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The Rise of Social Media: understanding the psychology behind the technology

At a well-attended and deeply informative AFCEA breakfast this morning, four #SocialGov luminaries sat on a panel moderated by the ever-capable Chris Dorobek. At one point, Chris asked me what was different about public sector use of social media now than in 2010, when I started in my current role. I wanted to answer that question more completely before the event fades from our memories.

The biggest difference in the use of social media between how it was used in 2010 and now is three-fold:

  1. More people are using social media sites
  2. More sites are tailoring themselves to specific audiences and specific uses
  3. Social media professionals are using more advanced tools to populate and analyze their social media feeds.

The first point is so obvious, it is all but invisible. But it is the driving force behind government growing its social media activities: more and more people are getting and sharing information through social channels. Facebook would be the 3rd most populous country, this video reminds us, and it is growing every day, as is Twitter, Pinterest, and smaller, more focused sites like PatientsLikeMe. And as more people join social media, the market itself is maturing, with each site, each tool refining what makes it different, how it can be used best to serve a particular need.

That's the second point: if you want a second screen to add value to a sport broadcast or apolitical event, Twitter is probably where you want to turn. But if you want to share ideas for healthy dinners, perhaps turn to Pinterest? There are many ways to understand the demographics and uses for social media sites (some serious, some less-so) and it's all possible because both the sites' administrators and users have a much better understanding of what the sites do best.

And what those to truths mean is that social media professionals, not least within the US government, are optimizing their own use of social media tools--both with content tools like HootSuite and TweetDeck, and with analytical tools like Social Bro and Radian Six.

Social media creators, consumers, and professionals are all becoming more savvy about the psychology that gives rise to the technology. And as that happens, everyone becomes more sophisticated about how and why they use social media.

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