The Seismic Impact of Social Media

My family and I spent this past weekend on Catalina Island. A nice, relaxing Saturday and Sunday away from it all. While waiting for the return boat to Newport Beach to dock, we experienced the Baja earthquake and another eye-opening display of the power of social networking.

Social networking is at the epicenter of change in communications
At about 3:40pm, while reclined on the dock waiting to board the Catalina Flyer, I felt the ground sway and roll. With my iPod on, I looked around to see if anyone else was reacting to the sensation. Nothing. (Most Southern Californians are notoriously nonchalant about earthquakes and are rarely conspicuously alarmed.) I did that subtle “guess it’s just me” shrug and returned to basking in the sun.

About three minutes later, my wife poked my shoulder and told me that there had been an earthquake. She pointed her finger at a woman six people back who was busily keying her mobile phone and announcing that there had been a 6.9 in Baja (of course, this has since been revised to a 7.2.) That was immediately followed by another gentlemen who told me that his daughter in San Diego texted him to say that everything was okay. 30 seconds later, I pulled out my iPhone and got on Facebook. Three friends who live in Arizona had already posted about sloshing pool water and swinging chandeliers in Phoenix. In the space of five minutes, the news of the earthquake had literally radiated from Baja to my ears like so many tectonic waves.

And at that moment, I marveled once again at how the way we communicate has fundamentally shifted.

There have been myriad stories about the power of social media to both report and influence news. Sully Sullenberger’s US Airway landing in the Hudson River was witnessed live via Twitter. The Iranian elections were reported on extensively throughout the country using social tools. And, recently, the Haiti, Chile and Mexico earthquakes have been communicated virtually in realtime. (Last year, I even measured the speed of an earthquake via Twitter.)  Now, reports of seismologists leveraging social media to factor eyewitness accounts into their analyses. These are amazing times we live in.

For technology marketers, social media creates ripples of influence
The lessons from the Baja earthquake readily illuminate the power of social media. The way people share information follows a pattern not unlike an earthquake. Our own marketing or the news of the day can serve as an epicenter that ripples across the Web, blogosphere, social networks and forums with tsunami-like speed. Toyota and Tiger Woods will both testify.

Above is a great image that I like to share with clients that illustrates this ripple-like effect. (credit David Armano.) It demonstrates the way influence is passed from mainstream media to open networks, closed networks and out to individuals. As technology marketers, we should aim to be at that epicenter of influence or align ourselves to organizations and mavens who sit in that position. I’m not talking necessarily worldwide coverage here, but rather within our own relevant landscapes (vertical market or product category.)

The closer we can get to that central position of authority, the more people stand to feel the aftershocks of our social media marketing efforts.


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