Social Media Turns Tween

Posted: Nov 06, 2016
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Without fanfare, ribbons or bows, social media turned 10 last month. Yep. Social media is now a ‘tween. Facebook was extended beyond educational institutions in September 2006. YouTube began doing its thing in October 2006. And Twitter went live in July 2006. All leading to our world in which anyone, anywhere can “broadcast” anything, back and forth, to the world at any time. 

Most humans since the beginning of time have always wanted a slice of the limelight to tell a story, share information and “be seen and heard.” But in the history of media allowing everyday people, not TV or radio networks, to share messages with the masses, we’re looking at a short period. Only 25 years have passed between the public access TV movement, to the Internet, email and social media revolution and evolution. 

My Gen-X friends (a small group of us numbering around 65 million) and I have traveled from a land of card catalogs, Kodak kiosks, payphones and postage stamps to “The Internet of Things,” advanced artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and a social media epidemic of digital aphrodisiac and occasional addiction.

The use of social media channels for business has been a fascinating journey, too. From trial and error in the very beginning (we had no textbook or rulebook), to more trial and some successes, to more ideas explored and shared in niche industries and finally some best practices and case studies of merit, it continues to be a work in progress. 

The more that organizations and their agencies, partners and social media gurus see social media as what it is—one channel within a larger plan and business approach to achieve outcomes—the better the results that will be realized. The concept of integrated communications, marketing and PR strategies tied to measurable results is not new. It’s just that some of the tools have changed. And the potential for having way more intelligence and actionable data has increased exponentially.

As for the political implications of social media, it continues to be an incredible trip. 

The heart of social media’s use, however, is still based on its very name and definition. It is a social medium. We can express our anger, joy, love, frustrations and more to friends and strangers in a millisecond. We can show off our kids, dinner plates, purchases and politics. And we can be experts for a moment on ANYTHING—typically causing a deluge of TMI, which we accept for friendship sake.

We get to show that we exist. We matter. We are acknowledged. And I think that’s the real reason social media has been a success. In a busy life full of distractions, distances and change, it offers a way to still feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. 

Our embrace of social media has likely shown that we crave more true connection: good old-fashioned human interaction—the most honest, true social medium ever created. Because personal time gets harder and harder to find each passing year, the surrogate of digital chat fills a gap in some ways, but not all.

Part of the success of Pokémon Go was because kids, teenagers and the adults who played it got together in person to stare at screens, walk around, and talk! So what if some of us accidentally bumped into mailboxes and street signs while walking, staring down and chatting. I vote for the progress underway.

Regardless of where the channels go from here, their ability to spread messages, information and calls to action in a digital symphony crescendo is something to behold. Sometimes to fear. And certainly something to respect and consider.

So…. Happy 10th, Social Media! Your teenage years are coming soon, bringing even more change, growth and maturity. But we look forward to watching and helping you grow into your new decade, pimples and all. 

John Senall is a communications consultant out of Buffalo, New York, and founder of Mobile First Media and Digital Healthcom Group. He can be reached at john@mobilefirstmedia.com, at 716-361-9124 or via channels including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or carrier pigeon.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of one of my university professors, Tony Conrad, who passed away this year. Tony's work as an artist, avant-garde musician and filmmaker were known internationally. But his advocacy and persistence pushing the public access TV movement here in Buffalo—"ownership of the airwaves" prior to social media— was thoughtful, often humorous and influential to me.