Social media is revolutionizing our lives as individuals and as marketers. In the last year, Facebook exploded globally and Twitter grew by a staggering 1382%. Last week Google launched the ‘Wave’, a new in-browser collaboration tool, ushering in the era of real time, aggregated communication.
Leading corporate brands are responding. The list of Fortune 500 companies using social media reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ including Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Intel, Nike, Motorola, Pepsi, Starbucks, GM, GE and IBM. Yet even as social media goes mainstream, what it means for us as individuals and how we speak as marketers is not yet clear.
To dramatize the impact of social media, I’m going to visualize the growth of our interconnectedness using the concept behind the Charles and Ray Eames, IBM film called ‘Powers of Ten’. So I’ll start with our home computers, expand out across social networks, then up through your community, city, country and the globe until we arrive at the Twitterverse and look to the future.
Obviously technology connects us in many complex ways, each one worthy of lengthy study. For brevity’s sake, I’ve assembled powerful visual snapshots of each level of connectivity thanks to many wonderful thinkers, companies and artists, each of whom are credited. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it aims to provide an overall sense of our multi-faceted connectedness so that we may better understand our changing roles as individuals and marketers.
x1 Visualizing Networks on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace
Building on a study by The Social Computing Laboratory at HP Labs, Brian Solis wrote a great post in which he visualized his Twitter network. The image on the left shows his outbound communication network at a given moment, while the image on the right shows the inbound. So complex and fluid are these networks that they are only measurable in snapshots as new ideas, content and context constantly morph the network in all directions.
x2 Real Time Aggregated Dialogue Across Social Networks
Whether it’s Tweetdeck that combines your Facebook or Twitter streams, or the more sophisticated Google Wave that aggregates email, web chat, IM, and project management software, new communication platforms allow you to combine your social networks and tools so information can flow between them. The Wave even gives you the ability to watch conversations live or replay them, as it records each sequence of communication character by character potentially revolutionizing email.
x3 Mapping Community Emotion using Social Media
Since 2004, Christian Nold has been orchestrating Biomapping – a crowdsourced, community mapping project – which wires people up to Galvinic Skin Response (GSR) devices to record their emotional states. The resulting maps are revealing visualizations of communal emotion. These serve as a dramatic illustration of a new phenomenon created by social media – an increasingly real time awareness of the emotion of our community and how it affects our perception of it.
x4 Visualizing the Hidden Networks within Cities
Korean Artist, Jee Lang Sub, created these stunning images that reveal the hidden networks or circulatory systems of our cities. As we commute from home to work, or simply move about a city, communicating remotely on computers or phones with social networking apps, we constantly inject our moment to moment experience into the information flow of our networks. A simple example is the way Twitter beat all other news sources to report the most recent Los Angeles earthquake.
x5 Using Emotional Cities to Chart the World’s Emotional Pulse
‘Emotional Cities’ is the work of Swedish artist, Erik Krikortz that creates multi-layer, visual reflections of the world’s emotional pulse. You simply pick your current emotional state on a seven-level scale, allowing Erik to calculate and plot the average values for different cities, countries and the world in real time. In some cities, their emotional state is even projected on to a light installation, so you can know the emotional temperature of a city as you fly in on a plane. The social potential for this is staggering as it allows individuals, networked groups, entire cities and even countries to track their emotional states and virally affect others.
x6 Wireless Global Shared Experiences MIT’s senseable City Lab recently released an incredible visualization of the mobile cell phone use during President Obama’s Inauguration. Called the ‘The City Project’, we witness the anticipation of the Oath of Office, the drop in call activity as people listen to his address and the celebration of his inauguration as President, all around the country. The two videos dramatically illustrate how social media such as texting, Facebook or Twitter enable shared experiences to generate collective consciousness, not just among groups of individuals, but across countries (first video) and around the world (second video).
x7 Ceaseless Global Information Flow
Again from MIT senseable City Lab, this visualization tracks the volumes of IP (Internet Protocol) data flowing between New York and cities around the world in real time. The size of the glow on a particular city location corresponds to the amount of IP traffic flowing between that place and New York City. A greater glow implies a greater IP flow. Like blood in our circulatory system pumped by human curiosity, information feeds our appetite of dialogue across all social networks.
x8 A Living History of Social Media
This chart plots many of the most significant moments in Internet history. Those related to Social Media, Web 1.0 and 2.0, are colored orange and pink (click to enlarge image). When envisioning the complexity of our interconnectedness, you cannot ignore the cumulative effect of all these tools, from email to Wikipedia to Twitter, that serve as a foundation of dialogue for all emerging social media and tools layered on top of them.
x9 Glimpsing the Twitterverse Brain Solis and Jesse Thomas produced this wonderful alpha version of Twitterverse that charts the most important tools used by communications, service, marketing and community professionals to manage their Twitter groups. In total, apps number over 1000 and together create their own ecosystem. Impressive in its own right, Twitterverse is just one of thousands of social networks (see Ning) that constitute the enormity and complexity of our new connectedness.
x10 The Future March of Social Media
According to Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law the internet ushered in a period of double acceleration and double instability, driven by the doubling of chip processing power and the squaring of the number of people on the net. Now, that same awe-inspiring potential has transferred to the web. The impossible is increasingly commonplace, and as the chart below shows, the pace of web platform development and hence the sophistication of our social communication, is only accelerating. As Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra stated in his keynote at Google I/O, “never underestimate the power of the web”.
As Joshua Cooper Ramo states, the next decade will be characterized by constant newness, the previously unthinkable, and an accelerating pace of change. While this makes the future more unpredictable than ever, there is no doubt the tireless march of technology will continue to connect us in unimaginable ways in real time. As our collective identities are enhanced, our sense of distinct individuality will be affected. And as our virtual and real life personas become equally complex and connected, each individual will be forced to define a personal balance between the two.
For marketers such connectivity means brands must appeal to individuals not through demographics or as target audiences, but as latent communities. Connection within social networks turns on emotions expressed through ideas, content and dialogue, not because of similarities in gender, age or location.
As Mary Shapiro noted in AdAge after returning from the Web 3.0, marketers are currently struggling to reconcile targeted ad spending with a consumer’s need for privacy. Increasingly consumers must be given the choice as to what marketing they invite into their organically-driven networks (a ‘pull’ vs. ‘push’ approach of the past). As more social networks flourish and grow, they will cease to be passive landscapes for marketing messaging (from spam to DM’s to brand offers), and become proactive forces that dictate conscionable brand behavior and bring about social change.
The original ‘Powers of Ten’ film served as a timely reminder of our relative insignificance as human beings. The Twitterverse version dramatizes the growing significance of social media. As Kevin Kelly wrote in Wired, we should “never underestimate the power of tools to reshape our minds”. With each passing day, social media is fusing our hearts and minds together in a powerful, shared experience to create a collective consciousness that redefines our lives as individuals and marketers, and serves as a powerful signpost for our future in a global community.
Thanks Pete and Ben of Mashable fame for their great coverage of Google Wave and Maria Popova and her fantastic site Brainpickings for bringing Jee Lang Sub, Christian Nold and Erik Kritkortz to our attention. This article was posted at psfk.