BLG Leadership Insights

Social Media Has Reached The Tipping Point: Now What?

The first Gulf War legitimized and brought to the public the viability of the 24-hour news channel, and CNN hit its stride.  This past week, the tipping point came for Twitter and Facebook. If history is our guide, we will soon see these social technologies embedded in our communication culture.  After this past week, these technologies will no longer be tools for teen communication but tools for governments, organizations, and business.  These tools have their limitations. They demand from the viewer a sensitivity to context and the capacity to filter what is broadcast. When stores are so raw, so open, and so honest as the ones coming out of Iran reality hits us in our face. The danger however, is what happens when the social technology becomes a bit more controlled.

Social media doesn’t go through filters or editors–that means it’s fast, direct, and potentially incorrect or unconfirmed. In the age of Twitter the plausibility of a fake story being perpetuated, in the vein of Orson Welles, throughout the Internet is more than likely. It’s just a matter of thinking up a good fake news story.

Social media has created a platform for spontaneous truth, however at the same time a platform for controlled pranks. In the hands of the unscrupulous, it can become the source not only of rumors but of misdirection and false alarm. While we gain access to more news, we are forced to employ more analysis.

This can also have repercussions in the business world for both leaders and consumers. This month the electronic products company, Belkin, was caught using comment features on blogs and stores like to write fake, positive, ‘customer’ reviews about their poorly functioning products so they would sell. Again, we have gained access to more products but we are forced to exercise more caution as we shop online.

We have learned, in part, to gather news stories and product information from blogs, Twitter, Flickr, and Youtube. However, as we have seen, social media platforms are susceptible to unconfirmed information. Social media allows companies to present their corporate culture, products, and future ideas in an honest and direct light. If companies try to go beyond being honest and direct they risk losing face in front of a ever-growing number of online users. The same rule applies to governments. We need only to look at China’s and Iran’s efforts to control information perpetuated by social media outlets and the resulting bad press they receive.

Social technology demands a certain openness, honesty, and rawness as we’ve seen coming out of Iran the past few days. It demands candor and implies a democratization of information. Unfortunately, it may be the case that some countries may choose, in their paranoid moment, to control the technology–killing its spontaneity and thus, in many ways, reducing its importance.