The other day, I retweeted a short Social Media Today entry by Maggie McGary about some of the major effects social media are having on our lives. In it, she cited an accurate prediction and a side-by-side strategy comparison of Massachusetts’ senatorial election result; a report on how social networking is helping to save lives in Haiti; and news articles about how major brands are altering or outright abandoning the infamous 30-second spot during the Super Bowl broadcast in favor of social marketing. Now I’m going to add some opinion (about the first two things, at least; I love Super Bowl commercials and will miss them if they fade away).
The effect of social media on politics is nothing we haven’t heard before. Bloggers were important in swaying opinions during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, and Brent Leary and David Bullock’s excellent Barack 2.0 reveals how our current President made effective use of the immediacy and intimacy of social media to win a hotly contested race. The idea that the incumbent party could lose its Senate seat—despite a long history of success combined with sympathy for a fallen statesman—smacks not only of overconfidence but of ignorance.
Social technology has made it easier than ever before to spread word when disaster strikes, and to coordinate immediate relief efforts. Where it once might have taken weeks to arrange donations of money and essentials, motivated people and groups got it done in a matter of days—sometimes hours. Time saved equals lives saved when something as devastating as the Haiti quake hits.
In both cases, the technology is an important indicator and enabler rather than a deciding factor of its own. In both cases, technology is waving a great big flag that says, “This is where the people are!” Paying attention to that flag can have tremendous positive effects, whether in terms of electorate swayed, lives saved, or just business generated. Ignoring it means being ignored in turn. Social media is changing the world, my friends. It may evolve, but it’s not dying out any time soon.