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When Big Social came to town

Big Social

Woe to those that underestimate the power of Big Social.

I’ve seen the expression “wake the beast” used a lot in reference to social media, but the expression never fit—you can’t “wake” something that never sleeps, or more accurately, has never slept.

Social media has been big, powerful, and constantly active for a long time. It’s a largely passive landscape, in which a tiny minority of users actively participates, while the vast majority of users “lurk.” But the concentrations of activity can spring up organically, as when something goes viral, or they can be predictable, like the spike in tweets on US Election Day and during the World Cup.

It’s much more difficult to manufacture such activity levels, and harder still to concentrate that activity and direct it into real progress against a shared goal. In their short history, social media “victories” have been more accident than alignment, more carpet bomb than precision strike.

One of these corporate apology excerpts is not like the others:

Gap:

At Gap brand, our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.

Netflix:

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

GoDaddy:

We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy’s prior support for SOPA. Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.

The first two apologies (Gap and Netflix, respectively) respond to the raw power of social media. Dissent gone viral, reaching a fever pitch. A familiar kind of outcry.

The third (GoDaddy) responds to something new. I call it Big Social.

Big Social is self-aware. It knows the extent of its access. It understands the influence it wields. It has learned how to carry itself with confidence, and how to direct fire with pinpoint precision.

It has a new set of expectations, and both corporations and political institutions are in its sights.

Political institutions, generally the enemies of access, are no longer able to ignore the role of social media in providing access to power and information. “I think we’ve seen really interesting early days here, but if we’re talking about networked democracy, you have to remember that it’s just in its infancy,” says Alex Howard, Washington correspondent with O’Reilly Radar.

Policy makers, particularly government officials and staffers, are overwhelmed by the incoming flood of messages as it is. That’s something that became quite apparent when email entered the picture in the nineties, and then the growth of other kinds of communications since then has only accelerated that. As some people have pointed out, notably Clay Johnson, what Congress actually needs is to grow bigger ears to be able to listen to all of that, and to know who in that huge amount of incoming requests, ideas, feedback, etc., are their constituents—the people that they are supposed to represent.



 

Ian Greenleigh
Author | Turning data into stories | Sr Mgr, Content & Social Strategy, Bazaarvoice | Former baby