What if social media didn’t begin in the age of the Internet, but instead, hundreds of years earlier? 

What if social media didn’t begin in the age of the Internet, but instead, hundreds of years earlier? (In 1440, to be exact.)

That is what Alan K’Necht, CEO of Toronto-based Digital Always Media, asserted in his opening keynote at Mediabistro’s Socialize conference in Toronto on Friday.  Social media isn’t just MySpace, Facebook or Twitter, he says, but more simply, a medium that draws people together with a common goal or objective. Meaning, one of the earliest forms of social media was born when Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century.

But the similarities between the printing press and social media run deeper than that. As this 2011 essay from Foreign Affairs points out, social media has done for people what the printing press did for those back then – it has democratized and allowed information to flow more freely and given opportunity for people to gather, debate and share ideas more easily.  

[node:ad]

Though it was a marketing-heavy conference with much emphasis on figuring out how to calculate the return on investment in social media, there were some interesting points raised that can be applied to many traditional newsrooms that have been slow to adopt comprehensive social media strategies. Here are five lessons that I took away from the conference:

  • Three steps for success: K'Necht says that strong social media contains three things: Solid content, a base of fans/followers and engagement. Many of the speakers throughout the day put an emphasis especially on the third part of this recipe, saying social media is nothing without engagement; If you’re not answering your readers, you’re not doing it right. 
     
  • Google+ isn’t really a social network: Lawrence Mak, product marketing manager for Adobe, says G+ isn’t a social network that is looking to compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Instead, it’s going to enhance the Google experience with a social layer. And now that Google has integrated G+ with its page-ranking, the power of the +1 will be at the top of the first page of your search results to see.
     
  • Media wants to be spread: Good media these days will transcend one medium. Ric Dragon of DragonSearch Marketing says that content should be able to be shared in a number of different ways that are reflective of the audience that you’re targeting. For instance, the way you promote a story on Twitter might be different than how you frame it on Facebook.  In that vein, Marty Weintraub, CEO of aimClear, noted that a lot of social media is only applicable to those in the inside circle (read: those actively engaged already, which is something Chantal Hébert touched on last week), but great social media will find a way to go beyond that and be universally relevant.
     
  • The difference between Google and Facebook: As Andjelica Martin, director of web marketing and development for M Resort Spa Casino, says: “Facebook is about asking the questions. Google is about giving the answers.” If you’re engaging with your audience on social media, you will likely be asking them questions, then giving them the answers in your content.  
     
  • Boomers vs. Gen-Yers: Sam Fiorella, chief customer experience strategist at Sensei Marketing gave an interesting analogy about the clash of generations when it comes to technology and social media: A group of Boomers and a group of Generation-Yers were given a presentation on social media marketing. Beforehand, the Boomers were provided with a printout of main points, and given a pen and pad of paper to take notes. The Gen-Yers were allowed to bring their laptops, smartphones, or other technology in to take notes. Fiorella said from his perspective leading the presentation, the Boomers seemed hung on every word, while the Gen-Yers were seemingly glued to their gadgets, paying little attention. Afterward, both groups were given an aptitude test based on the presentation. The Gen-Yers out-performed the boomers by a significant margin. The moral of his story was to not shy away from new and social media, but rather, embrace it, as it can help your understanding of how consumers feel about your content.

I also liveblogged the conference, so check that out for a more comprehensive look at the day.