The End Of Innocence – Why Social Media Is The New Corporate Media

Let my start by saying that my career in media has been paying the bills since 1988. So I firmly embrace corporate media, advertising revenue and all media endeavors that enjoy commercial success. The lure of a life in TV (i’m a news cameraman by trade) was its combined appeal of an adventurous lifestyle and comfortable livelihood. This is what prodded me to take my plunge into TV news. But as with many things in life, my timing was off. I came up in the ranks of cameramen well into cable’s affront on broadcast dominance, admiring the legendary lenslingers before me, or more precisely their glorious tales of lavish travel and limitless budgets. Those were the glory days of TV news, and I got to see the vanishing apparitions – the vestigial remnants of those times.

Disruption Past

As a child of cable’s disruptive power, I understood that challenge, that shift, that imperative for change. So when blogging, podcasting and social networking emerged on the radar screen of my consciousness, I wasn’t prepared to grasp their nascent and then unrealized impact on mainstream media. Not until an unlikely series of events prompted the purchase of an iPod, did I come to realize that great numbers of people out there were dissatisfied with passively consuming mainstream content and advertising. They were out there creating their own content and speaking to each other and were quickly becoming disintermediated. With revolutionary zeal, web-preneurs sprang up like weeds creating platforms empowering people to share content and ideas. Brands, of course, took note and migrated their messaging and their spending from TV, print, radio to the then “new” media.

Join the Conver$ation

This media revolution made YOU Time magazine’s Person of the Year back in 2006 – and was at once an empowering energizing force, but at the same time, made me fear for the future of my career. Back then, it was all about the “conversation”. As a brand, one couldn’t just stumble in and “sell”, one had to honest, transparent, conversational. As social media has matured, I get the sense that we have moved beyond that – and now we’re back to where we once were. Brands just want access to us and the transaction remains the same. Look, I understand that companies need to make money and that investors need to get returns on hopes of 10x exits. But i’m struck by the rapacious speed with which social media, its adherents, and platforms are pursuing the buck. Ironic to me, considering that it was dissatisfaction with traditional media and “push” advertising that in many respects gave rise to social media.

It’s strange, but I still haven’t completely shaken my nostalgia for the salad days of old media as I begin to feel twinges of longing for new media’s simpler times. When old media was king it was advertisers buying access to passive audiences. Now, marketers are paying to become part of this:

Power Shift

The mantra of the Social Media Club, “If you get it, share it” has been modified by “ninjas”, “gurus”, and “experts” in the field with the following addendum: “for a fee”. Meanwhile, tech/Web 2.0 headlines point to leaner, meaner more competitive times. Here are some trends pointing to a shift in social media from being people-powered media to corporate driven:

In a move akin to ABC News recent staff slashing, popular, free social network platform Ning is free no more and has cut its staff by 40%.
How Facebook shares private information with third party companies is being scrutinized by Washington now, prompting one Senator to urge the FTC to get involved.
Twitter has announced “sponsored tweets” prompting some to point out – if companies were using Twitter right, they wouldn’t need sponsored tweets.
Pepsi passed on Super Bowl ads this year in favor of a $20 million social media campaign, and it’s probably not just about meeting new Twitter and Facebook friends.

So while this post may seem wistful, and perhaps critical of the direction that “people-powered” media has taken – none of this should be terribly surprising and it is perhaps inevitable. I still believe that successful, profit-motivated media can coexist with the community/individual driven kind. For my part, I’m just trying to stay ahead of it all and finding my place in this ever evolving landscape.

This article was originally posted on Verge New Media by Jim Long.

2 thoughts on “The End Of Innocence – Why Social Media Is The New Corporate Media

  1. Hi Jim -Some interesting thoughts here – I smiled at the bit about the sponsored tweets; having been involved in a big forum site, I can imagine that sponsored posts in the middle of a discussion thread may actually be perceived more positively than some underhand marketing tactics being employed by a company/representative in a normal post – so if it’s clearly marked as being an ad, you can choose to read or not read as you will.I’m not sure but having recently run (well, still running) a Facebook advertising campaign for an undergraduate degree that I’m course director for, the ability to be able to track exactly which usergroups have been most successful in targeted advertising is extremely powerful – when compared with a broad spectrum TV blastout – but then again, Pepsi has a much broader audience than my one of students/parents.Does the Fremium model apply to new media as well as old now? There was an initial make-it-free phase to get people hooked, and now that they are, we can make ’em pay?John.


  2. My response to Jim’s original post at his blog http://vergenewmedia.comJim, the big difference between now and then is that the medium for communication was highly restricted both technically and regulatorily. For media companies to make out like bandits all they had to do was own the means of communication. (To paraphrase Marx.)Nowadays, it is simply not possible for any entity to ‘own’ the internet. What you do see is old school corporate thinking branding their patch of the web and relying on a vast bulk of people who still have the habit of thinking that they only need a single source of news, or social relations and so on to carry on thinking that way.For example, no matter how big Facebook will get there will be always plenty of room on the internet to conduct one’s affairs without ever having to sign up for one of their accounts.Corporations and consumers are still very much trapped in the post WW2 command and control model of business which knocks on into the field of communication but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that we haven’t even scratched the surface of new ways of doing and thinking about things on the web and very importantly how that activity will affect what we do and how we behave off the web.Corporations can go on corporatizing as much as they like as they are more than enough people who have been habituated into being corporatized and good luck to them.What I think is more important than an internet ‘land-grab’ (while technically not infinite there is no sign we are going to run out of space soon which makes the whole owning thing quite absurd,) is attentiveness and relevance to how people really want to live their lives.And this was Jim’s response:Hey Tom! I agree that they can’t really own huge swaths of the Internet, but they can own our data, and monitor our consumption habits. This is what brands want access to. So by that measure, not much seems to have changes.


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