Yin and Yang of Social Media

(NOTE: I just finished a post that tries to put to an end the bickering over whether blogging is journalism.  The following was written on a plane a couple of weeks ago on the way to Scotland to begin gathering material for a social media experiement.  When I wrote it I had a hard time with the context.  It works much better now that I did the post this morning, so I deleted the previous version and have replaced it with this one.

There has been a lot of discussion about where media is going in this country, not just on the B2B space.  Things seem to be changing faster than anyone can keep up and being a journalist just isn't much of a career choice anymore… or some people think.

There are some who think print is completely dead, but that's only true in major cities.  If you look between San Francisco and San Jose, you'll find a very lively and profitable bunch of local papers.  They don't pay their reporters jack, but they are surviving nicely.  Go into less populated areas of the US and you still find local press covering local and national news.  Go into India and you'll find a major new publication popping up almost every month.  People all around the world are reading more than ever before.

Here in the US we are spoiled by a glut of media.  We have newspapers, magazines, multiple broadcast formats (satellite, TV, radio, cable) and, of course, the Internet.  If you come up with a new way of communicating, a lot of people will rush to it… for a while.  Then they will declare it, "so yesterday." we got used to have free access to information, or rather, what we call information because, after all, we live in a free society.  But that is going away because the people who use to subsidize that flow of information have decided to stop paying for it.

I blame MTV for that.  MTV used to be about rock and alternative music, but over the past 20 years it has turned into a marketing machine.  It finds out whatever happens to be just new enough to look shiny to young people and then it crams it down young America's throat, be it the latest pop star, clothing, gadgets, vernacularisms or entertainment.  MTV is nothing but a big informercial, interrupted by traditional commercials.  But it makes a lot of money.  And it is shiny. 

Real information – stuff that makes a difference – isn't shiny.  It makes your head hurt and your eyes burn.  It makes you want to do your own research and find out more.  The Internet used to be good for that, but it gets clogged with opinion and experimentation now so it's hard to sift through.  That's what social media is supposed to do, and it will… eventually.  But first, we have to learn how to communicate, or at least start valuing those who can.

See, the problem is, and I've said this many times, is that corporate America use to find the communications ability of journalists valuable and were willing to pay large sums of money to media to get people to read, watch and listen to objective information.  They don't value that anymore.  They don't want you to have objective information.  They would rather control it completely, like MTV, MSNBC or Fox does, and make you think it's objective.

They also want you to believe that everyone in your community knows exactly what is really going on, so you only need to listen to people in your community.  That's what social media is being used for now.  Many tech companies are creating online communities and tons of blogs that only reach their customer base, and they are directing the conversation to keep that community within their small circle.  It is working to an extent, because it is limiting the flow of information.  It's serving as a valve on the data fire hose we know as the Internet.  However, it is anything but objective.  And the larger companies need it to be very partisan.

That is not good for small, innovative companies, however.  Innovation is good for industry, but not good for big companies.  So it is important for big companies to control the market conversation.  They will choke off any discussion that might help an innovator succeed. 

And that's the yin and yang of social media.  It is good for filtering information, but it is bad for information.  It is good for making a company successful, but it can be used to kill competition and growth.  So like everyone else, I'm telling everyone to get on board and get into social media. That brings us back to figuring out what good journalism looks like.