There’s quite a lot of discussion these days about social media, the, um, New Big Revolution in marketing. In reality, it’s more like a stepping stone on the evolutionary path that continues to define and redefine the relationship between businesses and markets. It wasn’t too long ago that we were talking frothily about "Customer Centricity", and before that personalization, one-to-one marketing, and on the trail leads into the misty past. What’s changed today is that technologies have emerged that allow market participants to network–to share ideas and opinions that in ways that blunt the prepackaged and broadcast messages marketers have relied on since the development of mass media to position and sell products.
I’ll be digging into a lot of these issues over the next few weeks, but for the moment, I want to draw attention to the market drivers that are making social media so important. There’s a lot of focus on the mechanics of social media, the fear that companies have of "losing control" of their message, and how businesses and marketers can change strategies to cope. That’s all well and good. But as we so often do, we leave out of the equation the fat elephant sitting in the corner that explains why businesses are being dragged into this transformational step. In a word, the driver of change is Marketing–as in, spin. As in, hype. As in, manipulation of the truth and exploitation of people’s fears and needs to drive short term profits.
The simple truth of the matter is that people are sick and tired of being sold a bill of goods, and marketing as a profession only has itself to blame, because it has consistently failed to stand up and demand ethics, accountability and transparency–all concepts now fundamentally tied to the buzz of Social Media. Instead of flogging this idea ad nauseum, I just want to put in front of you Exhibit A.
This is an outtake of the movie The Corporation, which came out a couple of years ago. You have to watch it to believe it. This is where we’ve arrived at the pinnacle of professional marketing. No sense of what’s right and wrong, no accountability for horrific decisions to exploit the weakest members of society, and precious little discussion about this issue until the government decides to step up and impose regulations, at which point we cry foul.
This second clip is from the DVD extras. More incredible insights into why consumers want to block marketers out of their lives altogether. It’s such a surprise, this social media groundswell.
What’s interesting is that in the later part of this clip, you can see they finally realized the potential backlash of these interviews, and start backpeddling and rationalizing their behavior. And even then, the rationalizations are patently disturbing.
Now, I don’t want to jump all over Lucy Hughes. Okay, strike that, I do. This is a *parent* for cripes sakes. But I do want to point out that this is not at all unusual, though it is particularly graphic. This is a prominant attitude in business and media–mainstream media are, after all, not only totally complicit in this "game", they exploit it by creating specialty programming to suck kids in.
This is what social media is really about. It’s an early sign of consumers shutting out the spin and exploitation. The question every marketer has to ask himself and herself, is whether their response to the trend of social media is to find new ways to escalate the "game", or to recognize that they are members of a community, and that there are markets to build and profits to be made by engaging responsibly with their markets, and ethicly.