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How Online Content Creators Use, Engage In, and Perceive Social Media

The Newhouse School partnered with the Cision software and online PR firm to survey commercial content creators on their perceptions of social media. The results are summarized in How Online Content Creators Use, Engage In, and Perceive Social Media (6 page PDF). I applaud the researchers and authors for trying to narrow their conclusions down to such things as may reliably be assessed through a survey, but if you read their press release elsewhere you’ll get an amazing bit of spin. The story they present is how important Twitter and Facebook are to these professionals (neatly aligning with the services provided by Cision), but when you look at the report itself (even the summary) you’ll find that their medium of choice (while certainly still a social medium) is neither of those: It’s email.

The Social Graph is Neither

Pepsi pullI spent a lot of time today thinking about how so many have managed to miss the obvious about social networks and so-called “social graphs” for so long: Mirroring the true richness of human relationship networks in some sort of fixed vocabulary, closed system is probably impossible. I’m very pleased to see Maciej Cegłowski’s definitive post on this matter — The Social Graph is Neither — getting a lot of online attention.

Ceglowski covers three critical points: (1) It’s not a graph. (2) It’s not social. (Really.) (3) What is to be done? For the last one, he basically holds out hope that a more open, organic alternative will creep up on us, and Facebook and the rest will either be aspects of those or they will wilt away, just as AOL did when faced with the Internet. There are some hopes reflected in that sentiment that I worry aren’t warranted, but in principle I agree completely. And here’s my favorite quote from the piece, at least right this moment:

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.

Six Dos and Six Don’ts with Social Media

I’m a regular reader of Blue Avocado. Here’s an example of why you should be too. Kaitlyn Trigger’s piece on Six Dos and Six Don’ts with Social Media focuses on mistakes to avoid. Highlights for me include: Don’t be lured by new social media platforms. Don’t stress about content creation; link liberally to other people’s content. But here’s the money quote for me: “Ultimately, understanding yourself and your audience is more central to a successful social media presence than mastering the minutiae of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.”

11 Nonprofit Websites Designed for the Social Web

11 Nonprofit Websites Designed for the Social Web

Panic on the Streets of London: How Mass Viral Action is About Conditions, Not Triggers

I teach a lot of workshops about social media and network-centric organizing. I fight against the tendency of nonprofit professionals to ask the wrong questions. They want to know what tools to use, which proprietary networks to invest in, how to get lots of “followers”, and what makes a really hot campaign. They’ll spend their money on answering those questions. But as network theory and research demonstrate, it’s less a matter of the relationship between the nonprofit and their stakeholders that matters and more about the conditions and the relationships of the stakeholders themselves. Are they organized and connected to each other? Are they emotionally engaged and ready for action of some kind?

I would argue that these are the right questions to ask of any viral uprising. But the press – and to a lesser degree technology pundits and the nonprofits who listen to them – tend to ask the wrong questions that lead to simple answers. They end up making Twitter or Facebook the answer. I can see why this is appealing. Organizing is hard work. Shaping the readiness of a movement is even harder. But remember how western techies wanted to claim that the uprisings in Iran were largely attributable to Twitter?

This is abundantly clear in Laura Penny’s recent post about Panic on the Streets of London. The current riots are the result of many factors, most of all the conditions resulting from thirty years of bad treatment of poor communities and youth by government, finance, and the police. The kicker for me is this line: “…now my city is burning, and it will continue to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain. Let me give you a hint: it ain’t Twitter.”