Social Media: Changing Things or Making Change?

There was an outstanding article written a couple days ago by Alexandra Samuel in the Harvard Business Review. You owe it to yourself to go read her article – if you’re involved in any form of online marketing, it’s probably one of the most important things you’ll read in a while.

In her post, Alexandra aptly defines the word “social” and how it’s meaning has dramatically changed with the rise of “social media”. Citing that social used to be a word used to describe something related to social change – justice – responsibility – service. Social did and still does carry a meaning of “society” – or as she puts “We’re all in the same society, so let’s act as if we actually care about one another”.

An extremely valid point – and when you stop and think about it (go ahead – do it) – this meaning of “social” most likely isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about “social meda”. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn – these are all platforms that allow us to engage each other socially, to communicate with each other instantly, to share status updates about our drinking habits. In the business world, they allow us to share our message to a mass audience, they enable us to build all-important “relationships” that we “experts” talk so much about. But – the “doing good” part has almost been completely forgotten.

Alexandra writes:

“…If there’s one field that’s hurt by this weakened definition of “social,” it’s social media itself. As social media professionals, we have the opportunity to define our field and our work as a social project: the project of enabling and inspiring online interactions, information and behaviours that advance society. We have the opportunity to take a massive advance in technology and communications and harness it to the social good; to define social media as interactive and beneficial…”

As Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media writes:

Want to create more inspiring online interactions? Take that paragraph and tape it on your computer monitor. Every time your brain stalls, re-read it.  If you’re lucky, eventually it’ll sink in.

I couldn’t agree more. Social Media is here, and it’s here to stay – but not in the way you think. Facebook and Twitter will (eventually) come and go – so if you’re primary concern is to build a massive following to shout at, rather than focusing on the individual relationships that can be forged and developed into long-term connections, you’re missing the point.

A lot of clients – primarily non-profits and small businesses – come to us hesitant to climb aboard the social media bandwagon. Why? Because they think “What impact can I possibly have”? The answer – a lot.

Maybe you won’t create the next viral video campaign ala Old Spice (that didn’t do much for sales).

Maybe you won’t have a mega-relaunch like DIGG (which didn’t exactly pan out very well…to say the least).

But what you can do is have a great impact in your niche – within your community – where you may lack in numbers you can more than make up for in genuine connections. Connections that lead to conversations. Conversations that lead to change. Change that leads to results for you and your business.

Quality trumps quantity.

Through all of the follower collecting, traffic spikes, trend following, and flash-in-the-pan success stories – focus on being truly social, and developing a social culture that seeps through the pores of your business, your clients, your consumers, and your community.

(Photo c/o Rob Williams)