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What is Social Media?

November 19, 2013
Welcome back to Public Information.
If you’ve been in this industry for longer than a cup of coffee, you’ve probably got some strong feelings regarding the multi-headed beast we know as social media.
That said, I’m not here to argue social media’s cultural validity. Let others worry about what Facebook and Twitter do to society. I just want to get Milton’s message out to residents (ethically, of course), and social media tools can be fantastic options for telling the kinds of stories that increase goodwill in the community.
Over the next couple columns I’m going to go discuss how my team has been able to use Milton’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages to define and propagate the city’s brand at nearly no cost, positioning the Milton positively in the daily thoughts of thousands of residents. I want to talk about exactly why we do it (low- to no-cost, immediate interaction, measureable results – i.e., not because it’s “new” or “cool” or “everybody’s doing it”) and I want to talk about the methods we employ.
I figure before I get into how the City of Milton uses social media, however, I might as well try and tackle the basic definition of “social media” and what it offers users.
In simplest terms, tools like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, etc., give anyone with a computer and/or mobile device the ability to self-publish their thoughts, musings, photos, videos, stories and other ephemera 24 hours a day to an audience willing to pay attention.
In Facebook terms, they’re “friends,” on Twitter, “followers,” on Youtube, “page views” – but really what we’re talking about is human interaction, sharing, being “social.” That’s it – pretty simple, no?
But the application of these tools has revolutionized society in less than 10 years. I’m going to use an overused word – paradigm – but really, what we’re talking about here is a complete paradigm shift from content creators to content users.
What do I mean by that? Let’s take the example of newspapers.
Under the old model, select, highly trained groups of people made sure the newspaper was full of relevant, interesting, vital information. Vast legions consumed that information. Things were great for about 300 years or so.
What happened when social media crashed the party was that the model disintegrated. Those readers who had only consumed news could now produce and share it (aka citizen journalists). And share they did – everything from previously untouched stories about their hometowns, to pictures and videos of their kids, to articles on how to sew, paint and craft.
And so people began to see the possibilities (good and bad) of what was now available. And this is where you step in.
But we’ll get to that next month.
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.