Yesterday I spent the evening watching the Dutch soccer team play against Italy in the European Cup 2008 tournament. It was a great game for us. Holland beat Italy with 3-0 and that is a great score against the current world champion. I thought about it this morning and I realized that a sport event of this magnitude can have such impact on social behavior. I haven’t seen the official figures yet but I’m betting that more than 75% of the entire population in Holland watched that game (including baby’s and very old people). In Italy the same thing most likely. They watched it at home, with friends, at work with colleagues or at a local pub on a big screen. You don’t want to watch a soccer match on your own, there is no fun in it. You need to watch it with as many as possible.
What is even more interesting is that the clear winner of this media battle is a very old-fashioned, traditional channel. It’s TV of course. TV is by far the most social media channel known to man. Some of you social media junkies reading this might think “Is this guy an idiot?”. Well, maybe, but just think about it for a second. TV is an incredibly powerful social media channel. Not because it is interactive (it isn’t). Not because you can discuss the thing you are watching with a gazillion others in real-time (you can’t). Not because every user has a unique profile you can look up and engage with (not possible). Not because it is a 2-way medium (no way). TV is old-fashioned broadcasting. You don’t get to choose, it just serves you the images some TV director decides to show. But you can’t say it isn’t a social medium. Not after millions of people watched that game. It’s just that the social behavior isn’t taking place on the media channel, it takes place because of the media channel. The soccer match brought us all a reason to get together. It isn’t the match or the outcome, it’s that the match gave us a reason to get together and socialize.
I can’t think of a more powerful social media channel than the TV broadcasting a major event. TSure, there are millions of people on MySpace, Facebook. Even more that watch video’s on YouTube or comment on weblogs. But a major TV event can bring hundreds of millions of people to a screen the size of some 30 inches or so. In most cases it’s the major sports events, the Olympic games, some major athletic event, soccer, American football, whatever. And these people engage with the screen. They scream, cheer, curse, cry, hug, and probably show every emotion possible during a match.
It is something the web just isn’t capable of capturing. No matter what social network or service is launched. You just can’t get hundred of millions of people showing that much interaction or emotions together. You just can’t socialise like that in virtual space. Why? I don’t think it is the content or the services on the web.
I think that the real reason for it is that the technology we use to access the web, our social networks, our interaction services are A-social. That is, they do not allow us to use it in a social way. It is impossible to surf the web with two people at the same time sitting behind a computer. You can’t interact on a mobile with more than one person holding it. You can’t socialise on a social network while five of your friends are trying to join in while in the same room. The technology is aimed at a single person using it. That same technology doesn’t allow us to user more than 1 or two senses at the same time. It sucks you in, and shuts off your ability to interact with the environment you are in. Just try it out. Get a room full of people, sit behind you laptop, try to engage in some interaction on the web, and at the same time have a meaningful conversation with your friends. It just doesn’t work. Web technology may have brought us the ability to interact using any social media. But it also makes us all lone rangers, sitting behind our computer screens, desperately trying to interact digitally while the rest of the world has meaningful interactions in the physical world. The keyboard or mobile phone as input device. It just doens’t make us social. It makes us very isolated.
Social interaction on the web is a very poor surrogate for the real thing. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Social Interaction on the web brings us fun and pleasure too. But engaging in social interaction in the physical world, enjoying the conversations, being surrounded by real people, being able to feel and display the emotions sort of makes the a bit stale doesn’t it?
That is what social media should be about. It isn’t about the technical capabilities, about the 20 ways we can interact digitally with content or people. It is about stimulating social interaction in the both the digital AND physical world. Get your users to interact with their physical world through the content or service you provide digitally. Forget the traffic, the page views, the downloads. Get people to interact with each other over the stuff you provide them. That is what gets people excited. That is what makes hundred of millions of users sit in front of a screen and share their emotions. Maybe the good old TV isn’t that bad after all.