Social media: finally a buzz word with meaning

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Move over Web 2.0, a clever enough monicker but one so vague as to be meaningless. Want proof? Look at how the “2.0” tag works on any concept. Gardening 2.0, Parenting 2.0. It’s a number that means new and improved.

But social media captures the essence of what is novel about the Web — audiences can interact with central publishing sources. In communities like Wikipedia there need not be much of a central publishing source, just a server, some software and storage. The group is the publishing unit.

Why has it taken me so long to realize this? I’ve been wowed by some of the other novelties of modern media, such as the lower cost of manufacturing every form of communication from print to video, the ease of worldwide distribution, or the ability to search, find and aggregate.

But back-talk may be the most revolutionary change enabled by Web-based media. Long ago Aristotle called human beings, zoon politikon, which is variously translated as political animals or social animals.

Social media, therefore, brings us back to the future.

That realization dawned on me last week when I attended the New Communications Forum conference. When I looked back at my archives this morning, I discovered I’d had a similar thought some time ago when I wrote about Jenn McClure, who founded the Society for New Communcations Research, and Chris Heurer and Kristi Wells who organized the Social Media Club.

No surprise that I was hanging around that same gang of ne’er-do-wells last week when I had this, shall we say Epiphany 2.0. Knowing that I’m am somewhat impressionable, I held off on writing this for a few days in case it was just a case of conference group-think.

But here I am still hot on the idea. Now the tougher challenge is how to use it. More thought required there.

Meanwhile, here are a few more notes from Shel Holtz the final speaker at last week’s conference. Holtz provided something of a reality check to the conference’s opening speaker, David Weinberger. I blogged about Weinberge’s remarks last week. They were fun and forward-thinking but more inspirational than practical. 

Holtz focused on the nuts and bolts, and while he is excited about social media, he noted that only a fraction of the audience chooses to socialize.

From observations thus far Holtz said that about one percent of a web audience will create materials; another 10 percent will occasionally comment or vote (i.e. rank stories or otherwise make choices). But that means 89 percent of the audience is inert. So just as in real life, where there are talkers and lurkers in every group, not everyone takes advantage of the ability to interact. The vast majority of the audience remains in listen only mode.

So what do we do with this knowledge, if he is indeed correct?

“Find out where your most passionate audience members have gone and follow them,” Holtz said.

Okay: any passionate audience member have pointers for me?