International Credit Union Day Address: ‘The Why of Social Media’ – Tim Martin

This breakfast address was given by Tim Martin to Melbourne credit union members as part of 2010 International Credit Union Day – 14th October, 2010, Melbourne. [Inspired by Clay Shirky’s ‘How Cognitive Surplus will Change the World’]

So, for the next 45 minutes or so I’ll be talking about Social Media; but rather than look at WHAT social media is, I want to offer some insight into WHY it is. There are many people capable of explaining the mechanics of the bird and the book to you – Twitter and Facebook. But as business operators I believe you’ll all be better off by getting a look at the big picture first. And by better off, I mean more capable of seeing why social media is fast becoming a game changer, and why it will likely become an important and integral part of your collective marketing, communications and research strategies.

I’ve also deliberately gone out of my way to give you some very unusual online examples which we’ll get to shortly. But first, a few quick definitions to set the scene: Mass media – we all know what this is because most of us consume it in volume every day: it’s mostly the output of commercially orientated organisations who own and operate most of the world’s pressing presses, studios, television and radio transmission towers, and theater chains. No conspiracy in this, it’s just a fact.

Mass media content is very public – its publicly accessed and consumed by mass audiences. It’s a one directional flow of content, typically produced on daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal cycles – they produce, we consume. And to the most part mass media content is ephemeral – we throw away yesterday’s newspapers and we don’t record and save most of what we watch or listen to throughout our day. And there’s no need to hold on to mass media content because there’s a fresh production flow which is constantly on tap: new television dramas roll out, 24/7 television news, music played through radio stations or downloadable from iTunes, new books, new magazines, and hot-off-the press newspapers.

Now let me introduce a familiar idea in a new light: the concept of Personal Media.

Personal Media is content – or information – that we create as individuals every day: a telephone conversation, a note on a fridge door, an email, a drawing, a photo or a love letter. Personal media content has traditionally been private – or at least private to a very small group of people: your partner, a friend, your family, your work colleagues or classmates. But in contrast to mass media it tends to be a dynamic two-way process and it’s interactive – I show you a photo and you smile; or you ask me a question and I respond, and you respond to my response and so on – that’s called a conversation. Personal media content is also mostly ephemeral – our talk vanishes into the air, notes are thrown away – in fact most physical media we have traditionally communicated through will eventually decay and be completely lost in time.

Social Media is the cross-over of mass media and personal media. We continue to produce our personal media – conversations, notes, drawings and so forth – except now it’s easier and more efficient to transmit and share our communications with each other through the web – through social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn, through blogs, Twitter, forums, and wikis.

Simply put, we can communicate with more people within our chosen tribes in real-time, less expensively and with less effort. And easier will always win out over harder given enough time.

But personal media – our formally private content – when passed through the web becomes public content. And to the most part this content is not ephemeral – it’s in digital format and will stay on the web forever – and all of it will be searchable forever – retrieved as easily as typing a few keywords into your favourite search engine. So, what’s behind the creation of this digital content? Why are people uploading images of funny faces to the web or tweeting about Australian credit unions? And all done without a coordinated directive, and no financial incentive. Yet it happens and is happening at an accelerated pace: individuals are collectively creating publicly accessible and sharable content for people they’ve never met, and will probably never meet or even know exist.

There are considered to be 3 main drivers at work here, 3 intrinsic motivations for people to create, publish and share their personal media:

Engagement – the intellectual stimulation the process offers. Many people love problem solving, discovery and creating order.

Attention – look at me. Notice me by association of what I’ve produced.

Reputation – see how much I know; establishing credibility

So let’s pull these ideas together: social media is the interplay between mass media and personal media. People are producing personal content and sharing it with others online because they can, and it feels good to do so: engagement, attention, reputation. These personal media outputs – mundane or funny or profound, it makes no difference – are formally and informally indexed, categorised and made findable thanks to organisations such as Google. And discoverability through networks and active search moves us into some very interesting space: it facilitates connections, connections give rise to communities, and communities foster a sense of collective membership and the potential for uncoordinated social collaboration.

We’ll shortly look at some of the ways these dynamics are playing out. But as interesting as the examples coming up may be, reflect that we’re really only at the online evolutionary equivalent of the steam engine. The next decades will be an extraordinary time for all of us, both from a social and a professional perspective.

And before you ask where these people find the time to create, share and re-purpose the world’s online personal media – well, many of them – myself included – will have simply swapped their passive, isolated TV viewing time for activities which provide richer, more personally rewarding social media based experiences.

In summary I’ll make these points:

The social media genie is out of the bottle – for increasing numbers of people there is no going back to a time of passive, unconnected, one directional information consumption, or being solely reliable on mass media for their leisure time entertainment

Organisations that dismiss social media as a minor blip on the radar or a side distraction are missing the point (big time.) This is a powerful transformative wave – it will be easier and more productive to go with the flow than against it. Ideally your organisations will become valuable contributors within the online social communities who already share the credit union ethos and your reason for being, i.e. membership, and the value that infers.

No-one fully controls corporate messaging any more. Social media runs by it’s own set of rules. And it you don’t like all of this change, well, you’re going to like irrelevancy even less.

Thank-you.

Note – NET:101 is running full-day internet marketing & social media workshops in conjunction with the Australasian Mutuals Institute during 2011. Please contact AMI directly for more information.



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