I got Barack Obama to answer my question, thanks to social media. I’ll get into that in a second. (Excuse me while I go on Twitter to see what my friends are saying.)

I’m back. So what the heck is this social media thing? Unlike newspapers, TV and radio, it is not one-way. It is not even two-way. It is multiple-way. I can broadcast a message to hundreds or thousands of people at the same time without paying a cent.

Allow me to cite the most famous and popular social media platforms so that you know what I’m talking about (not that you don’t). We use them as verbs now: I’ll facebook, youtube or tweet you. There is the world famous YouTube, which incidentally gets more than 1 billion views a day. Yes ladies and gentlemen, that’s one video for every woman, man and child on the African continent, plus another 100 million. That’s more views than there are people on the African continent.

Then there is Facebook. If you’re not on Facebook you probably feel like an outcast and you defend these feelings by saying people on Facebook need to get a life, you prefer to live your life in the real world. I’ll answer that on my next blog. In the meantime eat this: there are 200 million people registered on Facebook, of those, 100 million log on at least once a day. Between them, the 200 million people post 300 million photos shy of a billion. Oh, that’s just per month? Yep, 700 million photos a month. South Africans make up 1% of the population on Facebook, 2 million of us, and 1.4 million of those are in the 16-35 age group.

Incidentally, some now on Twitter look at Facebook as the uncle who still uses 80s slang in 2009 because he still thinks it’s cool. I must admit, Twitter has a sense of elitism about it. I’d imagine Mbeki to be Twitter and Zuma Facebook.

Twitter. Which is more fascinating for me, perhaps because I’ve been on it for just a year now as opposed to years on YouTube and Facebook. About three years, that’s a long time in social media years. That makes me a veteran.

“The one thing you can say for certain about Twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression.” That was Time magazine’s opening line in its cover story about Twitter. I couldn’t agree with them more. It took me a few attempts before I got hooked. It’s not like drugs, you don’t get hooked the first time you use it. It’s not love at first site either. (Did you see what I did there?) Twitter is an acquired taste. In fact, I went for months without ever even looking at my page. Slowly I get involved, interacted with others and then it became like crack, but unlike crack it wasn’t wack. I found myself thinking in 140 characters. Twitter only gives you 140 characters to express yourself. No more.

What does this all mean? It’s going to change, let me rephrase that. It’s changing the world the same way email changed it. You’re either part of the revolution or you’ll have to join it reluctantly. Many think social media is a fad. It’s not. It may evolve in the near future, but it ain’t no fad. I believe that in 10 years’ time no one will call anyone a tweeterholic or facebookholic because that’s how we will all communicate. You think you won’t communicate like that? You have another think coming. I remember when cellphones came out, I resisted getting one for the longest time. The fact that they were so damn expensive and I couldn’t afford one is beside the point. I believe most anti-social-media advocates simply don’t understand it.

Many people don’t get invited to parties because invites are sent via Facebook. If you’re not on, people forget you exist. For the first time this year, more information is shared via social media than via email. It’s going to get worse. Email is so 20th century.

How powerful a distraction is social media? Sometimes I find myself giving someone or something my undivided attention, then I snap out of it by going on Twitter or Facebook. It is a distraction for sure, but not an unwanted one. I will delve into further detail on this in my next blog about something I call the era of divided attention.

(While in the process of writing this piece last night, I stopped because my neighbours were doing the hanky. I tweetered about it.)

I was talking to my boss Paul Warner, founder and executive creative director of advertising agency MetropolitanRepublic, the other day and he said something that triggered a series of discussions we had about the news media. The news now covers what people are saying about the news in the tweetersphere, the bloggersphere and such. All this has happened because by the time the news gets to CNN, Sky, SABC and eNews, we’ve already seen it. Instead of telling me what I already know, why not tell me what people think about the news? We went into greater detail than this of course, but you get the picture. Oh, Paul, if you’re reading this, how about a raise? (Insert nervous laugh here.)

Most of us didn’t first hear from the radio, TV or newspapers that Michael Jackson had died. I saw it on Twitter. Within minutes of his death and that was before CNN or any major news outlet reported it. If you didn’t get the news on the internet, you most likely got an SMS and then you turned on your TV. I first heard that Obama won the Nobel Prize on Twitter within seconds of the announcement. I didn’t go searching for the information, it came to me via the people I follow and I passed it on to the people that follow me.

In my discussion with Paul we came to the conclusion that since the news is already out, we already know by the time we watch the seven o’clock news or read the paper in the morning. What we’re interested in is what our friends think about the news so we check what they’ve said on Twitter or Facebook.

As a result smart politicians use this tool to talk to people because they know the social media audience is getting bigger by the day. This is how I managed to get Obama to answer my question on YouTube. Had he no understanding of this new world I wouldn’t have had a chance to say anything to the fellow.

Sometimes we want to know what our friends or acquaintances have said on blogs like this one. Oh? You didn’t know? Blogs are social media too.

Obama answers the question video:

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Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga* By day he perpetuates the evils of capitalism by making consumers feel insecure (he makes ads). For this he has been rewarded with numerous Loerie awards, Cannes Gold, several Eagle awards...

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