Don't Underestimate Social Media's Clout

Monday, 03 Feb 2014 11:13 AM

By Jon Friedman

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You can underestimate the clout of social media at your own peril. 
Sure, it's easy to diminish Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Instagram as the province of teenagers (or their parents) gushing about the great movie they saw or last night or their favorite local pizzeria. But if you continue to feel that way, you're going to be left behind by the Internet's most remarkable bloodless revolution: the ability of people to connect with one another FOR FREE and with great ease, on their personal computers.
In the past week, I tracked three major cultural developments by measuring the sheer volume of Facebook posts and Twitter tweets: the deaths of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (by an apparent drug overdose) and Maximilian Schell, most famous for his performance in the great film "Judgment at Nuremberg," as well as Bob Dylan's much-discussed TV commercial during the Super Bowl. 
Individually, the three events had nothing in common, but they were all featured prominently in social-media outlets. The point is that this is how our society communicates here in the futuristic 21st century.
People love social media for three key reasons:
1. They feel empowered because their opinion is just as valid as yours or mine or that of The New York Times. Social media is a true extension of our democratic ideals
2. It is free — and as relearned in the music industry, people love to get things for free
3. There is a low barrier for entry — all you have to do is "join" Facebook or Twitter and it is not exactly difficult to do that.
By examining social media outlets, you can quickly see what news items are "trending" among users. It is valuable.
I became aware of the clout of social media the night that Osama bin Laden died. I'd begun reading that there were rumors that evening of an impending major presidential announcement (let's face it, any time a mere president has the temerity to disrupt our viewing of "Mad Men" or "Homeland" or "Breaking Bad" or "The Newsroom" or — dare I say it? — "Downton Abbey," he had better have a really good reason.)
The talk persisted on Facebook and Twitter. Remember, I didn't read the news on the website of a major news outlet. This was my moment of truth about social media's influence on our society.
It almost doesn't matter whether people on social media are pro or con. It is the cacophony of voices and opinions that makes it worthwhile. In a way, Facebook and Twitter are better than television when it comes to passing the time. You can learn a lot more about people you know and those you'd like to meet sometime. You can be entertained as well as informed. It's fun. It's easy to navigate. It's free. What else could you possibly want?
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.

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