Clay Shirky: How social media can make history

Clay Shirky provided a brief, though insightful, presentation to how communication has evolved over time.  He provided chronological examples of messaging inventions and their limited communication capabilities—the movement of type and print, individual communication through the use of telephones, mass media through movies, television and finally, the fastest growing—the internet.

The use of the internet and later creation of social media has been a gateway for multichannel communication; it is no longer a one way conversion.  Social media allows “amateurs” —as Shirky describes—to speak with each other, inform each other and express themselves in a more flexible fashion. For amateurs, this is a powerful tool that can be used in a powerful way, though some businesses may not see this new power in the same manner.  Companies traditionally had—to some extent—the authority of what was being said about their brand; today with the strength of social media those privileges has been somewhat taken away.  Their voice isn’t as strong as it perhaps used to in the past—people are dictating, reacting and voting how and what company’s brand stand for and this alone could be a brutal reality in how companies are delivering themselves to customers.  The best solution for a company is not to hide or diminish their values but to express and react to what people are saying—become transparent and be honest.  Let those who are speaking about you know where the company stands and how a situation is going to be handled.   Tell the truth.

Shirky provided a quick story about the Obama campaign.  Him and his fellow marketers created a website where voters could read and follow his stance on certain political issues.  People where pouring in, opting to receive emails, commenting and expressing their support.  Though, when Obama changed his stance on a certain bill, a large group of supporters weren’t too thrilled.  They expressed their dislike, their concerns and comments – traditionally, this has only been a one way communication line, though social media has opened the line for everyone to speak their opinion.  Even though Obama lost a few votes on that account, he was able to speak to those voters who expressed their concern, and let them know he understands, he listened and wanted people to know he still felt strongly to go forward with the bill.

People were privy to the fact he was honest and responded.  The negative comments weren’t removed, yet addressed.  The fact is, all people are not going to be all smiles, those who are frowning need a conversation, need a reason to perhaps become happy.  A large portion is to understand where people are coming from and address those concerns in which they may have.

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