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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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