Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Social Media & the Protestant Reformation

By Andrew Ausanka-Crues -- The rise of social media has been a popular topic for pundits of all stripes to pontificate and speculate on. As in all new and unfamiliar communication advancements we see experts clamoring for attention with claims such as email's "reign is over" (link is from a 2009 article) to professional athletes asserting "social media is ruining the world."

The truth of the matter is the human experience has a rich and diverse set of experiences from which to draw upon when attempting to analyze the impact disruptive communication technologies have on societies. The Economist, one of my favorite magazines (or, as they prefer, newspaper) has an excellent article in their annual double issue entitled "How Luther Went Viral".

The delivery of news is changing from an oligarchy of content providers to a diverse, plentiful and fragmented group of producers -- namely you and I. For instance, while the NY Times still plays an outsized role in establishing the news narrative the public receives (local newspapers, TV stations and radio programs taking the Times led) it no longer has nearly the clout it once had.

From the article:
The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today’s online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a “networked public”, rather than an “audience”, since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.
With increasing decentralized avenues for the public to receive information it is more important for communicators to understand not only where target audiences receive information -- they have to taylor content to ensure it is relevant and interesting.

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