This semester I had the incredible experience of taking MI621: Social Media for Managers in the Carroll School for Management at Boston College. I learned a lot through this course, not only about social media itself, but how to teach with it. The experiences was a bit meta. One of the questions that frequently reappeared throughout the course, however, was:
What is the definition of social media?
Well, we never did answer this question, but we seemed to have at least defined the dartboard if not the bullseye. Although when hearing “social media” one often thinks it is a new phenomena ala Facebook or Twitter, in reality I think there are a lot of types of media that are social. Telephone calls? Printed media? Postal mail? I think so. They’re slower in some ways, yes, and the means of sharing is often more limited, for sure, but aren’t they perhaps still a form of social media? People create. People connect. People share.
One of the most powerful lessons I learned is that one needs to view all of their means of connecting with others as some form of social media. All of one’s networks are a form of a social network. Sure, the technology is different… the means of using them are different… some are better suited to tasks than others… but all of them can be leveraged as a means to create, connect and share. At its core, that is what social media is. It is more of a means, than an end. It is more of way of operating, than just a mere tool.
Once one begins to view everything as social media and social networks, one begins to think differently. I’ve noticed this shift within myself. I no longer see my work as disconnected from others. In fact, everyone has something to contribute and often in ways you least expect it. Something that is seemingly benign or inconsequential can actually have much greater meaning to someone else in a different context, time or place. Social media and social networks allow us to uncover this. They also allow us to mobilize people in incredibly powerful ways. The trick to it all is how to use social media and social networks smartly and authentically.
This returns me to where I started this post. Leveraging social media and social networks smartly can be taught, whereas leveraging them authentically cannot. I can use all of the tricks in the book to boost traffic, engage others with my content, and increase the likelihood that something may go viral, but it doesn’t replace authenticity. Sure, I might be successful by many measures even if I’m not authentic, but without authenticity one’s staying power and network strength are often only temporal. One’s 15 minutes are up fast. Memes come and go. Being “successful” with social media requires one to present something authentic (even if that authenticity is presented through an avatar or a persona). Social media and social networks are about connecting people, and people are drawn to create, connect and share with others… authentically…. regardless of whether the means are analog or digital.
A special thanks to Laura Goldfarb of Red Boot Publicity for graciously giving of her time and thoughts to help me conceptualize this post. Also check out one of her artists, and one of my personal fav musicians, Keaton Simons. His new album is excellent!