Friday, December 2, 2011

The physics of Social Media

Newton's laws of motion are three basic rules of physics that govern how forces and things behave when you start to involve movement.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton's_laws_of_motion

And strangley, as I observe Social Media being used by a growing number of organisations I meet, this has made me think back to my old physics lessons I had as a boy. I've therefore asked myself if there is any similarity between the laws that Sir Isaac Newton came up with and certain behaviour around the adoption & use of Social Media.

First law:
The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.
(Or to translate that... you carry on at the same rate unless something pushes you in a different direction)
Now you've probably heard loads of examples where social media allowed disparate individuals to communicate and act, however their velocity is anything but constant. Some trends go as quickly as they come, whilst others linger and develop..... often with no logical reason.
But like Newton's apple, everything in the real world (e.g. not in outer space) is subject to gravity, including some Social Media ideas that quickly bring users down to Earth with a bump.
E.g. the recent "Qantas Luxury" hashtag campaign that spectacularly backfired on them.

Second law:
The acceleration of a body is parallel and directly proportional to the net force and inversely proportional to the mass.
For this I initially thought you could substitute the word "body" for the word "rumour" and the law still stands. A single person can post an opinion on a blog and it is instantly put out into the digital ecosystem (albeit with very little impact or velocity). But get a few people agreeing with this opinion and it becomes amplified and accelerated across the social web.
However mass (aka substance or Klout) does play a role in determining the proportion of the effect Social Media has. For example a 'retweet' of a charitable cause on Twitter by a popular person such as a celebrity will have far more effect that someone with very few followers doing the same.

Third law:
Newton stated in his third law of motion that "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction" and this is never more true than when new technologies and processes are involved. You see, for every person who is an adopter and user of social media, there's a person who is only too happy to highlight the risks and negative side.

Regardless of the rules, its clear that Social Media (like my old Physics classmates and I) still has a lot of learning ahead.
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