• Social media and the night sky

Stephanie McLaughlin Written by  | Thursday, 20 January 2011

How many social media presentations have you been to? Whether free or paid, taught by a social media ‘industry’ person or someone doing it well in a company, an hour or a day long, there have been hundreds of these kinds of events just in my local business community in the past year or so. I’ve been to enough of them myself to know that finding an excellent program is not easy.

Here’s one of the things about most of these presentations that drives me absolutely nuts.

The presenter gets up there and starts talking. Their first slide is the name of their presentation, their company name and maybe the date or the group being spoken to. Invariably, the second or third slide is that horrible slide with a hundred social media logos on it. You know the one.Social

The presenter uses this slide as a way to show you, the audience member and non-social media user, what kind of opportunity awaits you in the land of social media.

The problem is, that audience member and non-social media user looks at that slide and thinks,”Shiitake mushrooms! I have to learn all that to get involved with social media?”And then they go along their merry, non-social way and continue to live their life without wading into the pool. The presenter’s message may even be that you can ease your way into social media, but the audience member is already tuned out, thinking about what project they need to work on when they get back to the office or checking emails on the blackberry.

I see two problems with introducing people to the ‘world’ of social media via a keynote speech or even a longer ‘boot camp’ event:

1.       There needs to be a fundamental change in how a person approaches marketing before you can even talk about how to utilize social media successfully to promote or market a business. I may be good with my hands but that doesn’t mean I can sit down and play a piano without some acclimation to what I’m supposed to be doing and why.

2.       There is so much involved with it that you can do about as much to introduce someone to social media in an hour-long seminar as you could to introduce them to the cosmos itself.


In fact, astronomy may be a very good metaphor for the study of social media. Each social media tool is like a planet, a star, nebulae or a galaxy. There are probably a few significant ones that you can start with (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, YouTube) and there is a whole ecosystem of knowledge about their particular attributes to learn before you know how they will act in relation to the night sky.

A second reason the metaphor works is that the landscape doesn’t stand still. There are new developments in social media on a daily basis. No one person can say they are the ‘expert’ of it all because it is a constantly moving target the same way researchers and scientists are learning more about the planets and galaxies that our planet shares the sky with.

To that end, I hope you will never hear me refer to myself as a social media ‘expert.’ I prefer the term ‘student of social media.’ I’m the astronomer in the observatory with the stories’-high telescope, keeping a watchful eye on the night sky and charting the course of the objects moving in it.

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