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What’s the message behind the social medium? 08/05/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Social Media, Social Reputation.
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have a nice dayA recent post by SuzeMuse entitled Social Media-Ur Doin’ It Wrong references Marshall McLuhan’s astute 1964 observation “the medium is the message” from his book Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man.

The basic theory:

Media has characteristics that engage viewers in different ways, so the medium through which a person encounters a particular piece of content has an effect on the individual’s understanding of it.”-Wikipedia

If the medium is the message, than what is the message behind social media?  Can an understanding of the unique traits that characterize social media help companies and individuals engage in the space more confidently, gracefully and successfully?

First… let’s get a better understanding of McLuhan’s theory.

McLuhan understood “medium” in a broad sense. He identified the light bulb as a clear demonstration of the concept. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.” Likewise, the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are in effect being brought into the home to watch over dinner. -Wikipedia

Social media also creates environments with its mere presence. Like the light bulb, social media helps us carve out spaces and  open doorways. But this new medium can also connect us to every bright path and dark corner of humanity.  Each of us is able to define and manage many doors between our personal spaces and that global universe. These doors are often two-way channels… relationships. We each create and manage as many spaces and doorways as we choose, and in doing so we cultivate our social presence and manage our social world.

So what are we saying by our mere presence within this new medium. What is the message behind our participation? What distinguishes this medium from all that has come before, and how do these characteristics effect how our actions, ideas and expressions are perceived and absorbed? Can knowing the message behind the medium help us improve our daily interactions, and the value of our networks?

What’s the message behind the medium for me? My participation within social media can help communicate that I’m:

Approachable. Available. Open. Curious. Pro active. Engaged. Interested. Attentive. Helpful. Sympathetic.  Compassionate. Eager. Responsive. Agile. Involved. Generous.  Social. Friendly. Kind.

If I were a company, how could I ignore a medium that enables me to communicate such powerful characteristics by my mere presence?

What does your social presence communicate? Can we find universal messages behind the social medium? Can uncovering and understanding them improve our social uses, benefits and experiences?