When social media are neither

Simon Collister in The death of spin has been greatly exaggerated:

  This is leads us to a potentially dangerous situation where the public (and worse the media) thinking political parties are giving the people a voice, when in fact they disenfranchising them by paying lip-service to participatory democracy.

  If this happens then traditional, hard political power hardens at the centre while the public play with digital toys that keep them entertained but no closer to (argubly even further away from) democratic engagement.

Right on.

In that post Simon sources this post by Wendy McAuliffe in Liberate Media. Among other things she says,

  …at the end of the day, you can’t place an algorithm on the way people communicate.

  Politics is one subject in particular that is becoming harder and harder to ‘control’, with so many opinions and arguments being voiced across social media networks.

  Despite the changes in media as we know it, the ability to engage with audiences effectively, and understand what grabs attention, is still the realm of PR professionals.

Some thoughts.

First, amen to the algorithm point. That’s a great clue that will help with my third point, below.

Second, politics has always been about control. So, in a different way, has democracy. Substitute democracy for politics in Wendy’s second point and I’ll agree with it.

Third, the online world has both social media and social habitats. They are different, even when they overlap. Twitter is a social medium. Facebook is a social habitat. Twitter is a new breed of Web site/service that grew out of blogging. Facebook is a walled garden: a place you have to go to be social in the ways it facilitates and permits. In this respect Facebook is AOL 2.0. By calling both “social media” we blur distinctions that are necessary for making sense of highly varied progress (or movement in less positive directions) in the online world. We need a Linnean taxonomy here. And we don’t have one. Yet. For those so inclined, that’s an assignment.

Fourth, the “audience” isn’t any more. And nobody needs to get over that fact more than PR, which wouldn’t exist without the demand for spin. What we wrote about PR in The Cluetrain Manifesto is barely less true today than it was in 1999. If PR wishes to remain relevant in an environment where networked markets get smarter faster than those that would spin them, the profession needs to define and satisfy a market for something other than spin. Good luck with that.

12 comments

  1. Linker Barn: Hump Day January 16’s avatar

    [...] Doc Searls: when social media are neither. [...]

  2. Carter F Smith’s avatar

    I think that means take the time to reshape the model based on what we, the people, take our time to tell big business what we want.

    Jay Deragon notes that business models and structures have historically followed form with traditional media, with the few at the top controlled the conversational content and direction aimed at influencing the masses to behave according to the needs of their markets. He observes that the masses are the markets and the conversations can no longer be controlled, rather the conversations of the people will influence the business markets. So let’s try it!

    So lets show the business world what we are talking about when we say “let’s have a conversation!” Let’s communicate, in their language, the requirements that we have in order to form a relationship with them and consider buying their product(s). Here’s my example.

    http://carterfsmith.blogspot.com/2008/01/space-invasion-in-reverse.html

  3. Simon Collister’s avatar

    Hi Doc. Thanks for picking up this thread and adding to it.

    A couple of my thoughts:

    “Fourth, the “audience” isn’t any more. And nobody needs to get over that fact more than PR, which wouldn’t exist without the demand for spin.”

    Totally agree. But I think the main issue here is that PR (like most other indistries – including IT) is simply serving an exisiting demand. As long as businesses/political parties/NGOs/etc want a PR firm to ‘spin’ for them, there will be one.

    However, society (“the audience”) is changing and as businesses/political parties/NGOs/etc start to wake up to this then PR will probably chnage accordingly. f course it is entirely feasible that PR wont be able to change itself – or change quickly enough – leading another industry (advertising, marketing?) filling the gap. Or even a new industry emerging altogether.

    Also, doesn’t your point about democracy being harder to control depend on your perspective? If you’re a special political interest group or a political communicator then maybe so, but if you’re an internet-enabled citizen then surely democracy is becoming easier to ‘control’?

    Western democracy has been largely representative anyway. Full participatory democracy has hitherto been impractical. But with the penetration of broadband internet and the growth of the network information society are we moving closer to that purer form of democracy?

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Simon, agree about PR serving existing demand, of both bad and good sorts. Reminds me of a tech client my old company had, back around 1980. The CEO was a brilliant guy with many brilliant ideas that were far ahead of their time. Stuff we see embodied today in the Net, in scripting, in cross-platform apps. When we asked how he made money he said, “We’re whores. We walk the streets with the rest of them.” With a straight face. Stuck with me.

    Later I went into PR. What can I say.

    Democracy is an interesting case. One side of it is about individual rights and independence. Another (of many) is about majority rule and the stuff Plato warned us about.

    I believe networked democracy offers many opportunities for participation and influence that we’ve only begun to understand, much less exploit. There are downsides as well, I’m sure. But I’m an optimist.

    And I’m most optimistic about participation in governance. I’ve noticed that neighborhood and municipal organization these days largely involves email. In some cases it involves the likes of Twitter. All these technologies just scaffold a learning process.

    I remember in the 2004 elections, when Howard Dean was the big phenomenon, that everybody wanted to bottle what was new and cool about that campaign. Now it’s four years later and we’re still not at square one in some ways and way downstream in others. The future is unevenly distributed.

    My current fascinaiton is around the relationshihps between entities that end in.edu, .gov .com and .org, in the making of infrastructure. What’s are the best relationships? How does each best support the other? How do we build the most productive and supportive ecosystem for business, society, governance, education? Big questions. Not many answers, yet.

  5. Technical Writing Geek’s avatar

    Social networking is an extension of lifestyle accesorization. As such, it’s a fad, and will be absorbed into blogging as people use social networking tactics to share the ideas/media they find important. See “Meta-Social Networking”:

    http://slashdot.org/~athloi/journal/193142

  6. Simon Collister’s avatar

    Thanks Doc. All fascinating, challenging and vital ideas…. I’ll get back to you on the last one ;)

  7. Ed Brenegar’s avatar

    These changes elevate the importance of values. The old model compartmentalized people into transactions. Now, people want interaction, and the more their values match the company, there more likely they will connect with them. This is the shift that i see, and think this is why traditional PR types don’t understand what is going on.

  8. Jon Garfunkel’s avatar

    Doc– I’m still trying to understand your souring on Facebook.

    Consider the use case of “status update to friends.” That’s basically all Twitter does, and that’s why there’s only 100,000 U.S. Twitter users (my estimate from four months ago). Facebook does status updates, and obviously, a whole lot more, and it has over a hundred times the users as Twitter.

    Twitter allows “micro-blogging” as well (but it’s counter-purpose, there’s no reason to get a microblog post on a cellphone). Facebook obviously allows people to “microblog” without even realizing it.

    So I don’t get what you’re saying. I’d like to.

  9. Inside View from Ireland’s avatar

    Reading Assignment from Doc Searls…

    JUST BACK FROM Harvard (blogs) where I read about the distinction between social media and social habitats in the online world. As we know from the Social Media module in the creative multimedia degree at Tipperary Institute, the media and the habitat …

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Jon,

    Unless I’m wrong (and I might be), every post on Twitter has its own URL on the open Web, while everything written in Facebook is behind a memberwall. If so, that makes Facebook a walled garden.
    Twitter may be far less popular, but it is also far less isolated. If somebody wants to tweet about a breaking news story, it breaks in the open web as well as at the Twitter site for followers. And following on Twitter is pretty easy.

    When fires broke out in Southern California last fall, Twitter helped. Posts about the fires, via Twitter, could be followed on the open Web. They could be linked to. They were time-stamped.

    Here’s KPBS. When one citizen, Nate Ritter, wanted to keep citizens up to date on the fire, he — and others — used Twitter. In this case it wasn’t just for friends. It was for everybody.

    My point not that one is good and the other bad, but that there are differences in kind that are blurred by the general catch-all category “social media”. I may be wrong in saying that Twitter is more of a medium and Facebook is more of a place. But I don’t think I’m wrong to suggest that there may be distinctions we are overlooking here.

    As a separate matter I am indeed “sour” on Facebook because I think it’s a pain in the ass to go there to do what would be easier with email or some simpler and more open system. Being told by email that I have a message in Facebook has one more step than I feel like dealing with.

    Right now I have… I’ll copy here: 113 friend requests, 7 event invitations, 29 group invitations, 11 blog friends invitations, 1 interactive friends invitation, 1 current news invitation, 1 voicemail request1 mixx request, 1 slayers invitation ,1 funwall friend request ,1 just three words invitation ,8 cause invitations ,15 cause invitations ,1 most creative people invitation ,1 more friends invitation ,1 vampires invitation ,1 vampire invitation ,1 wheely good invitation ,1 my city invitation ,1 plazes invitation ,1 zombies invitation ,2 zombie invitations ,1 entourage invitation ,1 movie compatibility request ,1 toss hot potato request, 1 wall post request1 im invitation ,1 gaping void invitation ,5 my questions friend requests… plus more other crap than I can begin to care about, much less copy.

    I would like to gang-friend (as a verb) many of those 113 invites, but I can’t. Instead I face a gauntlet that asks, “How do you know [friend name here]…
    Lived together
    Where did you live?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    + Add another place
    Where else did you live?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    + Add another place
    Where else did you live?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    Worked together
    Where did you work?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    + Add another job
    Where else did you work?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    + Add another job
    Where else did you work?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    From an organization or team
    Which organization or team?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    + Add another organization or team
    Which other organization or team?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    + Add another organization or team
    Which other organization or team?optional
    When was this?optional
    to
    Took a course together
    Which course?optional
    When was this?optional
    + Add another course
    Which other course?optional

    When was this?optional

    + Add another course
    Which other course?optional

    When was this?optional
    From a summer / study abroad program
    What program?optional

    When was this?optional

    + Add another program
    What other program?optional

    When was this?optional

    + Add another program
    What other program?optional

    When was this?optional
    Went to school together
    When did you first go to school together?optional
    Traveled together
    Where did you go?optional

    When was this?optional

    + Add another trip
    Where else did you go?optional

    When was this?optional

    + Add another trip
    Where else did you go?optional

    When was this?optional
    In my family
    How are you related?optional
    Through a friend
    Which friend?optional
    Through Facebook
    What kind of Facebook friends?optional
    Met randomly
    What’s the story here?optional
    What year was this?optional
    We hooked up
    and it was…optional
    It went down in…optional
    We dated
    How did it go?optional
    And now?optional
    When did it happen?optional
    to
    I don’t even know this person.

    Of course I can “skip this step”, but why should I even have to face it in the first place?

    Anyway, here I am wasting even more time with Facebook.

    They may be the greatest thing since sliced bits, but I still think they’re a mess. Even if they do have dozens of millions of members.

  11. Jon Garfunkel’s avatar

    Doc-

    Ok, let me back up. I *always* agree with someone who says we need refined classfication. So I agree with you there. Sending short messages, often from cellphone, is a social media function, and Twitter meets that function. Facebook serves a lot of functions, so, yes, it is a habitat.

    I see the member “wall” on Facebook as becoming more artificial by the day. Most of my friends who have never blogged or twittered (to say nothing of joining Omidyar.net or any previous garden) are on Facebook without a hesitation. And Facebook has apparently stopped killing my other sessions when I log in from another computer, so I don’t see the login wall anymore.

    Yes, it does seem short-sighted that some of Facebook’s services like Flixter does not have a “make public” option for the movie reviews, and they haven’t designed a REST architecture to point to a particular review by a particular person. But I think they’ll figure it out.

    Regarding your notification overload issue — that’s quite simple to explain. Facebook is not scale-free. It is hard to take on ever more “friends”; if it’s not scale-free, then the power-law effect is mitigated. I have an unpublished essay somewhere in which I point out that on Facebook I never come across Scoble or Arrington et al. [I *think* that part of power-law theory can explain viral information spread. So some networks transmit Scoble's musings better, while others may transmit emergency information better. Certainly Facebook has the data to tell how different memes spread on its own network.]

    My sense here is that Facebook skeptics are afraid that it becomes the category-killer for social networking, suffocating any other experimentation. I accept that fear. Of course, I’ve long harbored the same fears about the blogosphere-as-we-know-it– that blogging=self-publishing may squelch other forms of online media experiments.

    Jon

  12. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Good points all, Jon.

    I should add that my skepticism about Facebook, is qualified by the youth of the company, by the nebulosity of ‘social networking’ as a topic, and by the catch-all-ness of the label as it is currently applied.

    In other words, it’s early.

    In fact, I still feel that way about the blogosphere (which seems far more blobular than spherical).

    I have more thoughts, but it’s way past midnight and I need to crash for a few hours.

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