We Are Not (That) Social Media

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Social media was not supposed to act like traditional media.

In fact, one could argue that everything we thought was possible about connectivity and social media could best be understood by reading the business book classic, The Cluetrain Manifesto. The anchor quote from that book was, “markets are conversations.” Let’s roll with that. Would you agree that if you were to split up your marketing efforts by traditional media and social media that your social media activity acts like a conversation?

Before we go any further…

I would guess that most brands have abandoned ship on this concept. It’s a well known turn-of-phrase that social media is anything but social. And, to truly get any results of marketing efficacy, you have to embrace the fact that social media is now a paid media channel. In other words… no reach or amplification without paying for it. That may sound depressing. Still, can anyone truly argue with this sentiment? For over a decade, I have been writing posts, here on this blog (going into my fourteenth year, to be exact). Through that time, the sentiment of all things related to Six Pixels of Separation (the blog, the podcast, writing for other publications, radio appearances, public speaking, business books, etc…) has been that the content you consume from me should incite you to create a better brand for yourself and/or open up your thinking in a way that would enable you to add your own commentary. Why? Why was I breaking the golden rule of social media so early on? Simply put: I wanted to add my voice to the discourse without the gatekeepers. I did not have faith that a true community or conversation was actually taking place. A community is not having a lot of followers. For me, a true community would only arise when others who I am connected to started connecting to one another. When those individuals have voices that are equal to mine… and beyond. That’s a tall order, when I’m the one creating the text, images, audio and video. Yes, we are all here for a similar reason. Yes, by the pure definition of the word “community” we are a social group who have common interests. Still, just how social are we? In terms of conversation, what do we really have? Candidly, we see a lot of content with some likes, shares and comments. Is that actually a conversation? Seems more like differing levels of engagement, over actual conversation.

What if social media is no longer social media? 

That’s the other side. I used to be a journalist and a publisher of magazines. Pre-social media, if you had ideas to share, you needed someone else’s platform… because they owned the audience. They were – as Seth Godin best describes them – the “gatekeepers.” Social media got rid of the gatekeepers. Actually, that’s not true. The gatekeepers still exist. They’ve just moved from owning what content is published (think about magazines, newspapers, radio stations and television networks) to owning the platform where everyone is a publisher (think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google and Snapchat). So, the media channels evolve with how people use them. Suddenly celebrities, politicians, business leaders and others realize the power has shifted. Suddenly, they test their newfound ability to have a direct relationship with their fans, followers, etc… It’s powerful. Some become influencers on this platform. These platforms wind up creating celebrities on their own. It’s a fascinating social experiment. We trust someone with a verified account and followers because… well, they have a verified account and followers. Now, people like me (and you) no longer need the “permission” of your industry’s top trade publication to get your message out. When done well, you become a media channel on your own. 

The (social) media is now messy. 

The problem, of course, is what we’ve now become. These channels are not social. The people with the most followers make a lot of noise. Because they are speaking directly to their audience, there is no form of fact-checking or journalism to provide an opposing view or more depth. It’s broadcasting, in its purest form. No conversation. No discourse. Statements are taken as truth and fact. Lines are being drawn in the sand. The spirit of the media is all but lost. Personally, this is my struggle. For all that I had anticipated from social media, it has become. With that, the power of building these communities, conversations and new voices is present for some. People like me (and you) have this platform. People like me (and you) can create, care and share. It has your best interest at heart. With that, the other side is terrifying. We’re seeing a hollowing out of traditional media, which is killing journalism. We’re accepting opinions as facts. We’re not that media savvy. We’re not forcing people to better study and understand media (hence, the rise of fake news). We’re following those who are most like us. We are making our world views that much smaller, each and every day. Make no mistake about it, this was not the promise of social media. Make no mistake about it, the average person is taking the merits of a tweet with the same level of acceptance as a six-month investigation by a crack team of seasoned journalism veterans. If we want better. We have to be better.   

I wish markets could become conversations… again… still.