Everything is a' Twitter. And a' Facebook and a' LinkedIn. These social media platforms are changing the way we communicate and receive information. Editors are pressing to integrate social media into their repertoires. It's the new reality that defines the challenges of delivering an editorial product in a new media world.
The economic crunch and the decline of advertising revenue have been particularly devastating to traditional print media. Much has been written in the past few months about the demise of the printed word in an electronic age. Even the venerable New York Times is not safe. To save on printing and paper costs, the Times reduced the trim size (publishing lingo for dimensions) of its Sunday magazine as of the June 14 edition—the Architecture Issue, coincidentally. That is why the proposition of social media becomes even more enticing in a print media–challenged world. Everywhere you look people are talking about its impact. Even Time magazine—a flagship print portal—devoted its June 15 cover story to Twitter.
Twitter is my social media platform of choice (you can follow me at twitter.com/archlighting). I am also on LinkedIn, which I treat as a kind of electronic Rolodex and a way to monitor lighting discussion groups, but I've not yet explored Facebook. For the moment, I've chosen the social media platforms that I see others in the lighting community gravitating toward, and which I feel have the greatest ability to broaden ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING'S reach.
I must admit I was skeptical at first about Twitter. Why would anyone want to know what I am doing throughout the day? But as I soon realized, the beauty of Twitter and the other social media platforms is to imagine uses for which they were not intended. Twitter provides a fantastic way to engage an entirely new audience that was not previously familiar with ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING magazine or even with architectural lighting design in general. Twitter allows me to get news out quickly, drive traffic to content on A|L's website, and share items of interest in the overlapping worlds of architecture, lighting, and design. Twitter gives me a chance to offer quick commentary in 140 characters or less, and to connect to real time events.
Cumulatively, my “tweets” amount to an overview of the editorial process. In the design community there is an active group of editors, critics, and bloggers who are Tweeting away. And in this competitive market, there isn't an architecture or design magazine that I know of that isn't on Twitter. A|L, as far as I can tell, is the only lighting magazine actively using this platform.
At the root of all social media is a desire to connect. As it turns out, short exchanges can be just as meaningful as long debates. With the ability to post from my laptop or Blackberry, I can stay connected to the A|L Twitter community. (Since mid-June, when I started tweeting on a regular basis, A|L has accumulated 84 followers.) With tracking options, I can monitor the reach of my tweets—and I can tell you it's global. As an editor, this is an amazing resource in understanding how wide our net is cast and the type of content that is of interest to our readers—no matter the platform.
Anyone who might question the power or effectiveness of social media need not look that far to see how it has truly transformed our world. From U.S. presidential elections to riots in the streets of Tehran, social media have provided a form of communication and expression not seen before. It offers a voice to those in need of an outlet. In the lighting world, imagine what would have happened with Texas House Bill 2649 if it hadn't been for social media and e-mail? These platforms are powerful tools for practitioners, manufacturers, and organizations. A number of lighting companies along with the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) are using Twitter, and both the IALD and the Illuminating Engineering Society have LinkedIn groups.
At a Lightfair panel discussion of lighting magazine editors that A|L organized this past May, I was surprised by my colleagues' quick dismissal of the internet and social media. Analog vs. digital—each time the communication paradigm shifts, some embrace it, while others fear that the change will come at an intolerable price. The real issue is not whether one medium will replace another—the shift between print and online is already occurring. Rather, it's about maximizing the best features of each, in order to maintain the value for all. There will always be need for the printed page, just as the next generation can't imagine life without social media. The experience of reading the print version of a newspaper is fundamentally different than reading the news online. I would never give up the Sunday Times in print. It's central to my Sunday morning ritual, and I see things when I read the paper that I don't see when I look online. On the other hand, there are experiences that only the web can offer, such as slide shows, videos, and reader comments. A|L is committed to bringing its readers quality content across a diverse array of portals. The medium of delivery may change, but the core skills of communication will always remain.