Having recently seen and enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek movie, I can’t resist a Borg-inspired title. I’m no diehard trekkie, but I have seen several of the movies. I also watched the original series as a kid and have infrequently tuned in to some of the other series over the years.
Does that make me a part-time trekkie? The level of trekkiness seems to have a scale based on participation and devotion. My partner has followed all of the series, knows all of the characters, and can explain story lines in technical and historical terms. Yet, he would never dress as a Romulan and go to a trekkie conference.
Social media seems to have a similar scale. Some love it. Some hate it. Some try it and “don’t get it.” Others approach it with hesitation and later become addicted.
I have friends who say that they would never use Facebook, and later I receive their invitations to connect. Many have stopped sending me email and only contact me in the Facebook space. Others who didn’t “get” Twitter are now tweeting so much that they’re sprouting wings.
So where does your level of participation fall on the social media scale? Have you joined the throng? Are you ready to become a publisher?
Becoming a Citizen of Content Nation
In Content Nation: Surviving and Thriving as Social Media Changes Our Work, Our Lives, and Our Future, author John Blossom examines how the spreading wildfire of social media has transformed us into a “nation of publishers.” He traces this phenomenon back to its primitive origins, from nomadic tribes to “trade-oriented ownership economies” (p. xvi). Those economies created the need for published materials that began with monuments, scrolls, and primitive books. Subsequent publishing events shaped history and transformed society. Blossom cites Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the arrival of the Gutenberg printing press as significant turning points.
The recurrent theme of Content Nation (used as the book title and as a description for the entity that we have become) is that the growth of social media publishing is the unparalleled phenomenon—the one that’s changing all the rules. This is most evident in the nomadic nature of free-form publishing. We’re running off in our own directions, tailoring our content to our own needs. Publishing institutions are trying to figure out how to domesticate us.
Most notably, we’re spreading influence in a way that is transforming the world. Our ability to publish on-demand content challenges news sources, exposes product weaknesses, and even saves lives.
Following Your Tribe
How we use social media can depend on which of the three publishing “tribes” we belong to (p. 60).
Personal publishers use social media to gain both personal and professional benefits. If your passion is cooking, you can blog about food and publish recipes. You can start a wiki to collaborate on recipes with other cooking enthusiasts.
Media publishers use social media to “market content and online services.” These publishers have traditionally been “manufacturers and distributors of content from centralized plants” (p. 44). Aggregation of content has traditionally been achieved through a layered pyramid structure. But that model has changed. We’re no longer bound to the layers used to filter and package published content. We can package and mix our own content, aggregating it from our own preferred sources. As consumers of information, this is great for us but challenging for traditional media publishers. Blossom cites The New York Times and The Houston Chronicle as examples of newspapers that have risen to the challenge and adapted well.
Enterprise publishers use social media to improve communication and promote collaboration. But because many businesses still perceive social media applications as frivolous, their adoption rate has been relatively slow. Those businesses are not ready to flatten the corporate hierarchy by giving everyone a voice. Businesses who want to attract and retain younger workers need to change this perception. Blossom includes several examples of forward-looking enterprises that are developing a social media strategy and integrating tools such as blogs, wikis, and messaging.
Understanding the New Rules of Buying and Selling
Becoming a citizen of Content Nation brings both benefits and challenges. It creates new opportunities while requiring that we adapt to new ways of thinking and working.
One of the most significant paradigm shifts is the relationship between buyers and sellers. Buyers have access to a growing number of sites that compare products and prices, enabling them to better discover and understand supply and demand. Blossom points out that this “builds efficient economies that benefit the most people” (p. 97). He cites eBay and Craig’s List as examples.
Feedback from other buyers is more prevalent than ever. When you shop online, do you read the marketing fluff, or do you go straight to the consumer comments? Blossom refers to research showing that a clear majority of consumers seek peer advice and are influenced by consumer reviews and ratings. Last year I was minutes away from ordering two office chairs when I paused to read the customer comments more closely. As a result, I ordered different chairs from a different manufacturer and saved several hundred dollars.
Advertising is still prevalent on the web and elsewhere. Viral marketing still exists. But social media brings on a new method of marketing that Blossom calls the Big Sombrero model. In this model, mass markets give way to more effective small markets, which are based on more direct transactions. An example is the print-on-demand capability of Lulu.com.
With the prevalence of peer-to-peer advice and more power behind small markets, marketers need to rethink their approach. When joining an online conversation, they need to function as peers to gain the trust of the community.
Milestones in the evolution of publishing often centered around politics. Newspapers, journals, books, and television all made us more politically aware. Early blogs piggybacked on existing outlets before becoming news sources in their own right. In Content Nation Redefines How Citizens Influence Governments, Blossom impartially covers ways in which social media now plays a major role in politics. Although blogs were influential in the 2004 election, their influence was ubiquitous in 2008. Regardless of how the political tide turns, we can expect that influence to continue.
In Daily Life
The chapter Content Nation Redefines How People Live Their Lives explores the “social” in social media. We create “spaces for common experiences” (p. 201). We organize events. We build communities that promote cultural identity. We reveal our natural tendency toward altruism. As an example, Blossom cites the role of social media in mobilizing disaster relief after the 2004 tsunami in south Asia.
For learners, the concept of “just-in-time training” is more crucial than ever. Quoting the author:
…by the time young adults enter adulthood to put their education to use, the world has already changed significantly… Now, as our problem-solving needs shift from moment to moment, our need for education cannot wait for a book to put everything that we need together.
Learning professionals refer to the marriage of social media and education as Learning 2.0. I am very interested in this trend and welcome reader comments.
Looking Toward the Future
Content Nation is one of the more richly detailed and analytical books that I have read on social media. Each topic mentioned here is accompanied by a relevant set of social media rules and examples.
I periodically put the book down to ponder the rules, explore the examples, and oh, yes—get some work done. I took a break before reading the last three chapters, and nothing prepared me for their depth. In a way, everything else in the book was simply preparing for the story told in those chapters.
Blossom looks to the past to predict how publishing will play a part in our future. He returns to the subject of altruism—not as an innate abandonment of self-interest, but as a genetic predisposition to preserve our bloodline. This base genetic altruism eventually gave way to a clan-based version based on trade, setting the stage for the evolution of publishing.
To establish a system of trust, we needed contracts, which became a part of our first published content. As publishing became more sophisticated, it also became more centralized, setting the model for the institutions that we know today—the ones that are challenged by social media. With our “giving to get” nature, we are returning to our altruistic roots, this time with more interest in taking care of the earth and spreading global wealth through such online vehicles as microloans. Blossom brings our story full circle, linking our future to our nomadic, herd-chasing origins.
The book closes with glimpses of the future—50, 100, 1,000, and 10,000 years from now. In Blossom’s visions, what we now refer to as social media is fully integrated into our lives, our work, and in some cases, our chemistry.
I’ll stop there. Now read the book!
Informing by Example
The Content Nation book is a product of social media publishing. The content was first developed and published through a collaborative wiki on Blossom’s Content Nation site. The “post-print” version continues online, demonstrating that “evolving social media forms use mass media more as a transient form than as a final goal” (p. 55).
Getting ready for the next wave
How will social media affect you? Why should you care?
You should care because it will affect your life in some way, even if it’s an indirect way. It’s not a matter of how, but when.
Just when you least expect it, you will be assimilated.