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A Look Back – and Forward – at Social Media

A Look Back – and Forward – at Social Media


10 days until SMW September 14-18 Conference in London, Miami, Rotterdam, and São Paulo. Learn more here.

Sapient’s “Forces of Change: Social Media Past, Present & Future” Social Media Week event delved into the evolution of social media so far, how different organizations are using it, and where they think it’s headed. The event brought together four panelists with social media experience in government, non-government and nonprofit organizations.

The panelists included Bill Annibell, CTO of Sapient Government Services; Steve Ressler, Founder and President of GovLoop; Bob Burns, Social Media Analyst & Official Blogger for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); and Jenna Sauber, Interactive Communications Manager for the Case Foundation.

Each touched on some lessons their organization has learned during the trial-and-error growth periods of social media and new technologies.



Burns wrote the TSA’s first official blog in January 2008, about the new liquid policy. He said it was important to keep it informative but casual, with a little humor thrown into the mix, like his joke that, contrary to popular belief, the TSA administrator did not own stock in Ziploc.

Using a blog, instead of the traditional press release written in AP style, made the information more accessible. It enabled people to have an interest in what TSA was saying, and made it easier for them to give feedback. Using a blog created a conversation.



Social is helping people to become more inspired and empowered, according to Sauber. They see a lot of this at the Case Foundation as it becomes easier for volunteers to share their pictures and stories via social media, becoming more engaged and more empowered to make a difference as individuals.


Vertical Niches

As the founder of GovLoop, Ressler has a particular interest in how social media has fostered vertical niche interests. He said that, “Social media is about solving a problem in a better, quicker way.” One of the ways it does this is by facilitating many things that have a single core function – like the .edu or .gov networks that serve specific industries.



If you’re going to build relationships and connections with your audiences, you have to build trust. Annibell emphasized the human element that has remained constant behind all communications, regardless of how new technologies are being adapted.

These relationships through social media are also setting up more integrated channels for customer service. Organizations no longer have to reach out via phone, one-by-one. Instead, customers and organizations are developing long-term relationships, where customers are telling brands which channels they want to communicate on and what they want to hear.



Near the end of the panel, the moderator asked a question that reflected the tone of the event, looking both backwards into history and forward into how social media is changing communication:

If Twitter were available throughout history, who would you follow and why?

Bob (@BigBobBurns): Ben Franklin. “Can you imagine if he had a Twitter handle? …I think he’d put Charlie Sheen to shame.”

Jen (@cajunjen): All the wives of Henry VIII.

Steve (@steveressler): Musicians, like Bob Dylan going electric, because it would be interesting to see, “how they deal.”

Bill (@billannibell): General Patton (“That definitely wouldn’t be PG-13.”) or Helen Keller. “Imagine if she had the ability to communicate in another way.”


How would you answer that question? Who would you follow?

Written by Kaitlin Carpenter, an official Social Media Week DC blogger. Follow her at @suchthekaitlin of @Carousel30.