The Social Media Equation: Randomness+Dispersion+Speed=Contagion

It’s no secret that media has turned social. The Internet’s merry band of strangers have created their own encyclopedia, their own products, their own language, their own movements, their own voice. Individuals are creating their own books, photographs, music, video, film, and movements. It’s all out there to be spotted, heard, blogged, chatted, and tweeted. It falls around us like rain, as we splash together in the wet zone of social media.

As we have witnessed from the clouds now covering the digital storm, all this activity can be puffed up and cumulated like Facebook, Twitter and Google, or run high and thin on the hundreds of thousands of blogs posted everywhere.

The lines between traditional and social media have been drawn.

Traditional media is a hierarchy of branded publishers, producers, editors and other curators who have given themselves the authority to shout. Social media is shared on Facebook walls, and whispered in millions of txts, tweets, and conversations by random personalities all over the globe. Citizens. Influence is not traditional top-down hierarchies, it’s side to side, it’s back and forth, and it’s upside down.

Such civic complicity is not necessarily new. Our sharing pool used to be the Monday morning water cooler. The advocacy magazine Consumer Reports launched in the 1950s to provide objective advice that was effectively peer-to-peer.

But today’s social media shift is more dramatic, more dispersed and the nanosecond magnitude of global sharing is unprecedented.

Examples. Not only is three-letter acronym “LOL” ubiquitous in China, Moscow and Mill Valley, but social contagion also accounts for Lady Gaga becoming a worldwide celebrity in little more than two years (it’s no accident that Lady G also has the highest ranked Facebook page).

What’s more, the fact that Lady Gaga’s community—and the other billion people online—are conversing with people they’ve never met in Singapore, Shanghai and Sao Paulo is transformational.

Even though those conversations have only been possible for a few years, now it’s almost taken for granted. The dispersion of ideas, concepts and (sometimes) misinformation has never been greater, and the potential for even further conversations is exponential.

What’s different about right now is that randomness, dispersion, and speed, not only seem routine. They spark globally contagious wildfire.

Note how even after Egypt’s Mubarek promised to concede rule in favor of September elections, mobile citizens continued to gather and push in both virtual and physical realities, until Mubarek toppled.

Within weeks, YouTube videos can go from a few thousand views to hundreds of thousands and then exponentially reach millions.

To remind us just how connected the flat crowd is, LEGO enthusiasts who were once brand outsiders relegated to garages and basements, now have the inside track with over 700,000 LEGO citizen-generated videos posted on YouTube. It would take from now until 2015 to watch them all.

Another reminder. We are no longer consumers, we are citizens.

For citizens who are connected, the number one medical resource is not the traditional (read hierarchical) family physician, but each other.

Sure, mothers go to WebMD.com, and Mayo Clinic.com, but they also go to parenting sites to research symptoms, diseases, as well as the potions, side effects and complications, prescribed for them.

When Obama raised half a billion dollars online through the social network (while Hilary Clinton prolonged her campaign using her own checkbook), it was the statement of social net worth that declared which candidate was truly of and by the people.

Disregarding the citizen chit chat (e.g. “I’m at the airport headed for LALA”), Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have played important roles, reminding us that while all politics is local, it’s also global. The contagion that forced out authoritarian leaders in the Arab world happened under the communal lens of the entire world.

What is perhaps most interesting, is how the social media equation has dulled our communal citizen’s sense of wonder.

The swirl of nonstop streaming info and twitterific sound bytes is mind splattering. Tunisia and Egypt toppled only a month ago and while the fact that the contagion is spreading and hierarchies are toppling like dominos is in fact revolutionary, the communal sense is that it’s already mainstream.

Time for another tweet.

Where does it all end? No one can say for sure. What does it all lead to? No one can say for sure. But being flat as it is, with nothing standing in its way, such social contagion is the great flood. And whether you swim along or build a boat, we’re all in it together.