It seems pretty clear that – at least for now – social media is here to stay. New networks continue to pop up, applications of existing networks continue to grow and change, and mobile devices allow us to stay connected to these networks far beyond the reaches of our desks or landlines.
But this begs the question – when will social media truly start to impact those large, traditional institutions – particularly politics – and how can something make the transition from novelty to necessity?
We’ve all heard about Barack Obama’s fund raising success through social media channels, which heralded the arrival of social media as a viable campaign tool. But what happens when the campaign ends? Can social media stay relevant, continue to impact societal choices, and make the voices of so many involved head more clearly? So far, it seems like the answer is “Not really.”
The BP Gulf Oil Spill is a very interesting example of how social media continues to be peripherally related to the events of our world. While there are a huge number of people calling for action, response, and sharing news updates, the bulk of the coverage has surrounded a Twitter parody account, @BPGlobalPR. With more than 10 times the amount of followers of the actual BP PR account, the mere existence of this account even prompted British Petroleum to ask Twitter to intervene on their behalf. While being noticed by traditional media has certainly been a feather in the cap of those behind the @BPGlobalPR account, it seems to have done little to help solve the root of the problem.
Perhaps problems like the oil spill, the financial meltdown, the healthcare debate, and countless other topics are simply too large to tackle through a single channel. Maybe it is simply too much noise and not enough signal in the more than 50 million tweets that happen every single day. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that there are just so many problems that need attention. Most likely, however, the issue lies in the people behind the tweets, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, and blog entries.

These people simply aren’t ready, or enough of them aren’t ready, to enact change. Social Media is, like so many other things, a tool that can be used in whatever way the user sees fit. When people are ready to use social media to make true, lasting, and meaningful changes, Social Media will be there. Until then, we’ll continue with #BieberFever and the World Cup, but keeping our ear to the ground of 50 million strong.