After following the whole Kmart paid-blogging firestorm, a tweet from Guy Kawasaki last night stopped me in my tracks.
“Twitter spam is an oxymoron. Following is opting in.”
I had to stop and try to digest that, especially as I was one of the people who called the Kmart posts on twitter spam. The short story is that Kmart and Sears gave a bunch of bloggers $500 gift cards to shop at their stores and write about it. They provided an extra $500 gift card to be given away in a contest, which readers could enter by writing a comment about what they’d buy, and promoting the contest by tweeting it. What ensued was a flood of Kmart promotional tweets, which I, among others, referred to as spam.
Well, here was Guy Kawasaki saying that it wasn’t spam. And when I thought about it, I realized he was right. I choose to follow Chris Brogan’s updates. Chris decided to promote the contest. I can choose to either continue following him or not, but technically, his promotional tweet isn’t spam.
But that got me thinking about what this really means about networks like twitter, monetizing content, and the nature of social media.
In one incisive post, Kawasaki stripped the Utopian veil off social media and its commercial uses. If promotional posts from people in my network aren’t spam, because I choose to follow them or not, then guess what? Social media will just become the latest media vehicle to drive advertising. Instead of television networks, radio stations, or print publications, all of which cultivate followers to whom they can deliver ads, the new networks are you and me. Our readers, the followers and friends we cultivate, are just target audiences for which we are an efficient advertising conduit. That’s what Kawasaki’s simple and undeniable statement envisions.
Think about it. All of this talk about companies needing to listen to consumers, about consumers owning the brand, about building networks of trust, is really just a happy facade for consumers. Because according to Kawasaki, your opinion about what a company is saying via social media is best expressed through the binary choice of choosing to follow or not follow. If you don’t like it, change the channel. Which is the same old paradigm it’s always been: the company crafts its message, blasts it through whatever medium is available, and measures success by the numbers of people that follow, or don’t follow. Listening and engaging in dialog is optional, and in fact, probably inefficient.
And Kawasaki certainly lives this. He is open about his strategy of aggressively building a large network of followers and broadcasting to them prolifically. While I may have viewed Kmart’s paying of bloggers to essentially bribe their readers via contests to promote Kmart to their own networks as spam, Kawasaki frames it as a simple advertising transaction. So much for the quaint notion among social media evangelists that the days of broadcast media were over. As Kawasaki demonstrates, we’ve just moved the network. And the trust you and I cultivate to build a network of friends is a far more elegant machine of transmission than television ever was. To you and me, it may be a communication platform of trust, but for business, it’s nothing more than the new channel. How else could networks like Twitter and Facebook remain free?
Meet the new boss.
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