Craig Hodges

Social Networks: A gift to humanity, but...

It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but include this question into your next social media pitch. What do Queen Elizabeth II, President Obama and the Pope all have in common?

Answer: They all actively use Social Media.

Queen Elizabeth II

That's right the ol' Queen has been a busy evangelist. She's been uploading videos on The Royal Channel over on YouTube since October 2007. Thanks to her early-adopter social media graciousness, we are a mere click away from the royal red carpet to Buckingham Palace. (Sidenote: Could the Queen be the elusive 300th candidate for Digital Ministry UK perhaps?)

Whilst no skyward pointing bugles sound on the suitably august YouTube page, the "Welcome to Official YouTube Channel for the British Monarchy" banner is a comforting touch for admiring ‘Digital Monarchists'. There is sufficient pomp on the YouTube page design and in the video content to ensure visitors have a royal blue blood brand experience. The Queen has made clever use of social media as a communications tool.

Social Media "Tip of the Day" for the Queen: The Royals missed a golden opportunity, however, to use YouTube to good effect here in Australia. I suspect a number of folks down under might feel a tad ignored with no video address being posted to YouTube on Australia Day. Tut tut. Suggested remedy: Be sure to upload an Australia Day address onto The Royal Channel in a timely fashion for the restless Antipodeans in 2010. Forgetting two years running might incite rebellion amongst the ‘Digital Republicans'.

President Obama

Then there's President Obama. Admittedly still in his honeymoon period, have you noticed that the cheer for him in the digital world has yet to abate? Amazing.

This Blackberry toting non-conformist President has to be the uncontested social media pin-up-boy of the year. He's a living breathing case study. His successful digital exploits across multiple social networks, on YouTube in particular, in no small way helped land him the Oval office. In doing so he arguably raised the art of digital communications strategy to new heights. On one measure alone he recorded over 4 million fans on Facebook. No small feat.

Testimony to his new thinking, over on techcrunch many are now pondering how he will continue to use web technology in innovative ways during his term as President. Exactly how he does, I argue, will greatly influence how many of our current and future digital clients both perceive and embrace certain social media strategies. In short, Obama's gift is the gift of credibility and validation; commodities in high demand at the cutting edge of social media.

Social Media "Tip of the Day" for the President: For the sake of the ongoing development of the social media and the digital industry, don't get steamrolled by your security advisors and the communications status quo. Deliver on your digital promises and press ahead with innovative social media communication strategies.

In November last year, Obama was quoted as wanting to, "to put videos of government meetings online, have officials hold online 'town hall meetings' and create an accessible internet database of government spending so that the public can track their tax dollars themselves." Many will be watching with interest to see if he can realise his vision.

The Pope

The third and lastest social media practitioner is - The Pope.

With the pontiff's supporters spanning the earth, YouTube seems like an obvious choice. It certainly seems ideal for the Pope's task at hand of tending to the masses. Perhaps this is why he labelled social networking as a "gift to humanity" ahead of his embracing the web technology for the Catholic Church.

Jennifer LeClaire recently reported, "YouTube is the first effort, but Archbishop Claudio Celli has indicated that the Catholic Church may have its own Facebook page one day." News of such plans should continue to swell the chests of boffins at Facebook with pride.

LeClaire went on to quote social-media analyst Harry Wang. "The fact that the pope set up a channel on YouTube means they believe they can get in touch with the people who are the hope for the next generation. This will be the channel where the next generation will get information from," Wang said. "From a marketing perspective, this is a must-win battle to stay relevant and get to know their audience better."

Unlike the Queen and the President, however, the Pope and the Vatican have also rightfully raised an uncomfortable issue that social media users should not overlook. Nor should it be one that digital industry practitioners themselves shy away from. Statistically they may well be more likely than most to be caught up in "obsessive" use of the online world; a significant downside concern that the Pope has raised.

According to a recent article in The Age, the Pope warned, "that virtual socialising had its risks, saying "obsessive" online networking could isolate people from real social interaction and broaden the digital divide by further marginalising people."

Social Media "Tip of the Day" for The Pope: Whilst I am not Catholic, I would encourage the Vatican to keep up the measured use of social media and the accompanying critical commentary. Criticism can be crowded out by the powerful voices with major stakes in its ongoing success. So Mr. Pontiff, no matter whether your audience is religious or secular, it is wise to ensure you continue to carry the message that we all need to keep our digital exploits in perspective. And this means encouraging people to take meaningful breaks from the allure of the rapidly evolving digital domain. And that may well include breaks from their own hype about it too.


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