How has social media changed our communication?

Oh let me count the ways! Social media has not only changed, but redefined the way we communicate (or at least a large majority, my grandfather did just send me a “packet” in the mail a few months ago when I was doing a family genogram for one of my classes, personally typed, printed, folded, stamped, and sent). I can personally recount the evolution that social media has taken as it has infiltrated our mainstream use. Even though not an avid social media  use (previous to this class), I have considered myself an early adopter of technologies. When Facebook (then called TheFaceBook) came out I was a sophomore in college and part of the “elite” members of a leading university that were allowed to enter this website because I had a coveted .edu email address. This was the allure of social media at that point in 2005, not everyone had it. It was exclusive, open only to a select few. But as well all know how the evolution became a revolution, social media is now crowned by its ability to offer anyone an opportunity to participate, share, and contribute to the social media world.

And that is the way that social media has changed how the masses communicate: making it open to everyone. Now huge multinational corporations, government agencies, non-profits, PTAs, and hobbyists are all using a digital platform to communicate whatever they want. So we obviously have an increase in the amount of information that is shared, but how has social media changed the way we communicate? Some have argued that there has been an affect on our ability to pay attention, while others have embraced 140 characters as the way to receive every bit of information, including non-sensical “what I ate today” quotes to the most important breaking news. One thing that can be stated, and is stated very well in Farhad Manjoo’s book, True Enough is that we live in a world where our media is fragmented, meaning we get much more choice in what information we consume.

This fragmentation of information (shifting from the exclusive 3-4 national news channels of the past several decades) allows individuals to choose with who they follow or visit what information they support. Manjoo does a good job looking at how this isn’t necessarily a good thing or bad thing, but that it gives individuals a freedom of choice that, at a minimum, gives individuals power. I would definitely recommend the book if you are interested.

So with this shift in individual choice it becomes the job of the non-profit and the storyteller to be creative in the message they are trying to convey. With so many voices to be heard, creativity has definitely increased. Messages are no longer simply put on a static webpage and thought to be enough. Engagement is critical in pulling in an audience. In this success story the non-profit CEO of Children of Nations exemplifies the idea of engagement as an aspect of social media communication. This story gives us a solid example of how we have learned to communicate in a social media world. The donor is not only a supporter of the organization, but an advocate for the cause. Each person gets to feel personally involved in the campaign, posting their picture or a story about how they came so support on of the children through the program. This individualized story is an obvious benefit to both the individual and the organization because it personalizes the experience and engages both parties.

Do you have an experience where you became engaged in a campaign or cause because of how well an organization or groups communicated their story? How far did your involvement go? and In your opinion do the responses to social media communications evoke a more lasting or shorter commitment than in person or written forms of communication?

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Personal vs. Professional use of Social Media

Social media is a topic that brings mixed reactions. When I explained to my mother that I was taking a social media tools course with GSU, particularly within the masters of social work, she looked at me a little puzzled. To tell you just a small perspective of my mother’s digital aptitude, I think I have finally got her to master the copy and paste function for her laptop. This was a several year process. But as many 20 somethings and younger, this was a common task for young adults. Teaching their parents the use of technology, the ways that it could make our lives easier, faster, even more connected with the ones they loved oversees through services like Skype. This technology, as all of us have learned either personally or through constant growth of its use in popular culture, has definitely changed and will continue to change how we interact with people. The question that we must constantly ask, however, is if this technology is truly connecting us or actually creating distance from those around us.

But as my mother began to ask questions about the course and what I intended to learn, she realized how these seismic shifts in our culture are leading the way for the social media to be taught. Just as my mom needed to learn to copy and paste in order to effectively work a computer, professionals will need to be able to weave the use of social media into their routines, campaigns, advocacy, etc. A recent PEW study is an example of how even less people believe the idea that anonymity will exist in the age of the internet, revealing this fundamental availability of a networked identity online.  The question becomes what do we decide to share or lift up as this identity is will increasingly become a part of our expression of ourself. In a culture where social media is primarily considered to serve a personal purpose, how do we as professionals leverage social media to develop or further our professional objectives?

Most individuals use social networks for personal reasons

How do people use social networks?

As a social worker I am interested in how I can leverage social media as an advocacy tool. While this is historically far from my personal approach to social media (generally a cautious avoidance), I believe there is a lot to learn about how social media can be a tool to advocate and educate. If you are interested in following me on this journey you should follow me using the icons below.