I saw a headline today making the ever so bold statement, "The End of Social Media." It prompted me to read, as bold headlines like this are designed to do. You see media pundits, like pundits in other topic arenas, love to grab you with a large, profound headline, and then typically settle down and even contradict the headline later in the piece. This piece actually tried to back up their big claim.
As I read the article, it seemed clear the writer was not saying social media is nearing it's fateful end, he was simply making the case for category consolidation. His point was this, because of its broad use and acceptance by a seemingly large amount of the general public (not just for techies and niche demos anymore) it is high time to start lumping in social media with all other media, and simply it should fall under the broad "media" umbrella.
After I read this I was unsure where to even start. This theory seems ripe for hole shooting. I am no "social media expert", Lord knows we have plenty of those, and who am I to add to the pile? I have been in the media business for 15+ years and have studied the industry's evolution for even longer. In my opinion, and it is only that, there is an overarching cause for these kinds of silly attention grabbing, yet head crackingly shallow pieces floating around the Internet and printed information dispensaries. The cause? The inability for the "digital media expert" to stand in the shoes of the vast majority of the American media public. Despite how "normal" the actor looks on the Apple commercials who flawlessly utilizes the iPad for everything but washing their dishes, or the actors who represent the super tech conscious teen and his laggard Dad in the Verizon store walking out smiling with their new ultra acronym enabled smart devices, the hard reality is the VAST MAJORITY of Americans are technology averse, and do not view their social media in the same general way as they view the rest of the general media. From the pundit's seat, that is blasphemy. The technology revolution is ubiquitous and cannot be stopped. Laggards be damned! After all, all his tech buddies on Twitter agree with him and they all rushed out to buy the latest iPad, just like him. That must be what everyone else on the planet did too, right? The hard reality is that Twitter has a huge attrition problem, and it is not with their die hard techie following, it is with the more casual user who heard about this social media phenom, tried it out and left bored. That crowd does not view Twitter as simply "media", therefore, as someone who is regularly tasked with reaching the consumer, I can't either.
I challenge any digital media pundit to walk into a local grocery store and ask ten people of various age and demographic detail if they utilize Facebook. Out of those that say "Yes" then ask what they use it for. Then I suggest asking those folks how many watch television. Then ask them why do they watch television, and what do they watch? Keep asking these questions, keep digging deeper. Understand these are two very different pieces of media, being utilized by the general public in different ways. The VAST MAJORITY of people who large consumer product/service advertisers go after with their ad dollars are just that, the majority. I suggest that the pundit take a walk in the majority's shoes to understand they aren't all like him, and they do not view social media in the same vain as other "media."
Why has the current ad model in Facebook received so much criticism? Why has it not been the most successful ad model in history? After all Facebook has a larger, more engaged participant group than any other media property in history? There are many reasons, but one big one is because it is being sold and used like a traditional media ad model, and that is not consistent with how it's audience uses the platform. It is truly social media, and the most successful ad model for this type of media is yet to discovered. My guess is that when it is discovered it will not even be recognized as advertising, because it will not fit the traditional ad mold and the pundits who command the pulpit on this topic only know what they know.
The nature of social media, and it's continuing evolution, is greater segmentation and higher degrees of specific purpose and use. Simply put, it is the reason Facebook and LinkedIN each are successful, for very different purposes. They each serve a distinct opportunity, their users, for the most part, recognize the difference, and engage accordingly. To try and lump these in with general "media" is silly. It is as silly as lumping Twinkies and Apples into the same category of "food." Any dietitian would scoff at the notion.
Any media professional would be well advised to stop looking at the world from their submerged perspective, and take some time to walk in the brands' audiences' shoes. It is a very eye opening experience, and one that allows you to connect for more meaningful communication through whichever media channel you are focusing on.
I am all for the continuing integration of media technology, and I believe the various media verticals, i.e. traditional television, radio, print and digital opportunities like the web, social, mobile and digital integrated television, all have opportunities to become more conjoined, however to lump them all together in hope of some easy categorization seems a bit shallow to me at this point.