If Technology is the Heart of Social Media, Then People are the Soul

I’M CONSISTENTLY AMAZED BY how many companies engage in social media and forget that the word “social” is right there. But I don’t entirely blame them – I blame us.

By “us” I mean the so-called professional communicators who are supposed to know better. Yet we too often stand idle while our clients treat Twitter as a one-way broadcast channel.

We created this monster largely because we allowed our clients to categorize digital, and social media in particular, as technology. We used words like “tools” and “content” and “apps” to sell in our services – and in doing so we reduced the greatest advancement in the history of communication to little more than a moribund pile of silicon chips.

“Digital” is not about technology – it’s about sociology and culture, it’s about people and emotion. Social media is the most human form of communication ever invented because humans are the platform.

There is no “digital” or social media without technology, of course. Technology is like the heart – it’s a muscle, a power source and an engine that is necessary to keep things moving.

But if technology is the heart of social media, then we are its soul.

This wasn’t necessarily the case in the First Web Era of the ‘90s. Then technology ruled the digital world – you could have Web sites, search engines and online advertising that didn’t need people to exist, just a lot of money and an IT department. It was all heart and no soul.

Now think about YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or even most Web sites today. None of these “social” channels would exist without people. YouTube would be empty, eBay would be a vacant lot, a Facebook page would have no one to “like” it (not that “liking” a Facebook page matters anyway, but that’s for another post.)

Search would still be a collection of links, not real-time results based on what people are talking about. Advertising would be stuck in irrelevance, unable to find anyone interested in the ads because there wouldn’t be any people talking or sharing.

E-mail was the “killer app” of the ‘90s, but today people are the killer app.

So let’s stop casting digital in the light of technology. Instead of “social media,” which is a noun and easy to think of as a tool, think in terms of “media is social” – a verb that conjures images of action and emotion. See how this little change in perception will have a huge impact on how you approach the way you communicate.

Maybe the heart can beat without a soul, but a heart without a soul is an empty life – and an empty digital world.

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