I began writing a fortnight ago about emotional investment as a key characteristic of social media and due to some issues with my back and other appointments was delayed from continuing but I want to return to that territory today to explore connection loyalty and perceived recognition as a crucial aspect of social media success in an otherwise adequate content market.
Yesterday I spoke at the Social Media Exchange event hosted by sounddelivery; a rich and diverse event focusing on social media tools, strategies and case studies to assist the interests of Third Sector organisations (broadly, charities, non-profits, govt and non-government organisations). My presentation was from a slightly different perspective than my usual evangelistic stance: I found that by focusing on the ways that social media can fail, I could present ways to ‘blast through barriers’ of adoption, participation and sustainability for social media strategies. My slides are on slideshare if anyone is interested, and you can view the twitter stream of the entire event by checking out the pageflakes site or twittersearch with the tag #smex09. But from the perspective of emotional investment, what was interesting about this event was that it wasn’t about people trying to monetise social media, but rather, how to harness it in the interests of their communities, and how to encourage participation and tap in to the ‘brains trust’ of their networks. The organisations represented at Social Media Exchange all knew that their organisations were doing good things for the community in some way or other, and that they had both a responsiblity and moral imperative to sustain those activities. The participants in the event intuitively understood that their communities were worth celebrating and indeed, had a great deal to offer to one another, and to the organisations themselves. But with limited finances and up against the wall of doubt expressed by some of their executives who are nervous of a social media-driven culture of complaint, these event participants were seeking answers to questions about how to execute a social media strategy to ensure their organisations’ good work is recognised, how to value their communities and how to keep their executive teams happy.
All questions related in some way to emotional investment.
In each instance, the value which has been intuited has been the opportunities of social media to aggregate and provoke content development by people, rather than users. It’s a subtle distinction but an important one; too often business rhetoric focuses on markets, consumers, service users and affiliates. I am no exception; I have often expressed opportunities of social media in these terms, but I do so partly because the major investment in social media comes from precisely the kind of businesses who use this jargon. But it is the people, their personalities and their loyalties (to one another as well as to an ideal) that make up a community and that generate the kind of compelling content that keeps members coming back.
This is the true and inescapable value of social media; the reconnection of authors and readers with a text. Poor old Roland Barthes’ ideas of Death of the Author are beginning to be turned, not exactly on their head, but at least adapted in such a way that the Author is no longer an irrelevancy. Engagement of the author is essential for personalisation and trust of the work. Only when a person proves their trust within the context in which they operate, is an audience or connection loyalty forged. This is best demonstrated in social media by the phenomenon of twitter following, where individuals choose to follow an author they trust as a source of interesting information. But there is also the expectation that an author/community member cannot be entirely separated from responses to their work either. The contribution of the community to the refinement of content, or the transmission/distribution of content needs to be valued in order for that connection loyalty to be sustained.
Today an article in the Press Gazette reported on the findings of the Edelman Global Trust barometer, which found that British citizens were less trusting of mainstream press than ever before. Well this isn’t exactly a surprise. With increasing concentration of media ownership and alleged episodes of bias surrounding media activities, it is hardly surprising that citizens feel their media is not an entirely trusted voice. But through the vehicle of social media there is also the emergence of opportunities to engage with reporting and to challenge journalists on details of reports. Further, there is emerging an expectation that the people behind the stories be accountable for their reports, and that they acknowledge that the report is not just a sole-authored product, but the result of collective contributions of a loyal community.
Here is true emotional investment in action: social media is generating trust through reconnection of people with ideas, and of generating creative communities who have loyalty not just to brands or products, but to each other.