Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What difference does social media make.

I, and no doubt others, have some difficulty trying to explain just how significant the change in marketing and communication, but most notably PR, is in the Internet mediated era.

Once upon a time it was quite easy. There was a framework of interactions that were governed by a range of institutions that allowed the media, governments, and a range of other institutions that offered a link between the dominant coalition and the publics (stakeholders if you like) and it was relatively easy to maintain the status quo.

The model looked like this:

Progressively a number of capabilities have allowed people to comment interact and form ever morphing but culturally close communities. They form round individuals at the nexus of the groups in one of more social media environments.These environments are characterised by MySpace and Digg or Podzinger and Second Life. There are many (oh! so many) forms of community environs. Each forms a relationship cloud. And, as technologies and fashion dictate, these clouds bubble up and absorb energy from participants. The nature of these clouds is that the basic software and service is relatively cheap But the combination of participants, their content, their tagging, their involvement with other participants and their 'Google Juice' created value (Google bought YouTube for $1.6bn and thereby gave us a clear view of how much a corporation values these 'clouds')

This many people have knowledge and insights, a thirst for information and interaction (including buying stuff). To accommodate these people and to gain energising knowledge and interactions, organisations make information ever more transparently available. I agree, not always willingly - as the music industry attests (and is punished for).

The effect is that even the nature of institutions is changed as information empowers different coalitions inside organisations. The wider values of organisations become transparent and all forms of interaction become mediated by the Internet.

In addition, the very interactions in and around the organisation are transparently available for all to see and if not, the newly porous nature of organisations allows the information to leak out into the blazing netshine.

The role then of public relations changes as it navigates the relationship clouds and interacts in such a way that all but the merest whisp of turbulence can be observed. The role is in empowering the relationships in and between the relationship clouds.

The organisation too becomes a relationship cloud and by the marriage of values among the users of the clouds, a merging and morphing of interests, satisfies the newly morphed and combined interests. Sometimes for a fleeting moment or for a long, long time.

Offending in this space brings down the might of the relationships bound together by common values.

Does this help us understand?

Here is just one tiny example that all in PR can understand. Where once a press release would do, the authentic voice of social media is now doing better. More praise is heaped in print on more organisations than ever before without the lifting of a PR finger or, for the most part, its practitioner's knowledge. To see this in action, just look out of the window and see the sparkle.