At Blue State Digital‘s inaugural Social Media Week event, “#socialmediaproblems: Digital Challenges and Opportunities for Real World Movements,” NYU professor Clay Shirky and Facebook’s Adam Conner took to the stage (well, the panelists table) to discuss how social media can trigger positive offline impact, particularly in politics and civic engagement. BSD’s Social Media Director Ryan Davis moderated the discussion.
Some major insights…
…on visual memes.
In the competition between cell phones and satellites, cell phones win. “It was not obvious at the time that the cell phone camera would be more powerful than the ability for someone to pay for satellite photos of something happening across the world,” Shirky said. The visual meme is here to stay, easily generated from the gadget in your back pocket.
…on information overload.
Let the junk flow freely. “When productive capacity rises, the average quality falls, but the surprises get maximized, and that’s where the change comes from,” Shirky said. “The sorting of the excellent from the mediocre happens just as a side effect of people paying attention.”
It’s only half-time. The movement is just getting started, Shirky predicts. And it has brought some valuable lessons about getting people’s attention through simple branding and messaging. “If you simply show up and broadcast the message not as ‘here’s our 9-point plan’ but as ‘not this,’ then that is actually a way to influence government without getting into a perma-campaign model,” he said.
Don’t just get in on the game because everyone else is. “What is the point? Are you going to make it fun?” Conner asked. “You’ve got to give people a reason to participate and want to be there.”
Speak to people’s inner desires. “Narcissism is never a bad place to start,” Shirky said. “If you give people a sense of personal feedback, that actually turns out to be a really powerful motivator.”
Steal best practices from other sectors for everyone’s benefit, especially when it comes to technology. “How do we take the things that benefit the government and release it to the broader world?” Conner asked.
…on data analysis.
The data ain’t enough. You’ve got to tell a story from the data. And at the same time, journalists and other storytellers need to be fluent in information technology. In other words, “We need storytellers who know how to write a SQL column,” Shirky said.
For more great insights and broad themes, check out Brandon Andrews’ wrap-up post, “#SocialMediaSolutions.”
Written by Erica Schlaikjer, an official Social Media Week DC blogger. Follow her at @benevolentmedia.