I know this will come as a shock, but as we move increasingly toward this brave new world of Social Media, an entire class of marketers clings to the notion that you’re stupid. Not you specifically so much as the abstract concept of you, as demonstrated by your behavior as a consumer. "You" are a tantalizing wallet attached to a vaguely sentient biological mechanism that somehow figured out how to use a Web browser. You travel in flocks that have endless varieties of stupidity: some are young and hip, some are greedy and vain, some are penny pinching luddites. But the unifying characteristics of flock stupidity are laziness and impressionability. And the marketers that seek to target, tag, and monetize you and your flock conceive of Web 2.0 as an evolving set of tools designed to corral you into a warm and soothing place where you can be more efficiently relieved of your cash.
If I sound like I’m exaggerating, read this article on the emerging technology of social search, by iMedia Connection’s Kevin Ryan. From a technical standpoint, the article is interesting and informative. Social Search is a growing phenomenon describing online tools that allow users to shape the results of search queries. But when the author’s guiding perspective bleeds out between the lines, the impression is stark. Take this comment from the introduction:
"…the idea of consumers entering data into search results has far-reaching implications for advertising models and how users perceive — and ultimately use — their information resources."
Notice how the consumer’s actual use of information resources stands in relation to implications for advertising and perception. Rather than being a cause, usage is framed as an effect of perception, which is in turn shaped by advertising. If that seems like a nitpicky analysis, Ryan comes more clearly to the point in his interpretation of search engine evolution:
"Search engines were so inefficient that we needed graphic advertising served
alongside keyword search results to help us find what we needed."
Thank god for advertising.You see, it’s advertisers and marketers that have brought much needed meaning to the murky world of search, while technologists keep screwing around with these crazy ideas that threaten to put consumers in charge of the asylum. But have no fear, consumers are too lazy to actually make any of this Web 2.0 stuff work.
"…history has taught us the more you require a user to do in completing
a simple activity like conducting a search, the less likely they will be to
complete the search."
It’s not a problem of technology, it’s not a problem of our evolving formulations of user interaction and engagement–both of which are in a frenetic state of rapid evolution–it’s a problem of user laziness. If you thought Social Media and Web 2.0 was all about our accelerating transformation toward user engagement, Ryan wants you to think otherwise.
"In short, as marketers and content owners, the only activity we want users
engaging with is the interaction with the search box. And we want them engaging
with search beyond the one or two word phrases they use now. So if tagging and
sharing aren’t the answer, what is?"
In response, Ryan points to the Swicki, a kind of community focused search engine, whose main attraction is apparently that it is "an easy-to-implement search
application that requires no active participation on the part of site visitors," and one of it’s main features, the buzz cloud "requires little or no thought on the part of the searcher." Keeping users minimally engaged is apparently expedient for such marketers, because this Web 2.0 stuff could be dangerous.
"People may have good intentions, and a precious few may exhibit altruistic
actions in other areas of life, but when it comes to search, people are lazy
followed closely by malicious when the opportunity arises."
So, for those kinds of marketers who want to target, tag and monetize such lazy and malicious consumers, the best approach is to advocate more simplistic tools that keep consumers stupid and happy, while demanding more sophisticated tools to target a constant stream of advertising more efficiently.
There are three things that disturb me about such an outlook from a marketer. First of all, it completely ignores the primary issue that’s driving search evolution: search, as it currently stands, is not that great for consumers–there’s far too much noise to signal. Second, it puts consumer interests secondary to advertisers, and that’s stating it diplomatically–it’s a view of marketing that looks at consumers like they’re disposable batteries. Third, and most disturbing of all, it’s a viewpoint with a long history in marketing, and a large number of adherents.
To me, the phenomenon of Social Media and Web 2.0 is not only about an exciting new potential for social engagement enabled by technology, it’s a response to this kind of denigrating treatment from companies that employ mercenary marketers to turn customers into a commodity of idiots. But hey, you’re all stupid and lazy. So good luck with that.