What happened to the idea that social media would be a different kind of media?
As I sat in the airport lounge at SFO, I attempted not to watch the U.S. Presidential coverage on CNN. But, like an accident that you just can’t help but to slow down and take a peek at, there it was. Two contenders. One, a first-term President with his dress shirt sleeves rolled up, posturing, pointing fingers, folding his arms, sometimes aggressive in his words and sometimes quiet and thoughtful. His opponent, with his dress shirt sleeves rolled up, posturing, pointing fingers, folding his arms, sometimes aggressive in his words and sometimes quiet and thoughtful. We look to these individuals to lead us. We look to these individuals and ask them, "what have you done for me lately?" I’m amazed and baffled by this (I’m allowed to feel like this, I’m Canadian… this is only a spectator sport for me). How can we expect any kind of radical change in these past four years at such scale… what about these next four years? Bad news for some… good news for others: neither of these men can save you. Look for salvation within. The next time you’re asking yourself if any of these individuals helped you in the past four years or can help you in the next four years, start reflecting on how much skin you actually put into the game? How much better did you make your life in these past four years? How much better will your life be because of your own actions in the next four years? Don’t rely on the government (you don’t have to)… so, what’s your plan? To frame this: the iPad didn’t exist four years ago. In short, radical change can happen, but very few actually have the wherewithal to pull it off and bring everyone along with them (RIP, Steve Jobs).
Back to social media.
We we’re promised change. Change we can believe in. It wasn’t just a TV ad or a poster or sermon from a lectern. It became a battlecry that average people wrapped up in their arms, embraced and danced with it. Young people took off to join the circus. Older people did whatever they could to change the system that we had for a newer system. Social media was seen as the game-changer… and who doesn’t hate the words "game changer"? Chris Hughes left Facebook to help leverage social media for social change. It worked, didn’t it? For years following the election, the speaker circuit and business book shelves were littered with content about this social media case study master-class (check out Rahaf Harfoush‘s book, Yes We Did). Whether it was Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or beyond, this beacon of change was using the channels for what these channels do best: enabling a real connection between real human beings. Social media humanized the political game.
In this election, who is making social media work best? The tweets, the online video, the online social networking pages, the websites, the blogs… they’re all missing the social media story, aren’t they? Do either of these gentleman do anything but use social media as another free broadcasting engine within their mass media arsenal? For my dollar, this is the big story. Why isn’t the same person who used social media to create a movement that brought them to the highest elected office in the land doing that all over again? Why has social media become so homogenous?
It’s not just the President, is it?
The cool veneer of social media is thinning when it comes to presidential elections and big brands. Media pundits (like me) throw out terms like "transmedia," "brand narrative," "marketing ecosystem." None of those terms work, unless the brand is willing to do the hard work of acting like a human being, of using these channels to publish how they think and feel in text, images, audio and video. Instead of extending the brand story and pushing it down deeper by connecting through honesty and humility, it seems like everyone – from the President down – is starting to take a few steps in the wrong direction. Sadly. Brands are questioning the value of marketing on Facebook. Ironically, they’re not questioning what they’re putting into the channel. Why is that? In a world where disruption is everywhere for the consumer, is it incumbent on the media channel to do anything but give you access to the people who are connected there? If marketing on Facebook isn’t working for you, maybe you’re not doing enough to make it work? How interesting is your brand?
It’s a lesson I wish these two Presidential candidates would take to heart. It’s a lesson I wish many brands would take to heart as well.