There once was a Golden Age of Television. During that time, some pioneers of the new media talked about exposing everyday people to opera, theater and fine arts. They talked about proving the sort of information that could build a better-informed electorate.
After a few years, the decision makers decided, ”Screw it. Let’s give the massesI Love Lucyand get rich selling cigarettes and detergent.”
And now, a brief history of social media:
There was once a Golden Age of social media, when people talked about the ability to find useful, interesting, valuable people to talk with all over the world. Businesses of all sizes discovered that there was great value in listening and engaging with customers and other relevant people. What had once been one-directional monologues became two-directional dialogs and most people saw that it was good.
Then the marketers got their hands around the throat of social media strangling engagement and stuffing messages down its throat.
This is where we are at in social media. The medium that has already demonstrated miracles is in danger of becoming the same sort of vast wasteland that TV became.
Here are a few solipsistic observations:
The language has changed. Six months ago, we social media people in large companies were still talking about listening engines and the daunting chalenges of measuring engagement. Now I am hearing about making social media “more transactional,” rather than conversational. That difference can be fatal to quality in a very short period of time.
The org chart has changed. In most large organizations social media started as a skunkworks, set aside from the traditional organization so that they could innovate and even disrupt to help bring companies and customers closer together. Social was seen as an enabling technology, able to serve diverse needs of many departments. With increasing frequency, it is now being moved into marketing, where decision-makers are trying to make it a better marketing tool at the expense of support, recruiting, product development and more. Organizations are back to measuring social media programs in terms of ROI, which makes as little sense as determining the ROI of wearing clothing to a business meeting. There are just some things that have obvious value, but are very hard to measure in dollar value.
Listening is ebbing. Shouting is flooding. A few years back, it was striking to have aDell guy say he was sorry that customers were enraged over support. Or a basketball team owner admitting that the coach overreacted, or the vice chairman of a automaker using a blog to take on an unfair auto review. The sort of startling, human, candid and conversation-igniting stuff is becoming as rare as it was prior to social’s advent. Instead, we are seeing tweets and posts, videos and blogs that are back “on message,” with individuals using the corporate “we” as if they spoke for tens of thousands of fellow employees all marching in happy harmony to the relentless drum beat.
Social media is not yet a vast wasteland by any measure. The Give Lucy-ites have not yet won, and those who consume social content are not about to start hacking from inhaling what the marketers are selling. But in the world, where changes come at the speed of the internet, I see danger here.
What is being lost has enormous strategic and value potential for enterprises that steer the smart course. You can collaborate with customers to make your products better and bring them to market faster. You can use social media to reduce traditional marketing launch costs. You can have a 24/7 focus group comprised of people who care rather than get paid. You can start conversations with the best and brightest members of your community and recruit them as employees, partners or vendors.
All this and so much more. It is not all about to hurl itself into the air and fall onto a spear. But there is danger here and I hope that if you are part of the millions of people who touch upon social media strategies, you give this matter some serious rethinking.