Social media's hidden weakness

Facebook and Twitter may be fantastic for starting revolutions or keeping in touch with friends, but it seems to fall short when it comes to engaging and motivating a larger audience.

Social media is literally revolutionary, as we have seen in Tunisia or Egypt and figuratively in our daily lives. Creating environments where individuals to come together, share information and coordinate their activities leads to mass collaboration — a term advanced by Gartner Colleague Anthony Bradley.

The ability of social media to bring people together to create change is clear.  The challenge is what happens after the change?   Do things go back to being the way they were? Or has social media changed the world forever?

The easy answer is that everything is changed, to one degree or another.  Particularly when the medium is so new there is little time to see what happens or reflect on how things are different.  Here are some early observations and thoughts.

First, social media works at the extremes.  By that I mean engaging the masses to achieve a clear and compelling purpose (the high end) or amassing the experience of individuals performing relatively normal activities (the low end).

The social revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are examples of the high end of the social media scale.  Clear and simple goals channel tremendous energy and focus that leads to mass action that literally changes the world.

Commercial social media darlings like Threadless, Bonobos, Craig’s List etc. represent the other end of the spectrum.  Here these sights amass individual ideas and contributions for sharing with each other and the company to enhance their experience and the value of the product or service.

But, what happens in between.

What happens for situations when the ’cause’ does not engage your passion or the process is more complex than providing feedback and recommendations?

How does social media apply when it does not engage the masses or when it needs to handle complex tasks that require more than commenting, ‘friending’, ‘liking’ etc.

That is the missing middle in social media.

It is no so much of a gap, as social media plays a role in our daily lives, but something qualitatively and quantitatively different.

Consider Obama for America, which changed its name to Organising for America after the election.  The original idea was that the site that had engaged and mobilised millions to elect candidate Obama, would naturally extend into being a similar force for implementing President Obama’s policy agenda.  It has to some extent, but not in the way people envisioned as they thought social media’s power would readily transfer from one task to another.

Purpose, that is what causes the missing middle.  Social media is ideal for supporting a compelling purpose.  Purposes that are clear, compelling and directly tied to specific tasks at specific times garner people’s attention, contribution, energy and action.

The ability to identify, develop, deploy and engage people to deliver a purpose is a defining characteristic of what we call a Social Organisation.

A Social Organisation is one that is able to mobiles social media in ways that enable it to apply the knowledge and insight of your people, customers and the community to fill in the missing middle.

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