Through the generations – the impact of social media

1 Dec

I always love how my parents try to interact with the world of social media that I am so interested in and now (as of Monday) work full time in. Every conversation with my dad or mum involves them telling me about the latest article that they’ve just read on social media – and emails come in with links all the time. Mum is also immensely proud that she introduced me to Twitter back in 2008.

It’s brilliant. While we (I’m led to believe that others in my team have had the same thing happen with their families) might get frustrated sometimes – yes mum, I do know about Tumbr, I don’t need to read that article – it’s their attempt to interact with and understand a media that is changing and moving so much faster than anything they had while they were growing up that is so fantastic. My dad was born in 1938 in the UK, at the start of World War Two. He remembers air raids and being sent to live in the country. He had to serve two years in the army (not during any major war) because there was still mandatory conscription. Yet he loves the idea of social media, he understands why I have a passion for it and can see the possibilities in communication that it is opening up. And sometimes they will bring to my attention things about the area that are really interesting and inspiring.

I went home for a few days last week, and when dad picked me up from the airport, one of the main things he talked about in the car on the way back down the coast was this lecture that he’d seen from the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger (@arusbridger). A few days later I had the chance to watch the video on iView with dad, and I could see immediately what had grabbed his interest.

Alan was speaking at the 2010 Andrew Olle Media Lecture hosted by the ABC. As editor of the Guardian in the UK he has watched as the media landscape has changed with incredible speed over the last few years. From the point of view of a journalist, the insights he shared during the lecture were invaluable to anyone in the media industry, whether it be public relations, advertising, marketing or journalists themselves.

Facebook? It’s where teenagers post all the stuff which will make them unemployable later in life.
[But]…if that’s all we see when we look at [Facebook] then we’re missing the picture.

He finished up his lecture with fifteen reasons why (and how) Twitter is so important. These points are really relevant to social media in general:

  1. Highly effective form of distribution – spreading ideas, information and content efficiently, far and fast.
  2. Where things happen first – increasingly news happens first on Twitter because of the millions of human monitors that will pick up anything and everything – and sometimes that anything is very important. A few recent examples are the spread of the news of the A380 engine issue (where misinformation actually spread faster than the correct information could) and the Brazilian teenager who broadcast live on his Twitter account (@vozdacomunidade) a drug crackdown in his favela in Rio de Janeiro.
  3. Rivals Google as a search engine – harnessing the power of mass human intelligence to find information that is new, valuable, relevant or entertaining.
  4. Formidable aggregation tool – a personalised news feed from people you admire or respect. You can sit back and let others find the most relevant or interesting things. Very hard for a news organisation to offer the same level of personalisation.
  5. Great reporting tool – I often now see my friends from university who are working as journalists using Facebook or Twitter to source quotes or information for a story – as Alan Rusbridger said, it’s the “…so-called wisdom of crowds… the ‘they know more than we do’ theory.”
  6. A marketing tool – another platform to spread the word about your latest blog (it is probably even be how you arrived on this very post) – or in marketing speak, driving traffic and engagement.
  7. A series of common conversations and an instant reaction – not only can people read what you’ve written, they can respond, agreeing or disagreeing. “It’s not transmission, it’s communication. It’s the ability to share and discuss with scores, or hundreds, or thousands of people in real time. Twitter can be fragmented. It can be the opposite of fragmentation. It’s a parallel universe of common conversations.”
  8. It is diverse – allowing anyone and everyone to have a voice, rather than the traditional media template of one voice speaking to many.
  9. Changes the tone of writing – there is more humour, more engagement, more entertainment, more personality in Twitter because it involves listening as well as talking.
  10. A level playing field – while someone who is recognised by ‘name’ may initially attract a few followers, they communication has to be interesting. Twitter rewards people who can say things crisply and entertainingly, and ignores those that can’t.
  11. Promotes different news values – what journalists consider to be newsworthy and what the general public does can often be different – and when you have tens of thousands of people expressing those views, it is increasingly having a ripple effect back into the newsroom.
  12. Has long attention span – while not something usually associated with Twitter, the attention span of Twitterers might put the newspapers to shame if you look at the conversation happening around a keyword or issue.
  13. It creates communities – around issues, people, events, cultures, ideas, subjects – the list goes on. And whether these are short or long lived, these communities are there and recognisable.
  14. Authority is shifted – not removed per say, but changed. As well as responding to those that are ‘names’ in the Twittersphere (be it journalists, celebrities or politicians), people respond to others like them. A 32 year old mother is very likely to be drawn to other mothers who talk and have similar experiences to her.
  15. As an agent of change – “As this ability of people to combine around issues and to articulate them grows, so it will have increasing effect on people in authority. Companies are already learning to respect, even fear, the power of collaborative media. Increasingly, social media will challenge conventional politics and, for instance, the laws relating to expression and speech.”

It’s that last point that I think brilliantly summarises up the rest for me. Collaborative or open media is changing the way that everyone, including businesses, politics and journalism, operates. It’s not just Twitter. That could be dead in a years time – who knows. But it’s the implications of these new mediums on everyone one of our lives that is so revolutionary. And scary. And exciting. And daunting. And inspiring.

I can see why my dad, who embodies everything that you’d imagine of the traditionalist generation, is convinced that social media is changing the world. I’ll say it again – it’s brilliant.

The full transcript of the lecture can be found here, it can be podcasted or the video downloaded from the Big Ideas website.

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2 Responses to “Through the generations – the impact of social media”

  1. Oscar January 12, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    My folks sound much like yours Tash, they’re a few years younger, typical baby-boomers. But I know other baby-boomers who won’t touch e-mail because they once received spam. Hilariously, my old boss got porn in his inbox every morning; his upright British morals were so outraged he had his secretary print off important emails rather than open Outlook at all. Some old goats will never change, while the perpetually youthful always like to try new things. My folks fall into the latter category, I’ve been getting news from them in QLD on the floods via Facebook. Some of their friends were there for the ’74 floods so they afford a unique perspective us whipper-snappers don’t have. That’s gotta fit at least 4 of your 15 points above…

  2. tashily January 27, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Oscar! Brilliant story about your old boss – all I could think when I read that was what a slow way to do things! I get an email and I normally have replied within an hour – at a maximum! But I’ve ‘grown up’ along with the internet – in that I remember the older more clunky computers & when internet was dial up, but my usage of it became more frequent as it expanded and became more common. Now – couldn’t survive without.

    Hope your folks were okay during the floods – Facebook & Twitter were seriously useful tools during that time. My folks just over the border near Byron Bay were blissfully unaware though until I gave them a call!

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