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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Myth of Social Media



As much as it pains me to admit it, I'm no spring chicken.  I've been rattling around the advertising and marketing neighborhoods since the technological marvel that was the fax machine.  Now there's a technology that live up to its promise:  No more expensive overnight shipping. No more delays.  Just feed the document into the fax and within a few minutes, your opposite-coast client had the goods in his hands.

Everyone used it, because of its real, positive impact on their lives.

So as pleased as we were with the fax, you can only imagine the thrill with which we received e-mail, another technology that proved even better than the fax:  Not only was e-mail faster, it was free of charge and carried more kinds of data than a printed page.  We could attach sound, video and just about anything that could be digitized and opened on the other end.

Everyone used it, because of its real, positive impact on their lives.

Then along came social media -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and a few billion other services, most of which never really took off.  Social media was supposed to take us to the next level, connecting a planet of individuals through common interests in order to....well, nobody really figured out that part.  So while the advertising, marketing and media posers continually hawk social media as the Next Big Thing, inquiring minds can't help but ask what real, tangible gains are to be realized from it.

Don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate an entity's ability to garner billions of humans on to one common platform.  That's an amazing achievement.  The problem is that linking billions of humans is, in itself, no big deal.  In fact, it's nothing really new: the Catholic church passed that milestone generations ago, arguably with two thousand year old technology. 

By itself, merely roping dopes together in one place serves no purpose for anyone, anywhere.  Which is why, if you look really, really closely, you'll find a giant, sucking vacuum where the true, positive success of social media was supposed to be by now.  While by some standards a viral video of a giggling baby or a dancing lolcat might register a few million hits, those hits don't translate into anything positive for anyone.  It's been years since the promise of social media was made and never fulfilled.  In fact, there have been more social media failures than anything else.

"Hey," I can hear the retorts now, "What about the Arab Spring?  It was a series of real political events that couldn't have happened without Facebook and Twitter.  It caused regime changes!"  That's very true.  Nothing stirs up a mob faster than a photo on Facebook or a tactical tweet.  But step back from that Arab Spring and what positive results do you really see?  Nothing.  At this writing, the Arab Spring has deteriorated into their Nuclear Winter, spreading lawlessness, anarchy and for the most part, public grief.

You want to thank social media for that?  Go right ahead.

The old expression that "nothing spreads faster than bad news" was never more true than it is with social media.  And while pundits will herald the rare exceptions, the vast majority of digital wildfire is fanned by the winds of scandal and negativity.  Lots of attention to "raising the awareness" of various problems that never get solved. Like the child struggling with ADHD, most social media causes are forgotten almost as soon as they're posted, usually displaced by the latest celebrity arrest.  

Think I'm out of line?  How about this:  Whatever happened with that Joseph Kony thing?

Thus far, I'm convinced that social media is really good at one thing, however:  Convincing innocent, unknowing clients that their marketing agencies are really doing something to earn the fees they charge for managing social media.  I, for one, have still not seen any convincing, positive, this-will-put-money-in-your-pocket, tangible results from any social media campaign.  Lots of theory.  Lots of hype.  But when the smoke clears, not a whole lot of positive results.  

If you know of any, I'd love to hear about them.  You can e-mail me.  Or if that doesn't work, try the fax.