Thoughts on Social Media 2015

“Social media” is a bit of a misnomer, as the term is used to describe many different and diverse communities online.  An essential concept that gets lost is the fact that all these different online communities (social media platforms) have very different cultures.  The best way to grok each individual culture is to immerse oneself in a given community for a significant length of time.

The challenge in utilizing social media is understanding how to adapt the message and become part of the native conversation.  Being tone deaf to the unique social media culture in question can have sharply negative results.  Interactions on Facebook are very different from sending out a hashtag laden tweet.  Posting an Instagram photo with relevant hashtags takes a wholly different attitude than uploading a set of images into a Pinterest account.  A good analogy is as if a rock climbing enthusiast were to attend a convention of Formula 1 racing pros.  The common language, cultural touchstones, and humor aren’t easily interchangeable, and without prior research and coaching would create awkward and poorly understood interactions at best.
There are countless contemporary examples of social media campaigns and accounts gone wrong.  Remember the poorly-crafted tweet that destroyed Justine Sacco, and the foolhardy Facebook pic of Lindsey Stone at the Arlington National Cemetery?  In today’s world, tone-deafness in social media can be a devastating blow.

These examples illustrate the importance of clearly defining the goal of using a social media tool.  Creating a social media account just to have an icon on a website is a common mistake.  If you create a social media account (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc.) it needs to be perceived as a living, breathing entity.  To achieve the best response, an informed, responsible member of the organization should be tasked with keeping the account vibrant and responsive.

The core of social media is the concept of dialogue.  For example, when you put out a new Facebook post, twitter tweet, or Instagram image you need to be ready to respond appropriately to the feedback of the community in a positive and timely manner.  Timely feedback keeps the conversation going, creates a visible record, and shows your community spirit.

The other pitfall to avoid is the “I’m an expert because I use [social media platform X]” trope.  Since ease of use and accessibility of are the backbone of social media platforms, the common misconception abounds that anyone who has an account is an instant expert. This is a dangerous assumption, and can be a serious roadblock in establishing effective policies for a business or organization.  I’m sure you can all think of examples of businesses or political figures who have handed over control of their social media accounts to an unqualified intern or staff member, only to have events spiral out of control due to simple communication mistakes.

Defining an overall strategy for using social media is the cornerstone to success.  The takeaway here is that social media is about having a conversation, and understanding that individual online communities are dynamic and unique cultures is essential.

~ Kit Latham

#cultureofthehashtag #hashtagculture #hashtag

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