I've always been surprised at the negative reaction most marketers have had toward social media until I finished up leading my third seminar session on the subject and it suddenly became clear to me. For most marketers, and even several journalists, the underlying mechanism of social media is foreign.
The oldest form of human communication is simple conversation. Human language was developed to exchanges ideas and desires between individuals and within small groups. That is how we have connected with each other for millennia. It looks something like this:
The flow of information is multidirectional and no one is in control of the outcome. The upside of this kind of communication is issues can be resolved in realtime. You get true concensus. The downside of oral communication is that when you express an idea, you can get a negative response ranging from a simple disagreement with your premise to a punch in the nose. Those looking to avoid confrontation would amass a "tribe" followers that, if strong enough, could enforce an opinion without risking armed conflict.
With he advent of mass communications in the invention of the written language, something started to change. It now became possible to avoid getting a negative reaction to a concept by just ignoring any written response. Over the centuries, mass media has downplayed the conversational aspect of human nature and created a one-way flow of information that looks like this:
The flow of communication is one way. You can give the impression that there is a dialog in a Q&A session in a live speaking engagement, or in a talk show by allowing call-ins, but that is highly controlled at the front end. The upside of this paradigm is one person or entity can create an impression that this is the way of things without receiving any input, positive of negative, and possibly create a "tribe" that will follow your position, sometimes to the death. The downside is that you have to guess at what your audience will accept as truth, overcome competing messages and never really learn if what you are saying is truly resonating with the audience.
The first form of communication is the most natural. It is still going on today, although the influence of the second makes it more difficult to reach concensus. The second form of communication is unnatural, but it is also the accepted paradigm of today. It is the way companies do marketing, they way broadcast companies create programming, the way clergymen speak to their congregations and probably the reason that, after all the centuries, humanity is no where closer to developing a consensus on anything.
Social media attacks that paradigm with a natural flow of communication, but on a much broader scale. That's why marketers and journalists often chafe at embracing the practice. What I have learned from this revelation... is something I will take up in the next post. Comments, as always, are welcome.