By: Brenda J. Trainor
When traveling to distant lands, it is always good to understand the culture of the places you’ll visit. And in the world of “social media,” it is just as important to learn the electronic communications culture in order to get the most out of your trip.
What can you find in the land of social media… a lot of strange and wonderful things! The Internet, computers and smart phones, along with our culture’s affection for gadgets, has facilitated an electronic town square where every possible niche interest can find a forum for discussion, debate, and dialog. The land of social media is simply a place for communication, and where very specific kinds of information can be shared almost instantaneously and responded to in a variety of communication formats: written words like essays or short statements or just captions can be accompanied by photos, videos, or any art creation or graphic that can be scanned and transmitted electronically.
And like any foreign land, you’ll find both good things and bad things in the social media culture. The key to finding what you want is to develop the local knowledge about the places you’ll visit. And just like a town, there are commercial districts, and residential districts, as well as government and service organizations and institutions, and of course places you just might not even want to see.
So what are some of the cultural mores you’ll find in social media? Pretty much anything is fair game – but where you choose to communicate often dictates the appropriateness of what you want to say or show.
When most people think of social media, they first think of Facebook, and Facebook is by far the most popular social media site. It is an application for computers and smart phones that allows people to create an online identity, your “page,” and then you’re able to create electronic links to friends who will see what you post and have the opportunity to respond to you and simultaneously to all the friends in your community. It also has “private” messaging capabilities for direct person-to-person messages, which is really no different from email, its just that the messages appear on your Facebook application rather than in your computer’s email. Facebook is also developing into an important commercial locale – products and brands are finding it essential to have a Facebook identity to develop essential market advantages. Social media is a critical tool for marketing as well as for gossiping – and few tools ever before have had such ubiquitous reach and powerful capabilities.
So among the first things to remember when using social media is that you are communicating publicly – you should never post anything that you wouldn’t want your mother to read. And since it will be published in cyberspace, it will be very easy for anyone to replicate it and pass it on to other places – you don’t really have much control of where your message will end up. That is one of the key rules to remember – anything said in the land of social media is not private.
So you must be careful to choose your social media locale. There are certain cultural norms for the different electronic media cultures, where Facebook is primarily used for personal friends, it is evolving into an important commercial site for consumer products and services. Other media have their own specific appeal: Linked In is used primarily for business purposes, including recruiting and job searches, as well as for industry associations and interest groups with a specific business or political focus, and can be an important resource for insider information by finding contacts in specific companies or industries. It thrives on introductions based on people who know people.
Then there are the applications to communicate your thoughts through the written word: blogs (web logs) are electronic essay sites typically organized by topic, and written by individuals targeting a specific topic – many are purely creative, some are totally self-serving, some are supremely expert – you must be the judge in this marketplace of ideas. For shorter thoughts, individuals like to use Twitter – an application that only allow messages of 140 characters, but that does allow links to photos or videos or web sites to be attached. It is a service that encourages forwarding a “tweet” that you get to everyone else on your list: that is called retweeting, and it is how the messages get shared to ever larger audiences.
Finally, there are the photo and video sites: YouTube is by far the biggest and best example of a video-sharing site. You simply take a video that you’ve created, maybe with your phone, and post it to the site with key words and a headline so people can find it. Once posted, you have an electronic address, or URL, (unique record locator), that locates your video on the internet, and with this you can post the address on any variety of media to allow people to see the video.
There are lots of different sites, and lots of special interest applications and other specialized sites. The best way to get to know the culture of these strange lands is to visit them, Experience social media cautiously at first, and start to learn your way around, and you will soon find yourself reaping the benefits of a multicultural world full of interesting things.