So, I was browsing around some of the social media sites ( and probably driving some of my online contacts insane in the process) to see all of the new social networking sites out there and what, if anything is the underlying value of using them.
The problem is not those sites, but simply that once marketing professionals get their hooks onto these products it just means that it will become a viable commodity to sell you something. At least, that is the concept people have of marketing professionals. In most development circles, marketing and advertising are demonized. I don’t think it’s the right mentality as we all need marketing to promote something, the problem is not marketing it is the reasons behind it.
People are lamenting how Facebook no longer is what it used to be and overfloods you with ads. To this I say, when was it not overflowing you with ads? Google uses your information to promote searches, and this is a reciprocal process. When we search for something, google will then refine what we are looking for and websites subsequently will become more and more advanced. It is an organic process, but the problem arises when we want to force this process. It’s a bit like building a boat and wanting to know exactly what direction the sea will take us and how bumpy the ride will be. The internet does not work that way, you have to let things happen organically.
The community makes a product, website, social media site what it is. The problem arises when we cease to work as a community and see others as a commodity. On the advent of radio, we used radio for community use, but then general electric came along and it was used solely to promote product placement, which is a practice continued to be used today.
When YouTube first came about in 2005, I had a couple of friends who were really into getting views and traffic. They went on to become YouTube celebrities, by using some dirty tricks to keep getting views.
We tend to forget that people are smart, and eventually they will tune out to people marketing or forcing things down their throats. This economic model works for a time, but as we saw on Wall Street, people need to stop using an Us. vs Them model.
For three years I worked as a managing editor for the educational section of a pretty large website. We went from 0 views to about 5 million after two years. While we did a lot of SEO practices, what mainly helped us is that I tried to create a sense of community where everyone tried to work hard to create quality content , and where they suggested articles they wanted to write which derived from experience in their own classrooms. I never assumed I knew all the best article ideas or SEO , they were the ones in the classroom and knew what was going on. It served a really neat purpose as to this day those are the most popular articles. More than that, the editors would stay up till 10 at night discussing ways to improve the site and to create new articles. We were passionate, and bright-eyed and not really getting a lot for our efforts. Together , we would set goals. In the summer, educational content always goes down but we revised all the stale content, stocked up on SEO and keywords and tried our best to ramp up the views. Whether it was because it was back to school or those efforts were the result, but we went from 250,000 views to 475,000 and eventually to 1 million. The sense of community, of trying to create significant change was a great momentum.
I genuinely care and still do about many of the people who worked there, or the people who read that content. I wanted it to be beneficial for those around us , and I hated to invoke paternalistic models. But then something happened, a switch was created. Once we became big, sponsors and the higher-ups started to dictate what we would be doing. We started to have more demand than supply and the quality of writers who were hired went down. People started to become numbers, and traffic was a ticking bomb which if it went up or down it was subjected to constant scrutiny. There was no longer room for mistakes, and it was now based on the assumption that a couple people had to keep up this huge ship going million miles an hour. It no longer held a sense that each person had a place, but things just became far more numerical.
I am pretty sure that’s what happens whenever big businesses start to blow up. Unlike any other business, once something in the media or the internet becomes big, it goes a thousand miles an hour. It is also changing and evolving constantly. You can become big one day and all of a sudden with Google Panda, things can come to a close.
I am giving this example for a simple reason. We had no idea we would become as big as we did, but it was this organic natural process where we set goals, revised and placed things into action and consulted every so often which made us grow. We weren’t forcing traffic, or considering people as commodities. Once it became like this, that’s when I believe a significant change happened.
YouTube, Google, Facebook, they all became huge so fast, and people kept finding ways to use people to become rich. It became profit versus quality. Are these businesses awesome places to work? Definitely. BUt they are part of an inherent system of marketing which uses the masses to manipulate a message instead of trying to create organic change.
While this may mean you might make mistakes, it also means that it is something people will want to do. People want to be challenged, they want to create, and become empowered and an active member of changing a system. Where I was working, everyone had ideas, they were excited and wanted to contribute. They weren’t getting monetary value, but they were believing that they loved the place they were in so much they wanted it to grow. We nurtured a garden of writers and editors who really believed in the sense of community. When this was taken away, so was the active sense of wanting to become entirely involved in the site.
Despite wanting traffic, or likes, or pins, what is important is if you do want to grow you have to ask yourself what you will do with that growth. We have to think of money as a means to something else. This means a significant switch in how we think of marketing, and where it is directed to. To market a product is to promote it, but it is dangerous to see people as objects to market.
The idea of community managers that has surfaced lately has kind of made me a bit uneasy. The idea that there is someone forcefully creating a community in social media to manipulate people into a product is misguided. If anything, a community manager is there to just try to bring together a group of people who want to grow together, who are interested in what you have to offer and become active agents of empowerment towards this. Eventually, if you don’t people will notice and things will come crumbling down.
I am interested in how social media will lead us, but we have to stop thinking that we have no control on where it can go. We have to work together, marketers and insiders and the users and figure out a model of growth which will be beneficial for both the consumers and those who work in the industry. If we don’t think this way, we are ignoring the long term effects we are doing in dehumanizing the process.
Marketing, believe it or not can be a service to others. We can serve others by helping something grow, by believing in a product and wanting it to be better, and creating a community which will help shape it’s growth. If we use corporate transparency, ethical procedures and team building skills all of us can benefit in the end.