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August 12, 2012

Erasing Us Vs Them – The Divide Between Social Users and Advertisers

Why has social networking taken off so quickly and so strongly? Are people as a whole really so self-absorbed, more engaged by ourselves than the products of professional artists and writers? Or are we prideful, preferring to hear ourselves talk and offer our own expertise over the proclamations of established authorities?

Or, are we just social creatures that like to huddle together within the company of peers, not tyrants?

Speak Loudly, and Carry a Large Megaphone

Broadcasting has had a long history, despite television being a 20th century invention. Motion pictures did it before. As did radio before it. And print did it centuries ahead of them.

In all of these examples, what happened was a massive audience received information from a single source. That source could be appearing in different places, even at different times, but it all came from a single gateway, a single well who crafted that information into a packet and then released it for others to absorb.

Mercy me, now I’m starting to sound like the Internet with all of its IP packets. Moving back now…

But before print we still had broadcasting, just without any fancy technologies. Unless you count the soapbox as one. Yes, any one person who stood up and talked to a group was broadcasting. They were broadcasting their information, their idea, to a group who received it.

So whatever the vehicle, be it electronic or analog, physical, visual, or audible, broadcasting has always involved one source of information being spouted out for others to receive.

All of broadcasting has been, in essence, one person talking while everyone else listens. And that’s how things have been, for the most part, until now.

Democracy in Action

Social networking, by whatever metric you use to gauge its earliest beginnings, did something different than broadcasting.

In the early days of the Web you had simple websites with information on them that everyone flocked too. Instead of having to get published in the newspaper, you could just write on your website. But there was still some exclusivity here – you had to make your own website before you could broadcast from it.

Then came web logs, or blogs, which while easier to set-up and more open to more people, still fell into broadcasting. Established bloggers spoke their mind, and lots of people tuned in by visiting. This was the early Web 2.0, and it was in essence the digital soapbox. Instead of select info outlets (like newspapers), there were now more smaller outlets popping up (soapboxes on every street corner). But it still wasn’t quite everyone.

Enter MySpace.

For all its predecessors, MySpace was what put “social networking” into the mass social consciousness. For the first time everyone had a blog, everyone had a website. You didn’t have to make one, it was supplied to you. You could customize it, but that was only optional. With a click of the button, you were on your way. It wasn’t solely about finding a site or blog you liked and following it, it was now about making your own and having others follow you… while you followed them, too.

Broadcasting was turned upside down. Instead of people receiving information from a select number of sources, people got it from each other. Then came Facebook, then Twitter. News now breaks on Twitter before it does on prime-time television. More people follow other people than they do “the big blogs” or “the big websites.”

The “big guy” had been taken down. Now, everyone gets to feel like a “big guy,” or at least a “medium guy.” And that’s why social networking has taken off so quickly, because people like feeling bigger than just themselves. People like knowing they have 500+ followers on Facebook, even if that actually means nothing. Because instead of simply being a follower, a recipient of broadcasting, they now get to be a broadcaster as well.

Don’t be a Goliath Among Davids

Broadcasting, while successful for a while, cannot put the genie of social networking back into its bottle. Social networking is likely here to stay, for better or worse, because of its allure. So don’t broadcast like you used to. Don’t get on your soapbox, don’t flood the streets with flyers, don’t saturate the airwaves.

Don’t see your audience as gaping holes, waiting to be filled with your information. In fact, don’t see your audience as a Them, because they don’t see one another as them, but as We.

Broadcasting has led to a failing paradigm of Us vs. Them. It’s a dichotomy of broadcasters vs. recipients. And in a world now used to social networking, used to peer-to-peer, this kind of one-sided dominance won’t suffice anymore. People would rather listen to one another than to the “official sources,” at least in general circumstances.

When was the last time you trusted a film critic’s review over your best friend? One is from some self-styled expert you’ve never met, the other is from someone whose tastes you already know and whose opinion you trust.

Social marketing must remember this tenet when trying to appeal to the masses. It’s a matter of winning over friends, family, and kin. Not just customers. The best corporate viral campaigns came from the standpoint of “Hey, this is something really cool. Wanna see?” which is exactly how people treat one another online. Warm anecdotes of people relating memorable customer service stories revolve around being treated like a person by another person. Nightmare stories consist of companies that treated their clients like cattle.

Like the general population of the Web, companies must forget Them and focus on Us.

What are some of your favorite interactions with other companies, and why?

Article by Vince Ginsburg. What are your thoughts on the matter? Comment on my blog and add your voice to the discussion: