In my teens I loved to read science fiction. I still marvel at how many of the predictions about the future that I read in these books have come to pass in one form or another including my beloved iPad and my nearly constant companion, the Internet.
One word that stuck with me from my mostly forgotten love affair with science fiction is “grok”. According to author Robert A. Heinlein in “Stranger in a Strange Land”, to grok “means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes part of the observed”. When it comes to social media, I sometimes wonder if it is not enough to understand it but, to really get social media and appreciate its full potential, one must grok it.
A friend of mine, a marketing and communications expert, is, partially at my urging, trying to figure out social media. He recently participated in a weekly meet up on twitter of people exploring how to use social media in healthcare (again, at my suggestion) and was underwhelmed, to say the least, and I wonder whether he might think I’m a little crazy given my constant exhortations to use social media on this blog and other venues.
While the term social media may be new to many people, I contend that it has been one of the driving forces that accounts for the rapid adoption of the Internet. Indeed, like the Gutenberg press, the Internet fundamentally changed the way that we communicate. Prior to the Internet, mass media was controlled by relatively few corporations and individuals had limited ability to communicate their message to a wide audience. The Internet shifted control over content to the masses and anyone with a computer can now interact with just about any audience they choose. Further, and equally important, the Internet opens the possibility of two-way communication on a scale that other media simply cannot match.
As the authors of “The Hyper-Social Organization” (a great read, by the way) point out, Social Media has little to do with technology and everything to do with what they call “Human 1.0”. We are wired, they argue, to share with anyone who will share with us and the Internet (and the social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter that leverage the Internet) provides the technological means to interact with people outside our immediate geographic vicinity.
Social media is not just another communications channel, as my friend likes to argue, but a platform for creating and sustaining communities of like minded people in a way not previously possible. Social media is not a concept that can be merely understood but, in my view, one that must be grokked. To my friend, I respectfully suggest that he cannot simply dip his toe in the social media waters but must immerse himself completely. Further, he must remember that like other forms of social interaction, some social media experiences will be more memorable and more useful than others.