Social Media 101

Everyone seems to be on Facebook or Twittering one another. This new phase of the Internet, known as Web 2.0 or social networking, is changing the way we manage our lives.  Here’s a look at how this Web 2.0 e-ruption has shaken things up.

Authors Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta believe that online social networking is not merely a method of communication. Nor is it simply a by-product of a changing society. It’s actually an instrument of change.

“The power of social media is turning old models on their heads,” says Fraser, co-author along with Dutta of Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World. “In the Web 2.0 world, fans become celebrities, students become teachers, customers become producers, employees become bosses, citizens become politicians, Davids become Goliaths.”

Here are some of the ways that the social network on the Web are changing the way we connect to family, friend and colleagues, as well to businesses and government.

Putting the “Social” in Socialize

The introduction of social networking has changed the meaning of the word “friend.” Not only can it now be a verb, as in “He ‘friended’ me on Facebook,” but the noun form of the word has changed too. In the Web 2.0 world, you have your real-world friends and you have your “friends,” the people you keep in touch with through social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn. Staying in touch has never been easier.

Enhancing Customer Loyalty

Social networking has given consumers a platform on which they can voice their concerns about a company’s product or service. And more and more companies are realizing that when they address these concerns, customers feel like they are truly being heard and are more likely to stay loyal.

Facebook is a great example of this. The social networking site experienced complaints because of two issues. Though it took him some time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg eventually came clean on both issues on his blog. He apologized for the way both situations were handled, made some changes and kept his loyal customers.

Facilitating Communication

In organizational settings, people tend to provide information to, and share knowledge with, those they know and like-especially if those people have helped them with favours in the past. While this instinct is understandable, countless studies have demonstrated that it’s also counterproductive. Web 2.0 software tools knock down corporate silos, moats, and walls by encouraging open communication and information sharing, says Fraser.

When General Electric realized that many of its employees were using Twitter to collaborate within the office and set up meetings as well as find new business contacts, they set up the Tweet Squad. Employees on this team are helping baby boomers and Gen-Xers become fluent social networkers and use the tool to make their departments more efficient at communicating.

Opening the Door to Innovation

Web 2.0 tools can offer competitive advantages to firms in sectors where innovation produces winners and losers. Senior executives in large-scale corporations are increasingly aware that innovation is not restricted to R&D departments, but is a dynamic social process.

It’s also becoming an important tool for researchers to find recruiters to participate in research and study groups. In fact, the Canadian Society for Bioethics has started looking at the way that Facebook is being used to conduct research and is trying to make colleagues aware of the challenges that the use of these social networks create for ethics review boards.

Making Government Transparent

The Obama Administration is a good example of what having more transparent governments could look like in the future. He is the first presidential candidate to truly embrace Web 2.0 tools, so it makes sense that he would be leading one of the first Administrations to use social media and to make the government more transparent. His methods of getting information out to American citizens-weekly video addresses, the blog on the site-all play a role.

Recently, the NDP respresentative for the Vancouver-False Creek learned about the power of Facebook to make political candidates responsible for their actions. Ray Lam was forced to resign when his private pictures became public.

Calling us to Action

“Again, President Obama, his campaign, and his Administration offer a nice glimpse into what is possible when governments use social media to call people to action,” says Dutta. “During his campaign, Obama used an iPhone app, Twitter, a direct e-mail campaign, and many other ways to harness the energies of his supporters. As a result, they felt like they were part of the campaign and transferred that feeling of inclusion into action.”

Web 2.0 lets us harnass our public-spirited energies.  

A Facebook group called “Young Drivers Against New Ontario Laws” created a catalyst that helped effectively organize change. The 150,000 people who joined the Facebook protest sent their complaints to members of the Ontario legislature who in turn sent their angst Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Transportation Minister Jim Bradley. Those proposed restrictions have since been removed.

“We, indeed, are living at a time of great change,” says Dutta. “The Internet has empowered us as individuals, consumers, and citizens to take more control of our lives and organize ourselves spontaneously.”

Adapted from: Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World.

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