Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Social Media and Science- Friend or Foe?

By Scott Adams

Birchbark Media

Now that anyone with a computer and an internet connection can broadcast their thoughts to the world, there is no shortage of content to consume. Content as vain as celebrity breakfast choices or as captivating as live natural disaster updates is now only a click away. Everything has become news and everything is now news worthy - at least to someone.

The fundamental shift in how we communicate has empowered each and every one of us to be our own publishers, broadcasters and journalists. To some this is a gloriously compulsive revolution yet to others it is simply a waste of time. Therein lies a roadblock when social media is put on the table to communicate science. When the focus is on such extreme uses of social media it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

Like it or not, how we communicate, how we gather information and how we interact with our communities has undergone a seismic shift through the rise of social media. As with most change, it is easier to focus on the negative then to take the time to understand the positives. But that’s not why you are reading this, I hope? If we can get past the Farmville requests and ‘I just fed my cat’ posts, we can discover an extremely generous friend in social media.

To get to that point we need to break down social media like a science experiment and examine each of its individual parts. The discovery is that there is nothing new. Each core element of social media can be found in our everyday lives and it is only the outlets for distribution (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter) that are new.

To demonstrate this let’s break down the name itself - social media.

Media - We consume media every day. Media is the newspaper, TV show, billboard, journal, etc … It contains a message, concept, news or information of some kind. For us to consume it there are a few factors that must be in place. We have to seek it out or have it find us, it has to meet our needs or interest and most importantly we need to trust the source. 

Social - unless you are a hermit, social is a part of your everyday as well. It’s our personal interaction with our communities - family, friends, workmates, and strangers on the street. We instinctively form social circles based on interests, values, kinship, etc … Each circle is more personal then the next with the tightest circle typically being your closest friends or family. Within these tight and more personal circles we find the individuals whom you most value, share opinions with, take advice from and above all they are the ones you trust the most.

Seven years ago (for argument’s sake we’ll use the launch of Facebook as the start of social media) these two - social and media - were separate. Marketers and communicators had to be very crafty and spend lots of money to infiltrate your social circles and build your trust. What’s worse is that even if they did get on the inside there was no way to join the conversations at the kitchen table or water cooler.

Snap forward to today, however, and the world is a different place. Now that the two words are together and they have moved online, communicators have an unprecedented opportunity on their hands. Not only is the media portion now easier (and less expensive eg. Youtube vs broadcast) to produce, they also have the ability to drop it right into the middle of their audiences’ social circles through social networking websites (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter). Now you might be so excited at this point that you want to stop reading and go blast your message to social networking sites right away. Well don’t. The important stuff is still to come.

If you read back to our break down of social media, you’ll notice that there is one word that was mentioned in both descriptions - Trust. This is what will make or break you. You must establish trust with your online community. Remember, it’s social media not social advertising. The content or media you produce must be of interest and provide value. Always keep in mind that your goal is to stay in your communities’ social circle. If you become someone who is always providing value to your followers you will build trust. And just like in the real world, as trust increases the social circle tightens and that’s when what you have to say actually matters.  And isn’t that the goal?


Scott Adams is the founder and president of Birchbark Media, a social media marketing and video production company based in Peterborough Ontario. One of his first jobs was at the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority and when he is not at his desk he can be often found wondering the Canadian wilderness, paddle and camera in hand. Scott is a session speaker at the 2011 A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium, where he will speak to the topic “Beyond Farmville…is Social Media Actually Good for Business?”