A common characterization of the ecosystem of social networks, whether Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or any of the other on-line centers of virtual gathering, is that they become “Echo Chambers” for their participants, as opposed to engines of knowledge transfer. Another term for this is “Group Think”. This is when you bring people together and the critical mass of participants and ease of quick, bursts of comments becomes a fertile breeding ground for chatter, giving each other “props”, and reveling in the shared experience of discussion, rather than moving the discussion forward towards a useful end.
Topics usually pop up around a central idea or event and then everyone participates and shares thoughts that circle and expand the idea. But something interesting happens in the aggregate to the ideas. The group’s social dynamic kicks in and reshapes the discussion. “Shaping” probably isn’t the right term here. It is more like filtering some aspects of the of idea and reinforcing others.
A similar effect happens in the physical world too, but with sound or light. Sound generated in in a room will bounce off the walls and items in the room. The dynamics of the room and all of it’s contents will dampen some sounds while allowing others to resonate. Soon the sounds at the resonant frequency dominate the acoustics and the dissident sounds die out. It doesn’t matter what white noise you start with, you end up with a spectrum of sound that comes out the same each time. Nothing new, nothing original. That is what can happens in a social network discussions also. A topic is introduced and it quickly is molded into a similar outcome or consensus typical for that group.
Utilizing social media as part of your marketing strategy has to be done with this phenomena in mind, sensitive to this echo chamber mechanism. A traditional print campaign marketer might be tempted to treat the publishing event as the culmination of the PR process, not realizing that publishing the post is really just a transition from the preparation phase to the participation phase of the campaign.
The added attention that you now have to give to your message doesn’t lessen the need for preparation and crafting of the message in the first place. An incomplete or ill-conceived message will hit the blogosphere, Facebook ecosystem, or tweet-stream and quickly be torn to shreds for what it is. But, even with an “on the mark” and well crafted post, setting it free in the wild requires ongoing attention and nurturing. Unless your campaign says exactly what the community already wants to hear, it will either just be drowned out, or worse, take on a life of its own, which probably won’t be the message it was intended to be. If the message resonates with that crowd, it will be amplified. If it doesn’t square with what the audience wants, or what the crowd is predisposed to, your message will be molded into what fits that community's tone better, and then that will be the message that gets amplified.
This amplification can be used to your advantage, carrying your message farther and with greater impact that just the original words themselves and form could have. The message can evolve to live and grow in it’s new environment until it resonates with the crowd that participated in it’s current form. Now, the message is the product of many contributors, all with a stake in it’s success.
This now takes the old model of message crafting, publishing and calculating ROI; and changes it to crafting, publishing, stewarding through the new social media landscape, and calculating ROI. And ROI also needs to be evaluated differently. More resources are expended in the delivery, but there are real numbers of active participants at the target.
In conclusion, this social media has not made PR easier. It has changed the lifecycle of a message and extended its reach. But no longer can you just put it out there. Social media messages are now interactive and living and evolutionary.