Social Media goes mainstream (2009)

It has been a week since the Iran election and subsequent explosion of social media as the primary method for getting information out there.

You cannot turn on any of the major news networks without hearing the anchors talk about Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. Everyone in the social media world has been blogging, tweeting and posting photos and videos related to Iran all week.

There has been a few things over the past few months that have thrown social media into more of the visible mainstream.

The two that come to mind are both Twitter-centric: Ashton Kutcher and CNN battling it out for 1 million Twitter followers and Oprah joining Twitter, both of which got mainstream cable news coverage.

These events have been fun to watch and were probably more or less a blip of information for the average, every-day, semi-connected person. But this week we have seen all these sites, ones which might have been considered fun sites used only ‘socially’, take a huge leap forward in the eyes of many.

I have no data to back this up, only a conversation that I had with our network administrator today.

For a network administrator, social networks are nothing but a pain. They are peer-to-peer, security nightmares.

Until recently, most social networks on a U.S. government network have been blocked and off-limits. A recent decision has decided to open some of them up, but it is still a struggle to gain access to these sites at the lower levels.

I noticed that YouTube was blocked today after being turned on for about the previous 2 weeks and I mentioned it in passing to our network administrator.

Having had the same conversation multiple times before with multiple network administrators in multiple locations, I basically recited his response as to the reasons for them being blocked before he even spoke.

As with all those conversations before, I begin to explain how important social media is to modern day public relations/public affairs/public information. This time the conversation was different though.

After I started with my explanation I stopped, started over, and just said: “Look at Iran. The primary method of news gathering and information over the past week has been from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. This is where I work, these are my primary tools, and these social network sites are the job.”

Instead of ending in a ‘we agree to disagree’ like so many times before, I saw a little lightbulb go off in this particular network administrators head.

He got it.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been plastered all over the mainstream media, and these sites have been the primary methods of information gathering.

Because of this, I think that more people will not look at these sites merely as a hobby for people wanting to share too much information about their personal lives, but they will start being seen as a valuable, viable and essential communication platforms by the non-communication professionals.

There have been so many things happen this week politically, socially, and within the context of the internet that you could write a book about it, and I’m sure somebody probably will.

For the public relations/public affairs practitioner, social networks have been elevated to a new level.

Using the words of Hilary Clinton this week who said, “I wouldn’t know a Twitter from a tweeter, but apparently it is very important.”

My network administrator who viewed social networks as nothing but a pain now knows that for what I do, apparently it is very important.

All the members of an organization don’t need to know all the in’s and out’s of what we do, but as long as they know it is very important, the bar has been moved a little forward.

Mike Nicholson

Mike Nicholson is a U.S. Army Veteran who spent his military career working in Strategic Communications, Public Affairs, and Information Operations. With a history of planning, preparing, executing, and assessing communication plans in a variety of stateside and overseas assignments, he uses 46ALPHA to share his lessons learned with military and spouse Veteran Entrepreneurs, and others looking to improve their digital communications.

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