan Boyle model . . . and wrong about this: "but it has not transformed people into what they are not equipped to be by virtue of some technological fix" and this "Your Iran example does not survive much scrutiny."

There are far more people today "equipped to be" trenchant, intelligent, witty, observant and visually and lexically illuminating precisely because they know the language of social media and practice it. It is a new concept of professionalism.

With respect to the political power of social media, watch for a future post on the matter.

January 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterBoyd Neil

You are very very wrong about Iran. Here are some links providing evidence to support my point: Twitter is life-threatening in Iran, and we in the West should not encourage others to take risks, and we should recognise the potential for misinformation via the same route (dreaminess will not do):




January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Seaman

I should have added this link to my list:


I don't want to discuss too much examples such as Hungary in 1956 when they thought our cheer-leading would lead to our intervention in support of them rather than to their fruitless deaths - encouraged by false hope generated by us.

January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Seaman

All useful links . . .although I think you need to read my post more closely. My comment about Iran wasn't to defend or attack Twitter's use there (about which I am still making up my mind) only that "In my view, this was the single event that brought Twitter naysayers to heel, especially cynical journalists." I mean those fools who like to think of Twitter as only a means of communicating about what one has for breakfast.

January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBoyd Neil

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