A few weeks ago I wrote about some people’s wrong-headed desire to drag users back to specific Web sites rather than freeing content to live where people are already spending their time. I understand that given the way people are measured and evaluated the current approach may make sense – but it won’t forever.
I was talking to a woman the other day about this – she’s smart and well versed in the ideas of social media – and her take was that people are used to going to places to get the things they need or want. If you want food, you go to the market; if need shoes, you go to a shoe store, etc. (Of course for most things you can also just find them online, but even then, you tend to end up at a site that sells certain kinds of things.) Technology has made it possible though for the things we want to be available where we are.
You see it a lot with music – if you’re using Pandora or Peel you can click right to iTunes or Amazon to make a purchase. Google has made a science out of presenting people with what they might want wherever they go; and there are certainly plenty of services that allow people to create customer start pages, feeds or portals. The idea of providing content – even it through a user-defined space – still, in some ways, speaks to control. “If you want this, ask for it” “Here is the set of things we think you ought to have,” etc. But that’s not the same as creating content and releasing into the wild to see where it takes root and who gravitates to it.
This is what millions of people are doing every day with services like YouTube and Flickr. Sure, the content starts off on a given site, but people can take it from there and use it where they will. And even on the sites themselves, you can see what people are attracted to and respond to. It’s not perfect, but it allows content to be free and its use be flexible. (This raises issues of rights and ownership which approaches like Creative Commons seek to address.)
In any case, the bottom line is that information and content ought to be viewed independently of the entity that creates it. This doesn’t mean you take no credit or abrogate responsibility for things, only that it be allowed to leave the nest. It all gets down to content, control and choice around consumption.
Very few people agree with me on this. Even people who like and get social media see the value in content residing at some fixed address. Of course you need that, even if only as a staging area; but we need to move away from the fixed address concept as much as we can. It’s the next step in social media and one that we need to be thinking about and preparing to take.
The flipside of this coin is that the freedom to create and consume content will be co-opted. While PR people that get social media seem to be in the minority, there are an increasing number who seem to be thinking about it as a shiny new (and exploitable) channel for reaching their audiences.
Despite some stellar screw-ups, it seems that there are people who look at these cases and say to themselves, “I see what they did wrong,” instead of “how can I do that right?” The channels that are available through social media can’t become tools for manipulation. When found out (and it will be found out) it only gives everyone involved a black eye. So naked manipulation is out.
What about influence – manipulations cute cousin? I suppose it’s a step in the right direction; but it’s still built on the foundation of “us” and “them.” What prompted this whole digressive post was a post by Melvin Yuan a few weeks ago where he wrote about Ogilvy PR and the idea of 360 Degree Digital Influence. At the time, in a comment on his blog, I wondered if influence was too much of a one-way concept to describe how we ought to be communicating.
What I am more comfortable with is the idea that we (and by extension our clients) advocate for ideas and issues through transparent engagement with the community; that we share ideas (and content supporting them) in an unfettered way to see where they come to rest; that we bring ideas to communities that we believe will benefit from the information and that in all cases we openly support these ideas using the tools at hand.
Social media has lots of cool bells and whistles, that for sure. But we can’t get so caught up in the cool tools that we ignore the fact that these tools can represent an opportunity to communicate in new and more open ways. And we can’t support, condone or reward attempts to misuse this technology to create a false sense community, conversation or engagement.
[tags]social media, public relations, PR, communication, manipulation, influence, content, information[/tags]