I recently read on Twitter a quote attributed to someone I know that was said during a panel. I wasn’t there to know what was actually said, but I disagree with the sentiment of what I read.
The tweet I read stated that technology doesn’t matter when it comes to social media. While the social part of “social media” may or may not require the sustainability of technology, the media is directly attributable to the delivery platform in a two fold way.
The first is the stability of the media. If your chosen media is the world wide web, then it requires you to have a robust website that both engages the user and functions in a way that satisfy the user’s needs. Many websites with cohesive business models ultimately fold due to poor user interface and navigation. If the user cannot easily find what they want on your website, or get to the part of the website they need, the website will lack the stickiness required to hold the user nor will they return to use it again. If your website looks like something from 1995, an experienced user will stay on your website long enough to mock it and never return.
The technology your website is built on is equally as important as the user interface. The website needs to be able to scale or the user will ultimately become frustrated and find some other sites to visit. There are many choices of languages from which to build a website – perl, php, python, .net, and coldfusion to name a few – and it’s important to choose the proper language for your needs. The popular social networking website Myspace was originally built on coldfusion, but not designed to grow with the traffic the website ultimately achieved. Their website became slow and clunky, and the userbase began complaining about the inability to access the website and load pages in a timely fashion. Ultimately, Myspace moved to Microsoft’s .Net architecture to alleviate the strains put upon their servers.
The second is the perceived value of the medium itself. In our technological age, there are an increasing number of choices for media delivery, from physical medium to electronic delivery to the desktop to mobile platforms and beyond. By choosing the wrong one, you alienate your targeted userbase.
If our message was music, then the choices become more obvious and stricter in our delivery. If you choose to release on vinyl, you target a specialized market that value a vintage platform for its properties, but the general public has moved on from. If you release your message on cassette tape, then you are seen as a relic of a bygone era where music was made compact and portable, but has been supplanted by a medium where not only is the medium more compact but allows for greater portability in the player itself and the user doesn’t need to carry additional medium to listen to the messages of others. The cd became the physical medium of choice, but it is just holder of digital medium. It allows your user to take the most compact format of all and take it away with them for future reference, but ultimately allows the transference to the computer that the user could have gotten directly. The ultimate faux pas would be to choose 8 track, where the medium is long supplanted, no one looks upon fondly, and ultimately your message gets lost in the noise generated around your poor choice of medium.
Even should you choose the right medium, your voice needs to be heard. The mp3 became king because of its ease of access and portability. Musicians the world over were able to get their music heard because they could reach millions with the click of a mouse by uploading, but then it is a matter of getting your message heard amidst the others. Trent Reznor gets heard by releasing his music free to the world, inviting his listeners to reinvent the music they are hearing, then sharing it back with them via his website. Radiohead released an album and invite their listeners to pay whatever they think their chosen medium is worth (or nothing at all), letting their userbase give value to their message while reaching out to new users by allowing them to experience it for free because they don’t know the value of the message yet. Most recently, Mos Def chose to mix the mediums to release his message. By selling a t-shirt with what would traditionally be album artwork on the front and back, he is able to release his message in a physical format, while a tag on the shirt allows the purchaser to download the associated music online to experience it further in a digital medium.
Social Media is the merging of the social and technological aspects of society. Both pieces are reliant on each other and cannot coexist in a meaningful way without each other. If the social were to exist alone, we would return to the era of the pony express and carrier pigeons. If the technology were to exist alone, we would have the giant calculating machines of bygone decades that could process large amounts of data but could not give them further meaning. Together, we are able to reach out to far more people than we ever could, communicating with more people than ever before, anywhere in the world, instantly and give the ability to take the processed data, give it more meaning and expand upon it with anyone anywhere instantly.