Social media connects us in troubled times

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Harrowing firsthand accounts of this weeks earthquake in Haiti weren’t  first delivered by Katie Couric or Anderson Cooper. Instead, locals and visitors like  hotel manager Richard Morse used social media sites to provide a glimpse into the devastation around them. According to CNN.com, Morse described the aftermath of the 7.5 earthquake via Twitter. Other Haitians communicated through text messages, Facebook, video chat, and even a popular local online entertainment program. As the reports began to roll in from the traditional media, social networking sites were already abuzz with information about where to donate and how to contact loved ones. We still rely on the big news outlets to bring us in-depth and hopefully honest coverage of the day’s important stories. Still, the power of average people giving a name and face to worldwide news can no longer be ignored, thanks in large part to social media.

This is not to say that one should substitute Myspace for, say, NPR in their news diet. Mainly, social networking sites stay true to their primary purpose of telling you where P. Diddy is eating a burrito and what bikini your high school class president chose to wear on her vacation.  Undoubtedly, silly tweets from reality stars and dancing hamster videos provide their own sort of escapist relief.  Therefore, the power of the message whether it be for news purposes or for entertainment can’t be ignored.

Harnessing this power for social media marketing is where it gets tricky. On one hand, social media is a quick and easy way to give customers updates on the latest happenings at your company. On the other hand, too many rambling infomercial like posts can quickly cause a “de-friending” epidemic. Using a first-hand style of reporting can be a perfect way to achieve balance.  Stories like Richard Morse’s are powerful because they belong to someone real. Nobody enjoys receiving messages that feel like they’ve been churned out by an anonymous robot. True passion, humor, and information are easier to convey when the person composing the posts has distinct language and unique thoughts. Conversely, an honest dialogue with clients opens the conversation for an equal exchange of ideas rather than just a cold, calculated advertisement. People don’t mind being sold things, but they want to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Social media continues to grow and change. The messages transmitted  by these sites truly run the gamut from poignant to mundane. And there are still many who argue that social media is little more than a creative way to kill time.  However, when sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter are at their best, they are able to connect us to people we might not otherwise know, to give us a front row seat to world events, to make us laugh, and to slowly make our differences seem smaller.

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