I have this unrelenting suspicion that people deeply, innately, in every fiber of ourselves need to be connected. Radical, I know.
I recently went back to Princeton for my college reunion and spent 48 hours either with people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in many years and yet because of Facebook and LinkedIn still felt oddly knowledgeable about, or with people I had actually never met but again felt oddly knowledgeable about through the sheer quantity and intensity of the virtual communications we shared. As inevitably strange situations and new sensations came and went at my reunion (because reunions are kind of wonderfully odd), I couldn’t escape constant little reminders of how the new technologies we’ve so quickly become immersed in, are playing a role not only in our need but also our ability to be connected.
While I was on campus, I gave a lecture on social media marketing (and giving a “lecture” at my alma mater was certainly odd for me in so many ways). We looked at the Susan Boyle phenomenon. Note that according to The Telegraph the episode of “Britain’s Got Talent” in which Susan Boyle debuted (it was the show’s season premiere) had was viewed on television by 11.8 million people. But in just a few days, the video of that same show on YouTube had generated more than 80 million views. That’s TV 11.8 million, YouTube 80 million. Anyone who grew up with television as the quintessential mass medium may need to take a moment just to absorb that fundamental shift.
And more and more people have a nagging suspicion that things like Susan’s YouTube video are stark examples that social media tools really are changing the way that we communicate, and wondering what to do about it.
I agree with this suspicion because I think such change is inevitable.
What we now call “social media” are just the latest in a long and continuing evolution of communication tools. From smoke signals to Morse code to radio to television, each new tool we invent changes the way we communicate.
If you imagine with me for a moment, communication tools shifting over time in four respects:
we seemed to have had a long progression toward an ever increasing number of recipients from tools like Morse code (only a few people can send complex messages to a few other people, so presumably senders and recipients are chosen carefully as are the messages they send) to tools like television (once the infrastructure is built, a few people can send messages to massive quantities of people relatively easily and so senders are chosen carefully while the recipients not so much & the messages can be drivel or not).
But Social Media seems to have taken this progress on a new path where we are growing not just in the numbers of recipients but also of senders. Large numbers of people can now relatively easily reach large numbers of people, as if we are each our own publishing house.
But the tools go beyond that too. In the past large numbers of recipients meant one-directional messages — you could reach lots of people but they were passive recipients of your information. Now, these large numbers are also interactive. You can reach out to lots of people and every single one of them can immediately reach back. Instead of controlled, one-directional messaging, these tools enable a constantly evolving, living dialogue on a huge scale.
In it’s novelty, just the fact that the power to create large scale dialogue is in the hands of individual people is kind of amazing. As a business owner though, the fact that you can now communicate interactively and regularly with 10 or 1,000 times more people can seem overwhelming.
There is a middle ground.
In the 1970’s a sociologist named Mark Granovetter introduced a concept called “the strength of weak ties.” It is the idea that as we reach beyond our closest friends and families, we have “weak” but vitally important ties that connect us to other people and their networks and the important information and opportunities that those networks hold. It is far more often through the networks of our “weak ties” for example, that we get referrals for business and find opportunities for new jobs.
What’s amazing for small business owners about these new social media tools is that they are incredibly good at empowering individual people to efficiently and inexpensively maintain a far larger number of “weak ties”.
Half the battle of being a successful business is just making sure people remember your business and what you offer when it’s time to make a purchase or a referral. Through social media tools, a business can stay connected to a larger number of “weak ties” and the networks they belong to, have access to the information and opportunities in those networks, and do it better and faster.
By helping you maximize those weak ties Social Media Marketing provides small businesses with a powerful tool that doesn’t need an overwhelming amount of complexity to be useful. Its power is based on the simple human desire to be connected and the tools that now exist to enable you, as an individual to fill that desire.
Here are a few steps for how to maintain your sanity while using social media tools effectively.
Maisha Walker is the Founder & President of message medium, a 10-year old New York City Internet Strategy firm that focuses exclusively on Small Businesses. You can follow Maisha on Twitter or learn about her upcoming Web site and Internet Marketing Classes.
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