Friday, January 08, 2010

Social Media: Much Ado about What?

In this Much Ado: … About Something? / …Or About Nothing? / In Short

On the one hand, everyone’s talking social media these days. On the other hand, whether the amount of action matches the talk is a matter of discussion.

… About Something?

Certainly people are trying to integrate social media—like Facebook and Twitter and, to a lesser extent, LinkedIn and MySpace—into the mainstream. For example, Meryl Evans offers 32 ways to use Facebook for business (Web Worker Daily, July 21, 2009,

Some of my professional associations use them, too. STC/Rochester uses LinkedIn and Facebook to inform members, as does the Academy of Human Resource Development. I used to get some from ISPI, but those seemed to stop. Maybe they un-friended me, or maybe the novelty wears off.

(And speaking of unfriending; I recently realized that the person who invited me to join Facebook unfriended me. You don’t get a note, you just realize it. And an old friend recently extolled the virtues of Facebook to me—apparently unaware that I’m on his Friends list. But I digress.)

And when social media hit, they hit quickly and with impact—as French leaders are learning (As Web Challenges French Leaders, They Push Back, Scott Sayare, New York Times, December 12, 2009,

Apparently, an ordinary French housewife, responding to on an online video of a French politician, called the politician a liar, using a pseudonym to post her comment. The police traced her and started investigating, and the politician filed a lawsuit.

But the real issue may be the way that the Internet has changed the relationship between the public and their politicians, and the need for politicians to adjust to this new, Internet-based environment, which shows no sign of going away.

Social-networking is also affecting venture capital. One of the ideas included in the New York Time’s annual review of ideas is a service called Kickstarter, a website in which artists and humanitiarians with novel ideas recruit money, often in micropayments (Subscription Artists, New York Times 9th Annual Year in Ideas Supplement, December 13, 2009,

People can “invest” at a wide range of financial levels, receiving different “benefits” for different levels of funding. Some of those benefits are tangible, like copies of book or CDs being funded. Some are intangible, like appreciation from the artist.

Peruse the projects—many are quite interesting (

Closer to home, two then-unemployed Concordia University grads started what has become the most visited Men’s lifestyle website, (An 800-pound gorilla of men's lifestyle, by Roberto Rocha, The Montreal Gazette, December 22, 2009,

Apparently they got the idea while sitting in a café and noticed a guy wearing an Armani suit accessorized it with white gym socks. They wanted to save the world.

Believing that long-term opportunity exists in social networking, some universities are starting to offer social-media-themed master’s degrees, like Birmingham City University (UK) master’s in social networking, Elon University (USA) master’s in interactive media, and University of Southern California’s (USA) master’s in online communities (actually four years old) (The Interactive Entrepreneur, by Brian Stetler, New York Times, December 29, 2009,

…Or About Nothing?

But social media isn’t necessarily taking hold in e-learning.

A recent survey by Allison Rosset and James Marshall (E-learning: What’s old is new again, T&D (in print), January 2010—also reported during Research Day at the CSTD-IFTDO World Conference in October), suggests that the most common uses of e-learning supporting instructor-led and asynchronous instruction. Only a small percentage are integrating blogs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 features into their training.

And although they’re not watching soap operas (see my post on culture at 50), “TV Still Has a Hold on Teenagers” (Eric Pfanner, New York Times, December 13, 2009,

At least, that’s the case in Europe. A Forrester Europe study found that “European teenagers still spend more time watching television than they do with any other medium — 10.3 hours a week, on average. That compares with 9.1 hours on personal — rather than work- or school-related — use of the Internet.”

As surprisingly, that study also found that 12- to 17-year-olds spent less time on the Internet than 18-year-olds (who are online for an average of 2.3 hours longer per week than the younger ones).

And these teens are not necessarily fanatics of social networks—the survey found that only 41 percent visited social networks at least once a week.

In Short

Evidence exists that social and new media are shaking up old patterns of human interaction and creating new ones.

That pattern is certainly going to continue.

But the patterns that ultimately change often differ from those projected to change. Sometimes those changes are slight, sometimes they’re drastic.

This suggests that, when working with the new media, we learning and communication professionals need to remain faithful to the fundamentals—audience, purpose, and context.

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