I had the opportunity in the past week to speak to a variety of different groups about the use of social media, the good things it brings and the pitfalls that exist. It was a huge privilege to have the chance to recount my learning experience over the past two years.
The talks and presentations started by recounting the impact of the #gmp24 ‘tweetathon’ that happened back in October 2010. It seems like a long time ago when the use of social media was not as widespread as it is today. But the event did demonstrate the impact that can be had by using social media as a part of the communication mix. There was clear evidence that people wanted to have a conversation through social networks.
It was less than 12 months later when the full force of social media for both good and bad was seen. Riots and disorder in August 2011 hit across the country including close to home in Manchester and Salford. There was criticism of the role social networks played in the disorder. But from my experience people were mainly looking to social networks for information and to find out the truth of what was happening. More positives were found than negatives, particularly in people providing information to assist investigations and in coordinating the clean-ups.
The final element to my social media learning curve came just weeks ago with the death of two police officers. It was social networks that shared the news first, before the traditional media, and they quickly became the focus for people who wanted to comment or express their condolences. There was also the movement known as #coverforgmp which mobilised police officers and staff from around the country to demonstrate support for the two officers, their families and friends by joining the funerals.
Three very different experiences of social media that I use to illustrate how the world around has, and is, changing. All of the situations show that social media brings some significant challenges for organisations and businesses, both with corporate and individual use of it. But it also can be a vehicle for positive activity and action within communities.
I am still surprised by how many people who work in communication roles have failed to recognise the impact social networks can have and as I have said many times I feel they are failing the organisations they work for in remaining in the dark. There are also many others within companies who are actively trying to avoid social networks even if this means they are reducing their operational effectiveness.
One thing I can thankfully say is that each time I have tried to provide people with a window on the social media world there are always those that are keen to find out more. They recognise the importance of the role social media plays in the modern world and they want to learn more after having taken a peek at it. I can only hope that if I, and others, continue to talk about our experiences that more people in organisations will open the window and get involved with social networks.