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20 Best TED Talks for Students of Social Media

Posted on Monday November 28, 2011 by Staff Writers

As a student of social media, you undoubtedly know the impact that social media has had on the world. You have the opportunity to see it live in action every day and learn more about its history and future through your studies. TED talks can expand on that, giving some of the brightest minds in the world of social media and beyond a platform for sharing their views and insights, which can offer excellent learning opportunities for you. Be sure to check out these TED talks for a unique look into the world of social media.

  1. James Surowiecki: When social media became news

    In 2011, we’re all pretty familiar with the impact of social media on the news. When a plane crashed into New York’s Hudson River in 2009, it was a Twitter user who broke the news. And social media frequently makes news, including when it accelerated the uprising in Egypt this year. But back in 2005, social media was not as prominent as it is today, and it took a tsunami for social media to earn its status as an equal player in news-gathering. In this talk, James Surowiecki discusses the 2005 tsunami, and what he believes is the pinpointed moment that social media really showed off what it could do in the news, as YouTube videos, blogs, IMs and texts shared the news and personal stories from the storm.

  2. Howard Rheingold: The new power of collaboration

    The beauty of social media is that it’s not created by any one person. A Twitter timeline or Facebook news feed would be pretty uninteresting if it was just one friend or company that you could tune into. Rather, social media is made up of many different people, collaborators working alongside each other, and sometimes together. Howard Rheingold explores this idea of collaboration online, as well as its future in participatory media and collective action. Specifically, Rheingold takes a look at how Wikipedia really reflects our natural human instincts to work as a group.

  3. Stefana Broadbent: How the Internet enables intimacy

    The Internet gets a bad rap for making people closed off, and sometimes, it’s true. Take any teenager that spends hours locked up in their room, eyes barely moving off the computer screen. Or the young social media mavens who can’t put their smart phones down long enough to have a real-life conversation with the people they’re dining with. Certainly, online communication offers a way to shut out the real world if you’d like to, but Stefana Broadbent believes it’s doing the exact opposite. In Broadbent’s research, she shows that communication tech actually offers a way to improve upon intimacy. Watch her talk to see how through online interactions, we can cultivate deeper relationships, as well as bring love across distance and workplace barriers.

  4. Clay Shirky: How social media can make history

    Social media offers a unique way for the masses to have a voice. In countries where the news media is often controlled by the government, real news doesn’t always make it out, and a “top-down” control of news means that citizens in repressive regimes may not be able to share their stories. In this talk, Clay Shirky discusses how citizens can use Facebook, Twitter, and texts to bypass censors and report on real news.

  5. Erik Hersman on reporting crisis via texting

    During a crisis or disaster, phone lines often go down, but texts may still go through, giving people on the ground the opportunity to share what’s going on without ever actually talking to someone on the phone. In this talk, Erik Hersman discusses Ushahidi, a Google Maps mashup used in Kenya following the 2008 elections. The tool allowed Kenyans and outside observers to report and track violence using cell phone texts, potentially saving lives while also reporting the news and growing awareness. Watch this talk to see how it worked, and how it’s evolving to save lives in other countries.

  6. Johanna Blakely: Social media and the end of gender

    In the past, demographics have been fairly straightforward and easy to read, giving media and advertising companies a simple view of audiences. But with social media and online use, demographics are becoming increasingly harder to track. Media researcher Johanna Blakely discusses how the growth of social media and number of women using online tools has impacted demographics, and how they’ll change the future of media.

  7. Seth Godin on the tribes we lead

    According to Seth Godin, the rise of social media has also given rise to a revived human social unit from the past: tribes. Mass marketing is being increasingly edged out by organically formed tribes of people who share ideas and values online. In this type of social grouping, Godin argues, ordinary people are given the power to lead, as well as make big change. Watch his talk to see how it all works and why you should be taking advantage of it.

  8. Seth Godin on standing out

    In a world full of creators, how do you make your one tiny voice stand out among the masses? First, you watch this TED talk from marketing guru Godin. In this talk, Godin explains why people typically ignore ordinary stuff, and what exactly gets our attention. Specifically, Godin discusses why bad or bizarre ideas really stand out, even doing better than boring ones. If you really want to find out how to make your voice heard in social media and beyond, be sure to check out this talk.

  9. Adam Ostrow: After your final status update

    Students and fans of social media likely have a pretty lively social media presence. Your virtual personality is made up of your status updates, tweets, photos, and comments, and it’s all stored in the cloud. It stays alive because you keep it going, continually updating with your latest activities, but older activities live on as well in the cloud. Like a book read long after the author’s death, your social media presence may live on even after you’re long gone. Watch this talk from Adam Ostrow to learn about what happens to your social media personality after your final status update.

  10. Nicholas Christakis: The hidden influence of social networks

    There’s no denying that social networks can be influential. With event notifications to news stories, people get their news these days from others around them, and what they see is absolutely impacted by what the people in their social network share. Nicholas Christakis discusses how social networks can spread traits, including happiness and obesity, from person to person. Watch this talk for a fascinating look into how social networks can impact your life and even change your personality.

  11. Evan Williams on listening to Twitter users

    One of the greatest things social media has taught us in recent years is that the knowledge of crowds can be more valuable than you might think. Given useful and agile tools, people can take an idea and do amazing things with it, things that its creator may not have ever imagined. Twitter is one such tool, and co-founder Evan Williams offers great insight into the knowledge of Twitter users. In this talk, Williams takes a look at how Twitter exploded in size, and specifically, how its growth came from unexpected uses that were invented, not by Twitter itself, but by Twitter users.

  12. Alexis Ohanian: How to make a splash in social media

    In a world of inane Internet memes including Hamster Dance and Rickrolling, how can you possibly make sense of what ultimately rises to fame online? Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, explains how web stardom works in this quick talk that highlights the rise of Mister Splashy Pants, a humpback whale who is Internet famous. If you’re interested in social media marketing and meme-making, this is essential viewing.

  13. Paul Lewis: Crowdsourcing the news

    With social media, the next big news story might just be broken by you. Just about every cell phone can record video, take photos, and upload it all to the Internet, turning every Twitter stream into a potential 24 hour news channel. Reporter Paul Lewis shares this talk that explains the future of investigative journalism through crowdsourcing.

  14. Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

    When you get the news from carefully selected news sources of your choosing, whether they are Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, or blogs, you are creating a filter for yourself whether you realize it or not. By following news outlets that typically only report the news you want to hear, you’re essentially avoiding all other news, and you just might be missing out on important information. Eli Pariser discusses this phenomenon, which he calls a “filter bubble” that may keep people from getting exposed to information that could challenge or broaden their worldview. Watch this talk to find out why this is very bad for democracy and our future.

  15. Rebecca MacKinnon: Let’s take back the Internet

    Social media is so prominent, it sure seems like people rule the Internet. But the hard truth is that there’s a growing struggle of freedom and control online, and your rights to free speech and connection may be challenged. In this talk, Rebecca MacKinnon discusses this struggle, and discusses how we can design the Internet to have accountability and freedom rather than control for a better online future.

  16. Wael Ghonim: Inside the Egyptian revolution

    The Egyptian revolution, which rocked the world and further proved the worth of social media as a powerful tool, showed us that by using the right resources, “the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.” Egyptians shared their story through social media networks, giving power and voice to everyday Egyptians. Wael Ghonim is one of those Egyptians, but he is also a Google executive. He created a Facebook page to memorialize a victim of the regime’s violence, and helped jumpstart the entire democratic revolution. Watch his talk to get the inside story, and learn more about how social media gave an incredible gift to Egypt.

  17. Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world

    With Facebook and Twitter capturing our social lives online, pretty much everyone is familiar with the “social layer” that exists on top of the real world. But Seth Priebatsch believes we’re not going to stop there, adding another layer that’s already in progress: the “game layer.” This new layer is set to have a great impact, reshaping education and commerce through behavior-steering game dynamics. Watch Seth Priebatsch’s talk to learn more about this new “game layer” and how it may impact your life and education.

  18. Ethan Zuckerman: Listening to global voices

    The world wide web is, in all reality, world wide. Yet for so many of us, we fail to listen to the entire world online, typically just listening to people who are similar to ourselves. Personal preferences, communication barriers, and technical difficulties often make it difficult for online users to get stories from the entire world, but Ethan Zuckerman thinks we should be able to change that. Watch his talk to learn about how you can open up your Twitter to stay on top of the news in languages you can’t even read.

  19. Mena Trott on blogs

    These days it seems like everyone has a blog, from cats to possibly your very own mother. Anyone can become an icon and news outlet with enough compelling content and marketing savvy, and now that blogging is so prominent, it seems that we sometimes take for granted the incredible gift that this freedom of speech really is. Mena Trott remembers a day when blogging was just getting started, because as the creator of Movable Type, she is the founding mother of the blog revolution. In this talk, Trott discusses her realization that we can build a friendlier, more connected world just by giving people the ability to share their lives and passions online.

  20. Yossi Vardi fights local warming

    While Mena Trott takes a look at the value of blogging, Yossi Vardi takes a look at the dangers of it. When using a laptop, men in particular experience what Vardi calls “local warming,” something that you should be worried about. Watch his talk to find out exactly what he’s talking about and what you can do to protect yourself.