The Shortcomings of Social Media

Social media is a great tool for spreading information. But as I’ve written before, there are many other tools for reaching people and getting them to act.  And some are much better than social media.

Malcolm Gladwell explores this theme to great effect in the most recent issue of The New Yorker.  Social media is great at mobilizing people to take very small, sometimes seemingly inconsequential actions (e.g. joining a Facebook group, forwarding a video to a friend), Gladwell writes.

But where it falls flat, he notes, is getting people to engage in “high-impact” activism, like desegregating lunch counters or donating money to Darfur and other worthy causes.  That’s because engagement in these kinds of activities requires a close personal connection to the issue.

Social media reduces the barriers between individuals, but doesn’t eliminate them. That’s why, if you are asking people to engage in “high impact” activities, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are probably not the most effective tools to use.

Political campaigns have learned this lesson.  Yes, they use social media.  They use it to stay top of mind and inform their constituency.  And for this it works great, as we saw in the Obama Campaign. But their “bread and butter” tactics are very personal: phone banks, knocking on doors and shaking hands at events.  Even though politicians are reviled, Americans donate billions to their campaigns and turn out by the tens of millions to vote each year.

Unfortunately, recruiting and organizing volunteers for phone banks and literature distribution is really hard work, often requiring a combination of tools. Social media is just one of these tools. Used in conjunction with other forms of outreach it can be outstanding. Used exclusively or without careful coordination of your other messaging, it will not yield the expected results.


One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joseph LaMountain, Joseph LaMountain. Joseph LaMountain said: The Shortcomings of Social Media: […]

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