Social Media signals a brave, new world of communication and interaction. Correspondingly the content on it pushes the boundaries of power, of ownership, of usage and of consumption. In my latest Social Samosa article, I take a look at what this means.
How Social Content Is Different & What This Means
The Gutenberg Bible differed from every other form of communication before it, for one big reason. It was a one-to-many format, hitherto unparalleled in world where individual conversations were the only exchanges possible. And now, we’re at the next jump in the evolution of communication. Social Content is any form of content that is created on the social media. This covers blogposts and tweets but also comments, databases and curative content. It encompasses multi-sensory formats – verbal, pictorial, audio and video.
Social Content differs from its predecessors in one very important way: It is multi-directional. It is not a medium of messages but a collective of conversations. Social Content is constantly evolving, shifting and morphing as more users, more features and services get added to the ecosystem.
What this means for ‘Get the message across!’
Think of content on traditional media as a stone that you’re about to throw. Science allows us to determine its speed, direction, trajectory and eventually its destination. In contrast, Social Content is like a drop of water in the sky. It might fall as rain or collect on a leaf as a dewdrop. Or along the way, it might transform into a hailstone or even a snowflake. Each of these possibilities lead to numerous others. A snowflake might get trampled upon, slapped onto a snowman or shaped into a snowball. From here, it might get smashed on a surface or roll on the ground, pick up more material and momentum and building speed, go hurtling on to an unknown destination. The last is the phenomenon of going viral, that wet dream of every social media agencyperson.
As with the case of the giant snowball, every viral starts off with something small, seemingly insignificant & indistinguishable from millions of others like it. Plenty of external factors determine whether it will run into your bathroom or turn up on the evening news as the Giant Snowball. The creator cannot really determine or influence this phenomenon. What’s more, this is not a finite, tangible event where a message is created, transmitted and received. It’s a step in a conversation that could go on indefinitely.
What this means for ‘It’s mine!’
The other side of this picture is that the creator of Social Content is only one aspect of this process. Post leaving the creator’s domain, content on social media gains a life of its own. It gets shaped and modified by several other users, ports and services. Thus, it is no longer the sole property of its creator but exists as the collective property of everyone who wants to use it. Who owns a conversation? The person who started it? The ones who gave it matter with their arguments? The people who shaped its course by sending it in other directions? The one who took it away and used its insights to create something new? The answer I think, is everybody.
We’ve only just began to scratch the surface of all the things that will change, with the legal questions around Pinterest and Facebook.
What this means for individuals
It seems like a field day, especially for anybody who has felt unable to get their opinion out. Whether you are a disgruntled customer or an aspiring starlet, there is now a way to get to your audience and be heard. What you need to remember though, is that everyone else has the same access too. If the world is a stage and everybody is a performer at the same time, who is listening? Even more importantly, with so much variety (and noise), who is going to be heard?
Even with unrestricted access, eventually attention will cluster around talent, in this case engaging content. When it comes to Social Content, there is not just safety in numbers but growth and visibility too. Collaboratives, forums, groups and other such collectives are already emerging as the more popular, influential creators of social content. Truly engaging content is that which continues to evolve and add freshness through new perspectives. This can only happen with additional users as at some point of time, the most entertaining of voices will get routine. Bottomline, grow your community to retain your personal influence on social media.
What this means for commercial entities
Traditional media has brands used to dominating consumer impressions. The brand monologue has now been replaced by conversations where the consumer is not just an equal but sometimes, superior entity. An entity that has a commercial agenda tends to be less credible than an individual on the social media. ‘Buying out’ is not an adequate solution since firstly, there are an unaccountable number of social media users. How many is the brand going to buy? What’s more, the process of buying out simply eliminates a credible influencer on the medium; it doesn’t leverage their influence in the network.
Then, there’s the whole new world of etiquette that must be learnt with any shift in power. A disgruntled consumer will talk and this time, will be heard over and above any loud advertising. Every week brings up a story of a commercial entity losing out to a disgruntled consumer in a social media conversation. In most of these cases, the commercial entity has behaved as it always has. But suddenly the lone individual holds the reins of power and within minutes can turn the efforts of an organization at establishing a good image. Commercial entities do not own or even rule social content, individual users do.
In sum, the freedom of social media gives the content on it, a different character and its users newer powers than the traditional media did.