The trick to understanding and effectively harnessing social media (aka 'new media,' 'Web 2.0') is getting the idea of community, not channel.
The cover story in Newsweek offers a good introduction to social media for those people interested in what MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, del.ici.ous, and even RSS are all about, but have been afraid to ask.
Less than a decade ago, when we were first getting used to the idea of an Internet, people described the act of going online as venturing into some foreign realm called cyberspace. But that metaphor no longer applies. MySpace, Flickr and all the other newcomers aren't places to go, but things to do, ways to express yourself, means to connect with others and extend your own horizons. Cyberspace was somewhere else. The Web is where we live.
And add to your social media reading list this piece by Danah Boyd on whether MySpace and similar social networking sites are fads or not.
A huge part of the success of MySpace is an age and culture thing. Part of being an American teen is figuring out who you are, how you fit into society and culture, how social relations work, etc. Part of this process involves sharing cultural objects, hanging out and trying out different self-performances to find the one that feels "right" (think Goffman "faces").
His analysis of the difference between the success (and ultimate collapse) of Friendster and the continuing growth of MySpace draws a conclusion that echoes our call for health communications and social marketing programs to reflect the reality of the audience: Social technologies succeed when they fit into the social lives and practices of those who engage with the technology.
Thanx to Steve Rubel and the MIT Advertising Lab for these two leads.