Unfortunately, I missed last week's Future of Media summit so I've been trawling through some of the participant commentary. Overall, I think a lot of these debates are getting a bit tired and repetitive and it would be good to get some reality in them.
There is a peculiar lack of perspective in the contributions of many participants both on-stage and off-stage (and isn't interesting how many social media advocates, just like real people, crave the onstage limelight rather than being up the back of the room in the long tail):
1. The scale of social media
If you're inside the social media bubble it is easy, very easy, to exaggerate the importance of social media as we know it now and perhaps as it will be in the future.
For instance, for many years now we have been hearing predictions like this one from Gordon Whitehead (a great blogger and smart marketer):
there’s going to be a huge media train wreck and it’s heading towards those media and news organisations that are ignoring the huge social networking & media groundswell.
This, I'm afraid, is largely wishful thinking:
- Major media response.Tthe biggest players in social media are in fact major media companies both traditional media companies (like News Ltd, ABC, BBC and so on) and big 'new' media companies, specifically Google and Apple (hugely important in podcasting and vodcasting). Contrary to what many social media evangelists like to believe, big media has been fast to adopt social media. The reason, of course, is that social media can deliver millions of links and page views for media websites.
- Audience size. Some people do live in Twitter or second life, others have a heavy involvement in social media in all its forms but the numbers are still miniscule as a share of the overall audience size. While social media is adding some more competition for more traditional media outlets (as well as some handy business opportunities), it is a long way off being the main game. Social media is a supplement to traditional media providing highly valuable extra information and commentary but it is an error to confuse that with some sort of serious challenge to media overall.
2. Bloggers vs journalists
This is one of the most tedious parts of the whole debate. Part of it flows from the silly idea that blogging and micro-blogging are a serious challenge to the media. Bloggers often exhibit frustration that journalists want to keep drawing a distinction between bloggers and journalists and part of it is the ignorance and arrogance of many journalists who tend to sanctify their craft beyond anything that is reasonable.
While bloggers can be journalists (ie doing original reporting in an objective way) and while journalists can be bloggers (ie adding commentary and additional insights), the two are not synonymous.
I think we would all be better off if we left this argument off the table and just recognise that there are differences and similarities and so what?
The people who make real money are largely the owners of companies who provide the social media platforms where others post their content e.g. google (including youtube, blogger).
For most bloggers, the reality is that their social media incomes will never exceed minimum wages unless they can make it in consulting and public speaking about social media i.e. passing their knowledge along.
Mostly, social media ventures are still in 'start-up mode' with lots of people working around the clock and burning out trying to get up their traffic and google juice etc. These ventures are not stable employment in the way that traditional media allows people to work a relatively normal work week for a consistent and livable wage.
Blogging works for most people as an additional (non-core) activity as a way to promote your business, book, consultancy services, speaking engagements and so on. Or as a hobby.
It also works for organisations as a cheap way of extending their other PR, advertising and marketing activities. And here again, we need to have perspective. Even companies that are big into social media still seem to spending no more than a few percent of their communications budgets on social media.
I don't want to downplay the importance of social media, I just think that it's not helpful to keep exaggerating social media and to talk as if it's going to sweep all before it. We can all do better if we keep a firm and realistic perspective on where social media fits in.
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