When social networks like Facebook really started to emerge, circa 2006 and 2007, one of the primary success drivers was the voice it gave to those who previously struggled to be heard. This phenomenon really began with bloggers since blogs and free platforms like WordPress gave them an outlet to share their ideas and opinions.
The Golden Age of Social Media
Some of these bloggers looked at this new form of media as a hobby or something lighthearted. They began compiling recipes or created a persona online. Others looked at it as their opportunity to be included with the big boys. For instance, websites such as Mashable began as a blog, but now are viewed as a news source like so many other traditional media players.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that many of those bloggers that began as a hobby have now created their own business venture out of it. Ree Drummond, also known as the Pioneer Woman, is a perfect example of this. Her blog became exceedingly popular, and as a result, the Food Network added her to its roster by giving her a show!
Social Media Growing Pains
As this was happening on blogs, social media networks like Facebook and Twitter helped these blogs to go viral, which created, yet again, a new type of voice and even more opportunities to be heard. Social networks also allowed grassroots groups to be empowered to advocate change. Some of this chatter, however, began to become mindless. Twitter was known as the network for telling the world what you had for breakfast.
The discussions on social networks weren’t all like this though. Businesses began jumping on board because this now allowed the mom and pop shops to compete with household brands. Anyone remember this happy place?
We’re not trying to be negative, but the fact of the matter is, social media has greatly expanded since the aforementioned large emergence in 2006. Though this growth has brought many new opportunities that weren’t possible back then, it’s also created some new challenges. The mindless chatter, for example, has overly saturated many networks. As this has happened, the audacity factor has risen. In other words, the need to be heard has become so great that people will say almost anything to feed this urge.
At first, an offensive situation would arise and people would take to social media. Brands would get a wakeup call and, in some cases, take action. For example, if someone felt an ad was offensive and took their position to social media, some brands have responded and corrected their ads or clarified their points. But today, with so many people are sharing their voice, is anyone actually being heard?
We’ve all seen this happen with our personal accounts with those friends that feel the need to share absolutely everything. The irony is that these are the very people that frequently contemplate deleting their accounts or ask for the drama to be removed!
Jon Ronson recently gave a compelling TED talk on this issue. Check it out:
As he explains the demise of a PR professional, he noted:
“Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine. We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.”
He summarized his talk with this profound statement:
“Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favor humans over ideology, and those people who favor ideology over humans. I favor humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. But we’re now creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.” (Emphasis added)
Though not to this extreme, thank goodness, the same mentality is happening with businesses as well. Sometimes it’s a hasty move on behalf of the social media manager in an attempt to be funny or associate with a trend, but whatever the case, it can dramatically hurt a brand’s image. Many brands such as LG and American Apparel have had to overcome such challenges.
What Can Marketers Do?
This is a lot of information to swallow, especially coming from a social media firm. To be clear, we are NOT recommending that businesses jump the social media ship. But it is very important to understand where we all are on this social media journey and how it began. In the TED talk above, it’s imperative to note that Ronson is referring to individuals, not businesses. He’s right about the surveillance society that has risen upon social media. Still, this doesn’t mean brands should shy away. There are just too many opportunities that brands would miss if social media were removed from their toolbox. It does, however, mean that brands should be extremely careful with how they portray themselves on social networks.
It’s true that the game of social media has gotten much harder as social networks have grown. Since so many businesses are competing for the same consumers’ time, their options are to:
- Provide really great content
- Utilize targeted advertising
- Be outlandish
Not surprisingly, we recommend going with the first two options. Positive voices are still very effective on social media. It takes skill and caution, but social media for businesses continues to be a strong marketing asset for small and large brands.
If you’d like to learn how we can help your brand and its social media efforts, please don’t hesitate to contact us.