In 1964 Marshall McLuhan wrote Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In this piece of work McLuhan coined one of the most well-known media phrases today: “the medium is the message”. This statement basically says that we shouldn’t focus just on the content of the media that we consume but we should seriously look into the actual media platform itself and how it changes and shapes the way we act as individuals or as a society. It’s remarkable that this statement holds true to this day despite the rapid advancements in the fields of technology and communications. If you apply this way of thinking to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, especially with how they’re being used here in the Philippines, you’ll get a better appreciation of what McLuhan wrote. You also get a better understanding of how social media really works.
It’s not just about the numbers
When marketers and PR practitioners do social media analysis and monitoring they just usually focus on the numbers. How many people tweeted about them or how many bloggers wrote about their product. They even drill this down further by checking the top “influencers” and they find this out by checking the number of followers a Twitter user has or how high the level of engagement they have via the number of retweets. Yes, this data is important but we should go beyond it and apply McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”.
The nature of social media is collaboration, community, and fluidity. It’s all about how different people from different parts of the country (or world) end up connecting to one another because of a shared or retweeted article by someone they might actually don’t know. Social media is a platform that develops mobs, groups, and tribes. It can be in the form of advocacies, product ambassadors, or simple causes. The reach is potentially limitless and the real world impact is totally 100% unpredictable. Why? Because it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you have 100,000 followers of Twitter that 1 out of the 100,000 can actually offer a solution to the problem being raised. That 1 person who will be the catalyst for something bigger might belong to the network of a 50 year-old guy who just started Facebook and he just has 200 friends. Each person has a different circle, and that circle has different spheres of influence in society. That guy with Facebook 200 friends might have more influence than the celebrity with 200,000 followers based on a particular issue or problem.
This underscores the importance and critical role played by social media monitoring. However note that monitoring shouldn’t just be reporting numbers, it should be flagging potential threats/issues or raising potential product improvements. The web and social media is just unpredictable and the best way to be able to get ahead of the curve is to be there when the action happens. That’s the nature of the beast, the message of the medium.