A new study by San Diego State University reveals that US college students believe that their generation use social media for, “self-promotion, narcissism and attention seeking.”
This may well be true but I believe that this is due to the users rather than the medium. Social media provides excellent opportunities for listening and discovery. Just like in a real-world social gathering it is wise to listen first and then to speak. Those who seek the warm balm of easy attention generally find it short lived. Just like the salesman who works the room at a conference with the line, “Hi, I’m Bob, my company is the best supplier of widgets ever. Here’s my card. See ya,” blatant self promotion is empty and quickly dismissed online.
Social media makes listening easy and provides some very useful tools for doing so effectively. Twitter and FriendFeed provide the ability to save search terms and even provides RSS feeds for saved searches. These searches are updated in real-time.
The most common use of this is to monitor mentions of, your own name, your brands or your clients. This is a powerful tool but this is just the beginning of the potential of listening to social media. This monitoring allows you to react quickly to any mentions of your business. Imagine the power of offering the solution to a problem to a user of your products who has not even contacted you to complain yet. That’s customer service almost indistinguishable from magic.
Searches can work beyond this passive narcissism too. There are more and more people using social media who are experts in their fields, seeking them out and following them provides a rich seam of information. Because of the short message nature of the medium you get a different view than reading articles.
For instance I learn a great deal from following Chris Anderson (the curator of the TED conferences), Jeffrey Zeldman (web pioneer and past director of The Web Standards Project) and Karen James (botanist at the UK Natural History Museum and Directirx of The HMS Beagle restoration project). All these people, and many like them, present different information in their Twitter feeds than in their more formal publications. This information provides some real depth to my understanding of these fascinating people and what makes them tick. Not all of it is exactly what I was looking for when I started following them but it all adds depth to my knowledge.
Social media is often presented only as a platform for input but the output side of the equation is more powerful. After all there is only one person, you, on the input side but there are millions on the output side. There will be someone out there with something to say that will, interest, entertain or inspire you. All you need to do is start listening.