Sunday, July 27, 2008

If It's Not Social Media, Is It Anti-Social Media?

My hat’s off to whomever came up with the term “social media. ”After all, by name alone, it starts to immediately position all other media as “anti-social.”

If you can reposition your competition with just your name, then, chances are, it’s a pretty good name.

But exactly what is the definition of social media? It seems to include a variety of different platforms—Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Imeem, Microsoft’s Windows Live Spaces, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter—all very different, to be certain.

So maybe social media is best defined by what it isn’t, rather than by what it is.

What it isn’t is media that intrudes. Or, from the user’s perspective, it’s media that they have complete control over.

But to be social, media needs to have a “social” aspect to it. I guess this means that more than one person can be using it at the same time. Or, that two-way conversations can take place in real time. Which means that the first social media platform was probably the telephone.

Maybe what is meant by social media is that it’s media that is more polite or respectful to the user in the way that it offers up advertising. In other words, the advertising doesn’t intrude or interrupt. Rather, it lets users approach it on their own terms.

I’ve often said that intrusive advertising was developed to serve the intent of the advertiser. Their intent is to interrupt what viewers are enjoying and, hopefully, capture their attention and interest.

That few advertising messages actually achieve this objective has not seemed to stop advertisers from pursuing the practice. Wasting money on the uninterested is apparently a necessary evil on the road to brand riches.

The fact is no one really enjoys being interrupted. And yet, the preponderance of media dollars are spent to do just that.

It has always amazed me that advertisers would do exactly what people don’t want, before attempting to sell them something that they do want.

Then again, maybe I’ve completely missed the boat here. Maybe social media means that we’re now supposed to create advertising that doesn’t try to sell people things. As if the act of selling, is, in itself, anti-social.

There was an interesting study conducted in New Zealand recently that showed that when people saw advertising for something that they were interested in, they didn’t consider it to be advertising. If they were interested in the product being advertised, the advertising was perceived as information.

What this seems to imply is that people define “advertising” as the practice of selling them things that they are not interested in.

Which indicates that it’s not so much advertising that people don’t like, but advertising about products that they are not interested in.

If you want to know what works and what doesn’t work in social media, may I suggest the following. At the next social event you’re at, where the conversation is flowing as rapidly as the cocktails, interrupt everyone when they’re in the middle of whatever story they are telling. You know, just butt in. Just like how most advertising still works today.

Take note of the reactions.

What you’ll see is that being social rather than anti-social isn’t so much a mystery as it is common sense.

Whether you’re talking about behavior at a party.

Or, in media.

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