What do you know about social media? Before you answer that question, let me tell you that you know more than you may think. Social media are simply other ways for us to communicate and connect with one another. If you are a smart communicator and understand the power of connections, you already know a lot about social media.

“One person’s voice can be as powerful as an entire media network,” said Aston Kutcher once he surpassed 1 million followers on Twitter, beating CNN. He described this achievement as the “democratization” of the media. I have to wonder. Wasn’t the media democratized before? What makes it now a “democracy” because one man can reach 1 million people?
Perhaps democracy and democratization are the wrong words (even though it sounds catchy). What the social media have done is unleash the power of communication and connection one person at a time.

Communicating one-on-one always had a powerful effect on us because it enabled us to connect with one another. Everything you read and hear about the social media requires connection and building relationships. Remember when communication consisted of three choices:

1. Face-to-Face
2. Telephone
3. Handwritten letter

When given these three choices, we selected face-to-face interactions when we knew we had to make a special connection with someone. Telephone connections happened when we did not need as much intimacy or when distance prevented us from making face-to-face contact. We resorted to the letter as the least personal form of communication.

Today, we have many more choices. Nonetheless, our decision-making process remains the same. How much connection, how much intimacy do we need in order to communicate our message? CNN cares nothing about intimacy. CNN cares about getting the news broadcasted to the most people at once. Amazingly, the social media also broadcast news in much the same way CNN does. But, because the source comes from a “friend”, a “follower”, a “connection” we are more likely to believe it. In the past we could eyeball the communicator during a face-to-face interaction to determine truth. Today, we must depend upon building relationships that create trust and that create believability.

Here is what we do know about the social media:

1. Our young people are connected. Today’s youth understand the social media; they live and breathe it every day. They use the tools as ways to share with their friends. As kids, we used the telephone. Today’s kids use cell phones and MySpace. When you put the cell phone with MySpace, you get Twitter. To any young person, the power of Twitter is a no brainer.
2.The social media bring on two-way communication. Where email was one-way communication that was often not instantaneous, Twitter is two-way and instant. Furthermore, with Twitter you can have instant two-way communication with virtually thousands of people at once.
3.The social media enable people to deepen connections and relationships. I could correspond with you quickly through email. But, through Facebook I learn what you look like, what you like to do on Sunday afternoon, who your favorite actors are, and where you love to eat. Through Facebook, I find out that your dog has been sick or your child won a top honor at school. Through Facebook I learn who you are and what makes you tick.
4.The social media are here to stay. The way we are communicating is in a revolutionary change and that change centers on the social media. Traditional advertising and broadcast media must adapt to this new step-child. In fact, Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, said, “Journalists who embrace the new media will thrive; those that don’t won’t.”
5.The social media are forcing changes in marketing and sales. The way we discover, evaluate and purchase products and services is experiencing a major insurgency. Word of mouth purchases come not from the neighborhood pharmacist but from what our friends tell us on Facebook or what we hear on Twitter.
6.Aston Kutcher taught us that the way we hear about news and events is also changing through the social media. The fact that CNN wants 1 million followers tells that a major network recognizes the power of a social networking tool like Twitter.

What are the things we do not know about the social media?

1. Where is the social media taking us? Where will we be in 5 years? No one has a clue.
2.Which media tools will survive? Is Twitter a passing fad? Will the little bird be eaten by the big cat, Google? MySpace is already on the decline. What about Facebook? My hunch is that each of these tools will find the right niche. MySpace will survive for the very young. Twitter in some form will survive for instant message type communication world-wide.
3.How will the social media affect advertising, public relations, marketing, and sales? My guess is that broadcast, intrusive advertising as we know it today, will not survive. For some products (not many) it will continue in some form. The social media add a new component to the “marketing” mix. By doing so, traditional marketing efforts must adapt. Time will show us how and who will survive.
4.What’s next? We now have Web 2.0 which means an interactive Web. It’s much more engaging to read a blog in which you can comment than to read a static website. For that reason blogs have soared in popularity. What will Web 3.0 or 2.5 or whatever look like? I’m sure there are some guru’s out there who can share what they see in their crystal balls. But, for most of us it remains a mystery. The challenge is to be ready. Two things we can count on: we are on the cusp and there’s more to come.
As a communications expert, all this excites me. The social media provide new opportunities to communicate and to connect. The fun part is joining the party. What are you waiting for? Now that you know that you do know something about the social media, and you also know that no one knows what’s next, come join us! See you on Twitter.

You can read more about communication and the social media on my blog: http://www.totalcommunicationscoach.com/blog

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Curtis has been teaching communication and leadership skills for over 20 years. Her new book, Managing Sticky Situations at Work--Communication Secrets for Success in the Workplace comes out in May 2009. She is currently co-authoring a book on The New Handshake: Sales 2.0 that will examine the power of the social media.

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