Trends, not platforms

This post originally appeared on my blog, Talking Salmons.

Ok. Today I will hash out the “trends versus platforms” speech. It’s something I speak to quite often. Hopefully we can increase awareness and keep ourselves from being wrapped around the axle on certain things.

I feel that too often we become tangled up in arguments of semantics. Those in the know and those sort of in the know tussle over wording and ideas, both usually with good intentions, over what I see as a misunderstanding of trends versus platforms.

Every time someone says, “We need a Twitter policy” or, “There’s no regulation allowing Facebook,” I feel the fear/caution/enthusiasm is misplaced. This post will try to clear some things up.

So, platforms and trends. To begin, I would like to point everyone toward a picture I often use at seminars. This graphic is something I grabbed from the Web. It’s from 2008, so it’s slipping into being “dated” (which happens ever faster these days, dangnabbit).

There are two things described in this graphic: the petals and what’s in the petals. Each petal is a social media trend. New petals don’t crop up too often. New trends do emerge, but not everyday. What is inside each petal is a social media platform. Platforms change constantly. As one platform dies (MySpace) another or several take its place (Facebook, Ning, etc.).

It might seem trivial, but I believe this distinction is very important. It is critical to argue for policies and best practices centered around trends, not platforms. Trends should be understood to greater extents than should platforms, specifically. Instead of getting a “Twitter policy” out there, focus on what makes Twitter useful and include a policy on micro-blogging (the trend that Twitter represents) as a part of your larger body of policies on blogging and social media.

When policy makers and social media advocates push platforms and not trends, we tend to paint ourselves into corners. Weeks of time and effort are spent to push some sort of guidance through concerning platforms that might disappear–and verily I’ve heard this as a reason why social media has no place in government or business. Some say it is too fickle–it travels too fast. The original 2007 ban that started all of this seems silly. Even it doesn’t ban “social media,” but instead MySpace and YouTube (and 9 other sites, including MTV.com). Ok. Big deal, we’ve moved on to other sites (Vimeo, Facebook). This is a small example of when policy focuses on platforms vs. trends. They quickly become irrelevant.

And as to the assertion that social media is changing too quickly–well, yes, things are progressing at an astronomical rate. Watch the “Did you Know? 3.0” video if you need to see the exponential times we’re living in.

But this is where focusing on trends makes things manageable. Platforms do pop in and out like electrons buzzing around an atom, but the nucleus–the trend, gives us something we can plan for and adapt to.

The focus on trends shifts things back to a more big-picture perspective. Instead of bickering about how Twitter seems silly, we begin to focus on if it has value as a communication tool–if it can be used for us to more effectively accomplish our missions as dictated by the DoD Principles of Information, Joint Publication 3-61 and service-specific public affairs guidance.

Joint Pub 3-61, especially. LOTS of good stuff in there. Practice OPSEC at the source. Every DoD servicemember is responsible for protecting OPSEC. DoD should be dedicated to a free flow of information to the public and within itself…on and on. So much applies to the fears and concerns about using social media, in PA or otherwise.

Because it’s important to remember we are in the business of communication, not for arguing for social media per se. If the world moved beyond social media (which the world is doing), I would move with it, for the sake of being the best communicator I can be. If people all started using sign language and nothing else, to be a good PA professional, I’d shift my zeal for social media to sign language.

I lament the discussions on social media relevance that degrade into arguments of preference.

Twitter is silly! Facebook blurs personal/professional lines! Persistent cookies violate privacy!

Well, the above statements may or may not be true; but they focus around platforms–around specific methods of transmitting information; and not around the philosophy of communication.

Trends, friends, trends are what we can plan for. Horses to cars to airplanes. These are the evolution of trends. Saddles to wagons; seats to seat belts to air bags; propellers to jets to autopilot. These are the evolution of platforms.

By focusing just on platforms, we become blind to new trends, when they occur. For the moment, the big ticket trend evolution is from legacy media (broadcast, print) to social media. Our policies and practices should focus on the trend changes, not platform specifics.

One last example. Let’s say we are roofers (God bless ’em. Did that for a family project one summer. Whew!). We lay shingles by tapping in nails ever so often. Well, after a while, we get pretty good at hitting in nails. We even get to the point where we Daniel-san that thing and slam it flush in one swing.

Well, along comes the nail gun and our company is given some. We all have to get some training. Nail guns can be dangerous if misused (hammers can too, but nail guns seem more ferocious, I suppose). Some of our fellow roofers start to bicker about whether we should use nail guns or not. After all, someone could disable the safeties and hurt someone else. Someone could hit a nail into the wrong part of the roof (as they could with hammers too, albeit not as easily). And, most importantly (it is argued), we’re really good at hitting in nails in one swing. All of our expertise at using a hammer wouldn’t be as necessary if we used the nail gun. ANYBODY could lay shingles if nail guns were used.

But are any of these objections debating the inherent value of the nail gun? Doesn’t it, with the proper training and guidelines, allow for more efficient work? More consistent roofing? Faster?

Sure, there are risks. Someone could maybe possibly one day do something bad. But does that fear keep us from moving forward. What happens when company A sticks with hammers because they’re so proud of their skills, and company B gets all the jobs because they can do the work far more quickly and with consistent results?

This is why we need to focus on trends and not platforms. It keeps us focused on what we are. We need to stop arguing Twitter and start discussing public affairs. We need to stop bickering about bandwidth and examine how the new tools we have can make us better at our mission. We are to become better roofers, so to speak, not defend our pride of using one tool over another. What is encouraging is a lot of our prior experience makes us better at the new tools, anyway.


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