Last week I saw some articles on the web as well as in the newspapers about the death of a child allegedly due to consuming a soft drink. The brand name of this soft drink was not given so I immediately called some of my friends in the media who told me which one it was.
I breathed a sigh of relief, as the brand was not one that was brought to my household. My interest in the story died there and likewise, looking at the consumer response to this tragic death and the alleged causes to it, I would say it was pretty lukewarm i.e. from a social media point of view. I did not see people taking the matter up on Facebook or Twitter. For that matter, there was almost nothing said about it as a follow up even in mainstream media.
A couple of nights ago, I was watching the Bloomberg channel where AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and the co-founder of Huffington Post Arianna Huffington were interviewed on AOL’s recent acquisition of Huffington Post. They were talking about the need to manage user generated content. That was when I realised that we in Sri Lanka have been completely left behind in this social media revolution, which is happening in the world.
Yes, we have Facebook and on the average around 500 friends on it, but the content that is generated on this media is mediocre and frivolous to say the least (you may correct me if I am wrong).
While Twitter users and bloggers use this medium to start revolutions and move ideas across large community groups, here in Sri Lanka there is no danger of that happening. Social media as a medium to create opinion and mobilise change is not something to be taken seriously in the local context.
If you speak to the advertising and marketing community, social media almost tantamount to nothing or plays a minuscule part in their integrated communication plans. While the world is moving from content aggregation to editorial curation, we in Sri Lanka have yet not got to the starting block.
I am not even sure if this is a bad thing, but my question is, are we missing out on something? The standard answers as to why we would not use the internet so much would be one, that the majority of Sri Lankans cannot understand English which is the primary language, and the other, that the nation is not wired enough.
Taking the second problem, I would say that access to the internet is more available than understood, when taking into consideration that most mobile phones today could be used to browse the web. Also, the number of affordable packages available from service providers makes it reachable to the smallest of pockets, not to mention the several CSR initiatives by global IT companies to bridge the digital divide in rural Sri Lanka.
I don’t know how we would overcome the language barrier but if people in other non-English speaking countries are managing to connect successfully on the web, then there should be a way around this.
But at the bottom of it all, is one thing that I see as the real problem. That is people are really poor at content creation, meaning actually writing down what they think in space that is freely available.
This is a weakness that could be considered as one of our genuine shortcomings on a democratic platform in this modern world, where not the power of a vote but just the power of social media can swing situations.
AOL CEO Tim Anderson in his interview on Bloomberg said that the next generation of the internet is going to be all about content.
Here in Sri Lanka, there is a dire need for locally relevant content creation and I believe that the mainstream media cannot be given the sole responsibility for this job.
As the world becomes larger information wise and trillions of gigabits of it are clogged in cyber space, the need to micro manage this information and make it available to local communities is becoming vitally important for the survival of these eco systems.
The Huffington Post, AOL union is planning to do just that in the United States – make internet content relevant to micro communities i.e. designing content uniquely for each community.
In finding a Sri Lankan solution to this, I believe that the most important thing to understand is that dissemination of vital information to small/niche communities is not the responsibility of the mass media. We need other models to do this job!
(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)