Succeeding in the social age: promises and perils amid a pandemic | Sunday Observer

Succeeding in the social age: promises and perils amid a pandemic

12 June, 2021

Social media has increasingly become a part of our daily lives, with respect to its attractiveness. It can have a developmental or detrimental approach towards something or someone. We have often seen how it can jumble fact with fiction in creating chaos. Today’s column is a discussion on the role of social media amidst a planetary pandemic with its associated promises and perils.


“Social media has taken the world by storm, leaving many people in the dust. At long last, we have a survival guide. This lively, timely book is relevant for all of us”, said Adam Grant, Professor at Wharton Business School,  in commenting on the book. Social media is commonly known as social network web sites (SNWs) such as Facebook, MySpace, and the more professionally oriented LinkedIn.  I came across an interesting and insightful book, titled,” a World Gone Social”. The authors Ted Coine and Mark Babbit take us through an important journey in discussing how we have transitioned from the industrial age to what they coin, “the social age.” 

SNWs and related applications (e.g., micro-blogging web sites such as Twitter) also allow recruiters to conduct extensive background checks.  SNWs allow individual users to post personal information on the internet in order to communicate with friends. Twitter allows short weblog (‘‘blog’’) messages of 280 characters (called ‘‘tweets’’) and full social network web sites such as Facebook, Google Buzz, and MySpace allow users to post multiple pages and include photos and videos; friends can also make comments.

Both authors are social media experts. Ted Coine is the co-founder of Switch and Shift, an online community focused on leadership, culture, and change in the Social Age. Recently named a Forbes “Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer,” he lives in Naples, Florida. Mark Babbit is CEO and Founder of YouTern, a social resource for young professionals that Mashable (a digital media network) calls a “Top 5 Online Community for Starting Your Career.” He lives in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.


“The Industrial Age is dead; welcome to the Social Age”. That’s how the authors start the journey. According to them, “social media has proven to be an insurmountable market force, changing how we innovate, collaborate, serve our customers, hire and develop team members, motivate others toward a common mission, communicate with stakeholders, display our character, and demonstrate accountability.”

This isn’t change for the sake of change. Neither is this change to fine-tune the status quo, as we saw in the twentieth century with Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, and the Lean movement, which simply helped bureaucracies function at a more efficient, profitable level. “This is real, systemic change”, observed Ted and Mark.

The book begins with a discussion on the surface changes currently underway — business issues that have caught much attention. The authors discuss how some old-school leaders seem dimly aware of the new era upon us and so are left grasping in the dark, while others remain unconvinced of the power of social media, so they fail to take action. “We’ll also take on those who resist for another reason: the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” crowd, oblivious to the imminent change — and the turf protectors who perhaps have a vested personal interest in resisting social media’s influence,” state the authors. 

“Just like the meteor that likely precipitated the end of the dinosaurs, social media is having a monumental impact on the world economy; a change so dramatic that it has created a new business era. “Welcome to the Social Age”, is the invitation from the book. 


“Although we can brag about our “presence” on social media, there’s a deep and swift undercurrent of discontent”, observe Ted and Mark. Especially among enterprise leaders, the sentiment seems to be: “Social is all hype” and “Social isn’t working for us.” According to them, the resistance seems to come from several different camps:

* Those rooted in the belief that social media is a fad and will go the way of the Rolodex, fax machine, and VHS.

* Those living in a comfortable state of ignorance: “If I don’t know it, it can’t be that big a deal.”

* Those who view social media from a “sales have never been better; our quarterly report was great; why change now?” mentality.

* Those who are afraid to lose the control they have now as leaders (and our experience shows there are more old-schoolers in this camp than we would like to admit). They don’t want change, because it effectively means the end of their power.

The authors comment on this resistance and relate it to the arrogance of some leaders who are reluctant to change. They highlight a true incident that took place in in October 1998 off the coast of Kerry, Ireland:

Irish: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south, to avoid a collision.

British: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.

Irish: Negative. Divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision. British: This is the captain of a British navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course. Irish: Negative. I say again, you will have to divert YOUR course.

British: This is the aircraft carrier HMS Britannia! We are the second largest ship in the British Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that is 15 degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship and her crew.

Irish: We are a lighthouse. Your call.

Obviously, arrogance prevented reaching out and knowing the truth. The way I see it is that the time has come to shift the “dinosaur mindset” to a “dynamic mindset” with more willingness to embrace change.  


Generation Y, or the Millennials are considered as “digital  natives”. When they make up the majority of the workforce, the workforce thinks much differently. In today’s workforce, many of us trust each other and communicate more, and in turn, we’re more authentic and open to input and criticism. Many of us invite collaboration from all sources — even from our competition, when mutually beneficial. More than anything else, we’re more cooperative, and more social.  “As organisations and leaders, we must adapt to this social, collaborative, open environment — or we simply won’t survive” observe the authors. For many organisations still entrenched in old- fashioned Industrial Age – style management practices, it may be too late. 

Ted and Mark present evidence to prove that  enabled by social, the human side of business grows exponentially. Here are the salient points highlighted by them:

 In the form of freelancers, competition in our new economy sprouts up at will. With little or no infrastructure, minuscule start-up costs, and next-to-nothing monthly expenses, they launch in a matter of days— and gain immense traction, even when competing against corporate giants— through social media.

 Customers, no longer beholden to marketing departments or advertising agencies for guidance or input, confer with each other; they compare notes, thoughts, and experiences about the companies with which they and their vast networks do business.

 One person, with a Twitter account and a lot of passion, can hobble corporate titans, media outlets, politicians, and others with less-than-honourable ambitions.

 Expertise has become democratic; in less than an hour and for zero dollars, anyone can establish him- or herself as an expert — or an expert critic— in any industry.

 Without corporate consent (or even knowledge), employees collaborate with each other, as well as with vendors, with customers, and even with competitors.

Job seekers ask current employees (as well as past employees, vendors, customers, partners, public forums, and personal networking contacts) what working at the company is really like; in the process, they mute the canned, inauthentic messages of recruiters and public relations departments.

Highly competitive human resources departments — those effectively attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent in our new economy— are becoming human again (the rest are accelerating their companies’ collective plunge toward extinction).

Through digital self- learning, knowledge is everywhere.

The “powers that be” — those previously able to hoard knowledge— are now impotent rulers, the “powers that were.”

In such a backdrop, let us see the relevance of SNWs to a world ravaged by a continuing contagion. A recent publication of the World Health Organization (WHO), titled,  “Social media & COVID-19: A global study of digital crisis interaction among Gen Z and Millennials” sheds much light in this regard. 

Glimpses of a global study 

Although young people are less at risk of severe disease from COVID-19, they are a key group in the context of this pandemic and share in the collective responsibility to help us stop transmission. They are also the most active online, interacting with an average number of 5 digital platforms (such as, Twitter, TikTok, WeChat and Instagram) daily.

According to the WHO report, to better understand how young adults engage with technology during this global communication crisis, an international study was conducted, covering approximately 23,500 respondents, aged 18-40 years, in 24 countries across five continents. This project was a collaboration between the World Health Organization (WHO), Wunderman Thompson, the University of Melbourne and Pollfish. With data collected from late October 2020 to early January 2021, the outcomes provide key insights on where Gen Z and Millennials seek COVID-19 information, who they trust as credible sources, their awareness, and actions around false news, and what their concerns are. 

As the report observed, when asked what Covid-19 information (if any) they would likely post on social media, 43.9% of respondents, male and female, reported they would likely share “scientific” content on their social media. This finding appears to buck the general trend on social media where funny, entertaining, and emotional content spread fastest. More than half (59.1%) of Gen Z and Millennials surveyed are “very aware” of “fake news” surrounding COVID-19 and can often spot it. However, the challenge is in recruiting them to actively counter it, rather than letting it slide, with many (35.1%) just ignoring it.

According to the said survey findings, Centennials (Generation Z) and Millennials (Generation Y)  have multiple worries beyond getting sick. While it is often suggested that young adults are ‘too relaxed’ and do not care about the crisis, this notion is not reflected in the data, with over 90% of respondents were very concerned or somewhat concerned about the risk of infection. Beyond getting sick themselves, the top concern of respondents (55.5%) was the risk of friends and family members contracting Covid-19, closely followed by the economy crashing (53.8%).

The report highlights the need to navigate their digital world safely and make choices to not only protect their health but also the health of their families and communities. These insights can help health organisations, governments, media, businesses, educational institutions, and others sharpen their health communication strategies. Ensuring policy and recommendations are relevant to young people in a climate of misinformation, skepticism, and fear.

Way forward 

We have seen the media reports of the good, the bad and the ugly use of facebook in Sri Lanka. Some spend more time connected with facebook friends without even showing their face to the loved ones near and dear. With the presence of over 10 million Sri Lankan users of the internet, the increasing trend of using the SNWs for multiple purposes is obvious. The necessity to work from home has further intensified it. 

There may be policy issues and procedure inadequacies. Yet, the fact remains that the emerging workforce is more tech-savvy and internet-friendly. Rising popularity of the internet usage for socially critical events such as releasing of exam results, utility payment gateways is a promising sign. Much could be done with both creativity and control in order to ensure reaping the richness of social age.