Hello, cherished reader. Let me pose you a question;
What is Social Media?
I imagine that answers such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” are present, and you’re adding that to wider definitions such as “a means of communicating with my friends and family at any time, en-masse or individually.” All of these are traditionally accepted definitions, and I’m sure yours is better than ours. However, as every website has a feedback button, and every topic has a forum, and every e-mail has a subscribe button – surely it is now the case that all media, is social media? Media after all, is designed to be social – if nobody is talking about it, does it really matter (ergo, tree falling in the woods conundrums)? There’s no end of opportunities for us to share information with each other, and with intelligent algorithms or user interaction, we typically discover the crowd-sourced most important topics as they’re “voted” to the top of the pile.
There are, however, dangers here. What if those who are at the top of the pile, never wanted their story shared at all? What if the topics most read are also the most dangerous – explicit content, extremist views, misleading or false? Social media enables the rapid sharing of information, but all too often at the price of actually questioning the validity and quality of the information we receive. Writers look the be on-trend, and rightly so. The shelf life of a story has never been shorter. And indeed, the variants and interactions available on a story have never been more – Facebook and Twitter, in the end, can’t thrive without difference of opinion.
We see this challenge to the writer played out on a daily basis, as they grapple to manage the balance of opinion and substance across platforms. This blog has written extensively on the curiosity gap and Buzzfeed style reporting, mainly because it works. The modern format of “snackable” news that is easily digested and consumed by the reader allows us to be aware of more topics, and form opinion on these subjects. Unfortunately, the rapid consumption and opinion forming rarely allows for critical and processed thought.
Consider the Netflix sensation, “Making a Murderer”. Without a doubt, this was by far one of the most truly divisive pieces of programming in modern times. Conflicting judgements were made on a range of subjects across all media platforms – from stances on policing, to the verdict on the case, and down to the appropriateness of the show itself. It’s both unfair and unreasonable to assume that all members and associates of those involved with the case would have wanted it to air. However Netflix, one can only assume, considered either that A) the case was in the public interest, or B) the profit potential and media storm benefit outweighed any ethical deficit in the event the case wasn’t in the public interest.
Why is this an issue? The question, and the point that should be taken away, is that it wasn’t the courts or each individual who got to make the decision – it was a third-party, in this case, Netflix. As mentioned towards the start of the article, all media is social. And by deduction, nothing shared is ever secret. Sadly, it’s not likely to be you who determines the content shared, by whom, and the manner in which it is received. The media, in all forms, can serve as our judge, jury, and executioner – without the ability to prosecute, but with the unsolicited power to irreversibly damage an individuals reputation or social footprint. We don’t argue that this should change, but do argue that this should be observed and respected. By respecting that power, and understanding the effect you can have when wielding it in your social media interactions, you can be more than a social media user, you can be a positive contributor to people’s lives. And so, reader, I ask you again;
What is Social Media?
In an article for Forbes, the shocking news arrived that Pokémon GO was on the brink of passing Twitter in terms of daily active users. As of time of writing, it still is. As of one week from writing, this will likely have happened. Much has been made of Twitter’s struggles, but it’s not for a lack of effort to turn it around. They’ve signed deals with the NFL, integrated Periscope, and are teasing users with a raft of possible changes. Except, it’s not just Twitter failing this time. What’s particularly curious, is that Pokémon GO hasn’t reached all regions, and even so, it’s toppled Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook to take the top spot on the Google Play store. How did it come to pass, that the enslaving of cute and friendly super-animals on our phone became the centre of our attention?
Answer #1 – Humans are boring creatures.
Thanks to the unique power that is social media algorithms, increasingly few platforms allow for anarchic chaos. Some may regard this a good thing. However, consider that your Facebook news feed will prioritise video and show friends over publishers and pages. Now consider that before showing you content from friends, it segments further into more “filter bubbles” – so that even the friends you disagree with don’t typically make it to the top. Pro – it stops you discovering a former best friend is now a racist. Con – that’s the kind of thing you probably want to know. The intrusive nature of social platforms upon users is making social media increasingly dull. Twitter is a news ticker. Facebook is an ad-spam mess. Instagram will soon lose it’s uniqueness. And Snapchat…well, OK, you’ve got us here. They’re the apple of everyone’s eye. But it’s a toy we’ve all played with. Pokémon GO offered something old – Pokémon – and something new – Mobile, Free, Social, AR, and Fun. Social media platforms need to recapture this, and entertain their fans – sometimes, that means not giving us what they think we want.
Answer #2 – The Power of Nostalgia.
As mentioned, social media is increasingly becoming a live news ticker. The prioritization of video does little to change this, if anything, it promotes it. Consider the news items we’ve had over the last few weeks. Brexit, Zika, Orlando, Dallas, ISIS, Syria, Trump/Clinton, and much more. It’s hard-hitting content that could easily shift the status-quo of all we know. Can we really be surprised then, that when presented with the opportunity to check out for a while and capture a Pikachu on the railway, people are incredibly keen? Social media has a responsibility to inform and allow the sharing of information, and as we’ve seen in the Arab Spring, it can be a tremendous force for good. However, rightly or wrongly, we now approach information overload much faster and have a much reduced attention-span. Nobody wants to tune into Chernobyl FM unless it’s for Schadenfreude, and to this end, social media needs to re-invent itself. We would never endorse the burying of difficult content. But we do endorse the ability to choose how we approach it. Social media always presents it in cold-light, before your eyes – and sometimes, all we want is a cat picture.
Answer #3 – People Like Free Stuff.
Word of mouth, and to a lesser degree, electronic Word of Mouth, remains the most powerful means of marketing. It’s therefore no surprise, that it’s incredibly hard to generate. Except, Pokémon GO got this right. Social media presents a unique opportunity to generate rapid global traction within minutes, if engaging with the right people at the right time. Trusted figures jumped on the bandwagon, and soon it was rolling with genuine pace. This highlights two things about social media in it’s current form. Firstly, that there’s no replacement for interesting content that people want to engage with. Secondly, that accessibility wins prizes. Through allowing a free and easy download, Pokémon lends itself to being approachable for all – new and old to the franchise. Social media may be free, but is it truly approachable to all? We’re inclined to say not. Not everyone likes sharing. Some can’t do it in 140 characters. Some hate photos. Social media needs to become flexible to the wants of users, and make life as easy as possible for users to share as they please. Once the penny drops, the second coming of social lies just round the corner.
Goodbye, Mewtwo. Hello, Peach.
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