Social Media 101: Where Do I Start If I Want To Learn More?


Social media is everywhere you go today.  It’s what everyone talks about.  It’s what many people use to describe lots of things (even when they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about).  So to you, this may sound a lot like 1999 when a whole bunch of people were talking “surfing the web”, “monetizing eyeballs” and the buzz was that companies like The Globe,  GeoCities, and were taking over the world.  And look what happened with that?  Bustado and most of them gone.  So is Social Media pretty much the same thing?  Is it the hot fad like Boy Bands– here today and then we’re going to laugh at how silly everyone was a few years from now?  Recent articles in pubs like AdAge and essay’s from folks like Malcom Gladwell have started questioning this “outsized enthusiasm for social media” and its impact on our world.  And in the middle of some of the debate going on right now, it might be easy to crawl under the covers and feel encouraged that this facebooky-tweeter stuff may just all go away and life will go back to its safe and predictable orbit of the sun.  So is that what you should do?

Well, here are a few thoughts on the subject.  While specific companies related to social media may come and go, the underlying shifts that are causing the rapid change we are seeing right now are real, significant and lasting (meaning you can’t go back under the covers, no matter how much you wish you could).  And if you really want to put it all in perspective and understand what’s going on and how significant the changes are and will be (from media to advertising to the future of society), there is a very good place I would tell you to start.  After reading dozens of books on social media over the last few years (seems like there are more out there than diet books) there is one that manages to put all of the change in context, and is the very first you should buy.  If you read it and truly process what it is telling you, it will make a difference in the way you look at Social Media, and your level of urgency about getting in the pool now to start learning how to swim (and by the way, this might be a point to think about Warren Buffet’s always useful quote: “When the tide goes out, we find out who’s been swimming without a bathing suit”).

The book is Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky, and while it came out several years ago in 2008, Publisher’s Weekly recently pointed out its significance, saying the book “was one of the first to predict the power of social media”.  

It costs $15 on Amazon and a few hours of your time to read, and for your career and your future it might be worth skipping a few hours of American Idol to check out one or two chapters. 

But guessing that might be as likely to come true as that New Year’s Get Buff at Bally’s resolution you made at the start of the year, I’ve put together a 2 minute cheat sheet below of key ideas and excerpts.   It may not have you doing the butterfly in the Social Media pool, but it will at least get you started on the doggy paddle.


The Scope of change—in a historical context—is Gi-normous (that is the technical term)

“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race.  More people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in a generation, makes the change unprecedented, even considered against the background of previous revolutions in communications tools.  The truly dramatic changes in such tools can be counted on the fingers of one hand: the printing press and movable type (considered as one long period of innovation); the telegraph and telephone; recorded content (music, then movies); and finally the harnessing of radio signals (for broadcasting radio and TV).  None of these examples was a simple improvement, which is to say a better way of doing what society already did.  Instead, each was a real break with the continuity of the past, because any radical change in our ability to communicate with one another changes society.”

 Why is this a big change? In economic terms, the “cost” of forming groups, and sharing information among individuals, is collapsing

“….getting the free and ready participation of a large, distributed group with a variety of skills…has gone from impossible to simple.  There are many reasons for this, both technological and social, but they all add up to one big change: forming groups has gotten a lot easier.  To put it in economic terms, the costs incurred by creating a new group or joining an existing one have fallen in recent years, and not just by a little bit.  They have collapsed.”

“The collapse of transaction costs makes it easier for people to get together—so much easier, in fact, that it is changing the world.  The lowering of these costs is the driving force underneath the current revolution and the common element to everything in this book.”

Social Media creates an unprecedented increase in our collective ability to share and cooperate

“All the technologies…the phones and computers, the e-mail and instant messages, and the webpages, are manifestations of a more fundamental shift.  We now have communications tools that are flexible enough to match our social capabilities, and we are witnessing the rise of new ways of coordinating action that take advantage of that change.  These communications tools have been given many names, all variations on a theme: “social software”, “social media”, “social computing”, and so on.  Though there are some distinctions between those labels, the core idea is the same: we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.”

Today everyone is a “media outlet”– everyone is their own publishing empire (even if you don’t have the Yacht and Walk-In Humidor to prove it).

“Our social tools remove older obstacles to public expression, and thus remove the bottlenecks that characterized mass media.  The result is the mass amateurization of efforts previously reserved for media professionals.”

 These ideas ideally will just be the beginning for you as you start understand what is going on and get motivated to be in the middle of it.  Because the reality is you won’t understand it until you are in the middle of it.


John’s digital experience dates back over two decades, to before the web was born. He is currently VP Marketing for Advance Digital, and is a regular writer and speaker on topics including Search, Social Media, Content Marketing, Local Media and the Digital Marketing Revolution.

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