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It’s the “social” of social media that counts the most

Recent commentary on the use of social media in the current Federal Election continues to miss the point about the benefits and power of social media.

There remains a preoccupation with counting the number of mentions of something. While quick, understandable in the context of a televised debate (as happened on Sunday 11th August) and arguably a snapshot of “interest” at the most superficial level, fundamentally these measures count for little.

Journalists and others have commented on whether Kevin Rudd’s “shaving selfie” cut through, or whether Tony Abbott’s “suppository slip-up” was trending on Twitter.

So what?

The most important part of social media is the “social” bit. Too much attention is paid to the “media”, the channels through which communications take place.

Not enough notice is being taken of the “social” bit.

The media are merely the channels of communication. In a pub, or in a meeting, the channel is face-to-face, the original and most immediate method of engagement, selling, partnering, arguing.


Today’s social media channels provide colossal scale (more on scale in a moment) which is part of their attraction.

But they are at their core just the latest evolution that has progressed from the cave, through the forum, parliaments, street corners, the phone, and email to today’s Internet-hosted, web-based channels.

Yet the sale is won, the point made, the accusation refuted, the election won, on the engagement that takes place, which is a social activity.

And ahead of that engagement comes an understanding of the needs of the other person. In the pub, or around a meeting room table, this means listening.

If you’re a good active listener the dialogue proceeds productively. But you can’t scale. That’s where today’s social media come in. They do, to the tune of over 11 million participants in Australia alone. But it’s still about being social, listening to the conversations, assessing and analysing not just what’s being said but why it’s being said.

Find the right technology to discover all these things, create processes and systems that prioritize what’s being said and by whom in the right order defined by your needs, and integrate all of this into your existing data, or to create new databases of influence, opportunity and risk (as these apply to customers if you’re selling, to voters if you’re electioneering, supporters if you’re raising funds), and you are suddenly being social, on a vast scale.

And it’s not about counting the number of times Kevin’s photo is reTweeted.

The other point about being “social” is not to fall into the trap of merely broadcasting. Again, you wouldn’t “shout” at someone across a meeting room table (probably, not if you wanted to win the point), so don’t through social media channels. (The other point about social media is that those using them can now let you know when you are shouting, and if they don’t like you doing it. In addition to scale, social media also provide anonymity.)

We all know from personal experience that being social is what gets sustainable results and relationships. The media are merely the means to an end.

Alan Smith: is Head of Customer Engagement at DIGIVIZER.