Sparking the Fire of Influence

Posted on January 31, 2012 by Comments Off

Like many in the U.S. last week, I found myself closely tracking the dialogue around the president’s State of the Union Tuesday evening. Ideological debates aside, what struck me most was the media’s continuing willingness to reference and embrace social media in the political dialogue. More recently, Twitter’s CEO even declared that 2012 would be the year of the “Twitter election.

The “let’s go to the Twittersphere” (Can we just refrain from creating any new words that involve “sphere”?) references were frequent, and nearly made those as deadpan as Brian Williams sound enthusiastically interested in getting perspective from real people via this medium. The fact is old-school labels that hinge around economic class, status and possessions don’t apply in this social medium and, in turn, result in a stronger freedom of expression for many who use them.

Of course, the new channels that open up through emerging digital tools and broader adoption of social media among journalists, politicians and individuals make for a more complete and dynamic forum for discussion during the upcoming elections. In particular, it is encouraging to know that with the broad adoption of social media, millennials have a channel they feel they have directly built and participated within.

A recent post on Mashable also hits on a few of the ways that media are using digital tools to both inform and observe the discourse — no longer is social media some passing reference handled by the most junior of staff, but it now is as core a piece of political media coverage as a live debate broadcast.

But does greater ubiquity of channels for individuals and organizations equate to more thoughtful dialogue? In some cases it does, but, as this post highlights, all but one of the most shared tweets around the State of the Union came from the @whitehouse account.

Resharing from one source could lead to the conclusion that info is simply being passed along without thought or point of view. But politics are about people, and people have emotions that can be real and highly passionate — even raw at times — so the challenge, and of course opportunity, for our leaders, media and industry as communicators is how to use these channels as means to engage, discuss and inform the entire debate from all sides?

Because influence is alive, it’s energetic and in motion. Candidates are aware of this ever-shifting landscape and seek to harness its power and bend it to their favor. Instead, they could gather and foster the sparks of influence that exist in this social space, be buoyed by their force, and help guide them — without bending them to their platform. If they do that, they can take the sparks and ignite a fire.

Then it will be a truly noble and valuable social experiment that we’ll have all taken part in.

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