It’s time to end the silence. And what’s prompting me this time around is the flip side of social media. Having spent almost a year of talking, lecturing,
Debating the worth and RoI of social media, and social networks as the BIG, big thing of today, not tomorrow, or 3 years later, but right now, I thought I’d put in perspective the one thought that seems to come up with increasing frequency.
Human- centred business, and community-powered social change also has a flip side. First, community-powered social change, and you get Egypt’s “first free” elections (really? Egypt’s armed forces have been in power since the end of monarchy in 1953), and news that the newly elected Prime Minister Mursi cannot attend parliament because the constitution is being written by- you guessed right-The Army. On the other hand, brands are busy “humanising” themselves by getting their updates on your Facebook newsfeed with mixed results in terms of footfalls and actual sales. Fed the line that social netizens like discounts and deals, some brands are engaging in ‘harakiri’ by offerring 70% off on flash sales. Small wonder, then if customers rarely visit the store post the off-sales, or at all if there are no sales offers, especially if the brand has no customer care to speak of.
The change we live in, is slowly throwing up new and old questions.
To pre-millennials, such as myself, the word is ‘privacy’! Millennials, or folks who reached adulthood post 2000 CE, won’t bother much with it, as across the world they have learnt to live with Big Brother watching, via millions of CCTV cameras in London, to Homeland Security in the US, to Kapil Sibal and others in the Indian government threatening some kind of ‘censorship’ on the content that is created and shared by you and me on private social networks.
Millennials, on the other hand, have traded off their privacy with ‘instant access to express’, with great enthusiasm. With cheap bandwidth, cheaper tablets, smartphones, and free apps, If they aren’t sharing their courting rituals on Facebook, they are checking-in Foursquare locations where they may be found doing it, possibly in the hope of bumping into interesting strangers on Twitter. And the journey has just begun, as images make it to open sharing platforms such as Pinterest, while soundtracks and video’s on YouTube.
So what do Millenials think of as the flip side of a world gone Social. One word- nothing! They don’t. Andy Warhol, when predicting that ‘in the future, everyone will have fifteen minutes of fame’ was probably, seeding the algorithm design forTwitter hashtags, which trends every new and infectious bucket of tweets, in the search for virality.
This then, could possibly be the flip side. The wisdom of the crowds searching for instant fame and recognition! The search for unlocking the next Foursquare badge, the addictive need to see more shares, likes, and comments per Facebook update, the obsession with a klout score higher than 70 ( I got an email from a pre-Millenial friend asking me and his whole email address book to follow him, so that he could reach some milestone number on Klout, that would get him onto some other hallowed crowd-sourced event). Another such acquaintance got blasted on Linkedin, for copying all on his Linkedin address book, seeking permission if he could send/ share his blog posts with them. One of the critics was a self-proclaimed minor god of entrepreneurs and social networks.
So, Flip side number one: if everyone is talking, who’s listening? In the search for the pithy 90 character tweet/ or update (twitter does allow 140 characters, but you need to leave space for a short URL, and for your followers to add comments and RT)
Flip side number two: in the search for mass connect via simplicity are we giving up complex ideas? The market place will recognize the micro wave oven, but not the math and the WW2 radar technology that made its discovery inevitable. And The God Particle is hallowed only in the ignorance of its ‘goddamn’ origin.
Flip Side Three: When wisdom is crowd-sourced, how much of it is either real or visionary? I recently heard a business pitch to discover and publish authors based on Facebook ‘likes’, if that were so, half of the world’s classics from Shakespeare to Tolstoy and Hemingway to Solzhenitsyn would go unheard, unread, unless backed by a high-decibel team tweeting out lines and quotes. Clearly, then, beyond the immediate benefits of mass sharing, social media does little to discover those unique voices, the dissenters, and the imagineers ( am talking J.K. Rowling, here), till they become famous in their own circles.
Flip Side Four: If all we do is communicate, when do we work? Yup! heard this one, repeated again and again from CTO’s in India to board members in UK and I have no sympathy for the uncommunicative CEO, who wants a generation of Millenials, not to ‘friend’ him on Facebook, not to RT his tweets, or better still, be as far away from social media as possible and hope it all goes away. But, I wonder just how many of the Millennial physicists who run the Large Hadron Collider have an active twitter account, or are Facebook regulars?
Oh, and yes! There are solutions, and arguments that I use to refute almost all the nay-sayers, but I would definitely like to know of your experiences and how you are managing the forces of higher transparency, greater interaction and nano-second reaction times, to converse with the crowd and make a difference.
Just to link back to my last post on Steve Jobs and Apple, they still don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account. Social Media is not about the technology and tools, it’s about how you manage to make the best use of it!