Is the Summer of Social Media Love a fading memory?

The prospect of doing some interviews at the seminar on Jemima Gibbons book, Monkeys With Typewriters, later today set me thinking on some gentle provocations to get things going … particularly ones that are a bit metaphorical.
Recent conversations and exchanges dispel any remaining simplistic enthusiasm for the possible benefits of social media. It isn’t a magic potion. We should pay far more attention to the context in which social media is used, for what purpose, by whom and so on.
Somewhere on the shelves I have  a copy of Silicon Snake Oil written by Clifford Stoll in 1996, and probably the first book to question the benefits of what was then called the Information Superhighway.

Stoll asked: when do the networks really educate, and when are they simply diversions from learning? Is electronic mail useful, or might it be so much electronic noise? Why do online services promise so much, yet deliver so little? What makes computers so universally frustrating?

We are still a bit frustrated … or at least more knowledgable about the barriers. A post on the tech blog Mashable says Why Social Media Isn’t for Everyone. Paul Clarke shows how Show Us A Better Way ideas crowdsourced by government are difficult to make work in practice. Dave Briggs and Roland Harwood agree that Innovation and engagement depend on conversations inside, first. Noel Hatch has a great description in The Revolutions Won’t be Televised of how social technologies can be used by local government to do things better and cheaper … but it depends on human processes first:

If we look at where the web is most successful at driving social change, it’s where it mobilises untapped resources – people’s energy and innovation – for mutual benefit. It’s what we could call the gift economy.
So what’s this all about? When you receive gifts for Christmas this year, you don’t pay them the amount it was worth. At the same time, if you stop giving gifts to friends, you may find there’ll be less inclined to give you a present.
Our relationship with our citizens is different – it would be like offering a gift to a random person in the street, they wouldn’t necessarily return the favour.
So we need to find how to create relationships with people to mobilise their intrinsic motivation. Relationships affect how people behave and how they’re motivated. Transformation in society doesn’t happen when it adopts new tools, it happens when it adopts new behaviours.

A few years back it all seemed a lot simpler. Or maybe we were more optimistic. I fondly remember social reporting at the great 2gether08 Digital Festival curated by Steve Moore … which promoted thoughts about whether That Was THE Summer.
So I Googled and found, yes indeed, The Summer of Social Media Love

Enter the social media mainstream. Yes, social media — where people participate actively, publicly, and directly with online content and content providers — are mainstream.
When huge corporations start blogging, friending, following, fanning, tweeting, and digging — you know that “the man” is infiltrating the social media scene.
It’s not a bad thing. But it’s smart to get hip to new ways of communicating and connecting. With social media, you can participate at your level of comfort.
Your summer of social media love. June, July, August — if you haven’t done so already, give social media three solid months. Watch your brain start to make connections in new and exciting ways.

As I wrote earlier, Jemima’s book is excellent precisely because it is not about the tools, but about Co-Creation, Passion, Learning, Openness, Listening, and Generosity. That’s what we need to be in love with.

Update: just to dispel any remaining hippy-ish thoughts, Alan Patrick explains how The next generation of social media systems will go for the cash.


  • January 20, 2010 - 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Great post and it’s interesting the way in which some commentators in the past got it just about right.

    In its current form Social Media was always going to be a fad BUT I agree with your view that its real value lies in its context and the ability to reveal untapped potential.

  • January 21, 2010 - 9:05 am | Permalink

    As ever, very thought provoking post. So maybe when we talk about how to measure success of social media, we ought to work backwards and think instead of the impact we want to have on the way we interact with people rather than the number of comments on our blogs.

    So, if you’re an organisation claiming to want to use social media to listen, then it’s a plausible promise that people will believe if you’ve listened meaningfully to your customers in the past (whether thats your contact centre or even just face to face). Of course, the challenges for you will still be adapting to the disruptiveness of social media, but people will accept early mistakes because they trust you.

    However, if you claim to use social media to listen and you have a pretty poor reputation of doing so in the past, then you probably need to think more about mindsets internally that need to be changed, before pretending to be the best listener.

    More of a tough love analysis than summer of love!

  • January 21, 2010 - 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Great title David!

    And that loved up feeling definitely lingered til at least February ’09 when 700+ people queued in the snow to attend the nth London Twestival…

    Frustration is inevitable, but I think there’s still a lot of optimism around today. One of my friends has just packed in his job to devote his life to establishing e-democracy. There’ll always be fresh blood just as us old ‘uns are getting tired!

  • January 22, 2010 - 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Great provocative post David. I agree that 2gether08 was probably my favorite social media event but since then I think we’ve all become a lot more serious about social media what with Iranian Election and Mumbei attacks etc. I for one am increasingly drawn into the sheer usefulness of all kinds of tools which appears to be creating a sort of social media have’s and have-not’s. So it’s changing and probably in a good way, but let’s keep the spirit of 2gether alive eh 🙂

  • January 23, 2010 - 12:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks Roland. What’s important, as always, is the great people you meet … who are prepared to keep in touch:-). Ta.

  • January 24, 2010 - 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Maybe social media is just starting to become a bit boring, which will please Clay Shirky.

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