His Royal Highness Prince Charles was responsible for a considerable change in the conversation in Washington, DC, when he and his wife – Princess Diana at that time – were due to visit the political centre of the USA. Some eight weeks before the couple’s planned visit in 1985 the chatter in Washington was no longer about politics and economics, but about the Royal Couple. Indeed, according to The Evening Independent, Washington was “a Twitter” over the visit. The article describing the change in mood in the American political capital also uses the term “social media”. What’s this? “Twitter” and “social media” being used in the same article prior even to the invention of the world wide web? What’s going on? Quick – we need a conspiracy theory.
Well, we can find it if we trawl back even further through the archives. Back in 1962 the Pope at that time, Pope John, decided to give his staff the day-off to help celebrate his 81st birthday. And what did he give them time-off from? Well, it seems the Vatican was in the midst of discussions of “social communications media”. That’s right, the Pontiff had Twitter in his sights 44 years before it was even invented. You can see the conspiracy theory forming now – it has all the necessary ingredients; Prince Charles, Princess Diana, the Pope and secret American technology.
But what this journey through the News Timeline at Google really shows us is one fact: the phrase “social media” has been around for a lot longer than what we now thing of as “social media”. Many people believe that “social media” is a fad, a here-today, gone-tomorrow kind of thing. In fact, back in 1938 The Montreal Gazette reported the existence of “social media” in the 19th Century, when Dickens was busy writing. Which all points towards the notion that “social media” is not as new as we might think it is – and neither therefore is it some kind of faddish thing.
And indeed it isn’t – media of all kinds have been social for centuries. Dickens himself was very social with his media – reading out his own stories in public and sharing them socially. Err..we call that Facebook nowadays.
One thing is different, of course. These days you need a “social media expert” to help you do something which people have been doing naturally for the past 200 years or more. Indeed, being a “social media guru” is now a whole new career path for “digital natives” – people who have grown up with a computer virtually strapped to their arms.
Back in Washington a quarter of a Century ago, there were no “gurus” to help the chattering classes there get “all-a-twitter”; they did it themselves, naturally. Likewise, Dickens didn’t need an “expert” to help him share his stories and talks; he just got on with it. The reason is that like the people in Washington he just saw it as “normal”, part of the world he inhabited and so it just happened.
When you see something as “special” or “different” that’s when you need a “guru” to help you because you have over-complicated it. Remember The Beatles flying in their meditation guru? When you over-complicate relaxation, mind-emptying and personal reflection and give it a special name, that’s when you need help to do it. But when you just call it relaxation or reflection on your lot, well, hey, you can do that without any experts advising you.
It’s the same in many other areas. Take “personal development” for instance. Successful people often “just get on with it” and simply have a goal in life and strive each day towards it. Others who call this “personal development” need gurus, DVDs, tapes, workshops and a whole host of other support to tell them the same thing every time – set yourself a goal and get off your butt and do something about it.
Today “social media” is in the same arena. Trawling through the archives shows us that it has been going on for donkeys; but now we have allocated a special name to (don’t tell anyone I told you this, but it is called “talking to people”), then we over-complicate it and then we need experts.
True, I admit, you might need practical guidance on what to do. But you don’t need special advice on “being social” – you already know what that is and how to do that. Which is why Twitter isn’t new – people were doing it in Washington 26 years ago. Facebook isn’t new – Dickens was onto that 150 years back. And the Pope? Well each one of them has been engaged in social media for centuries – how else does any religion survive without it?
So perhaps Prince Charles did not invent Twitter and neither did the Pope. But then neither, really, did the folks at Twitter. All they invented was a technology that allowed us to do what we have always done in the real world, online. Social media is not new; don’t let any of those gurus tell you otherwise.
And that’s why, quite soon, business owners will realise that what the gurus are telling them is, well, common sense and stuff they already know. The result? “Social Media Gurus” will disappear to be replaced by the next so-called “online fad” expert. Fancy being a “semantic search marketing guru”? They’ll be popular in a couple of years. Or how about being a “Social Search Guru” – gosh, social search is taking off big time now, so we must need “experts” in that area. Oh…you don’t know what “social search” is? Well, just ask a friend, they’ll know. Whoops – given the game away; there goes my opportunity of being a social search guru.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+