Social Media Backlash: Should Internet Marketers Start To Worry?
The Guardian reports today “Social networking under fresh attack as tide of cyber-scepticism sweeps US”. It’s obviously a headline contrived with more concern for attention-grabbing than for accuracy, but it brings up some interesting questions anyway.
As internet marketers, the future of social media is a big question for us, and the possibility that an ‘uprising’ against its negative aspects and mass abandonment of Facebook and Twitter et al is an important one. Will Facebook one day be the number one priority for every marketer? Or will it go the way of Friends Reunited, Alta Vista and MySpace…?
Is social media destroying our humanity?
More and more discussion is taking place at the moment about the impact of social media technologies on our lives – we’re living through a fascinating revolution – with a lot of that focused recently on the negative. Writers have been especially concerned with worries that:
• Social media takes over our lives so that we compulsively have to participate in the online social world. We just have to be constantly Tweeting, uploading images of where we are, liking things, reading all the minute details about the lives of our Facebook friends.
• Social media only appears to connect us better, when in fact it leaves us increasingly isolated and disconnected – as here.
• Social media contributes to an inferior experience of human relationships, for example reducing human interaction to 140 character online messages rather than in-person meetings
• Social media makes us stupid: we become used to digesting only quick and small bits of information, and lose the ability to concentrate for long periods on single things
• Social media means that people can no longer disconnect from work, or their social network, or the screen. We go to cafes and sit collectively in silence, staring at laptops (I realise the irony of this as I write this post from a quiet cafe…)
• Social media further overwhelms and distracts us away from self-awareness and the awareness of others. Our minds become trained constantly to expect new stimulus and excitement from the screen of our phone / iPad / laptop / TV
• Social media fosters a new set of apathetic moral norms, that make us indifferent, and, for example, allow people to see their friends post suicide messages on Facebook without doing anything about it.
So are these worries well-founded? And if so, will that matter to internet marketing?
Short answer: Well-founded? Sort of but not really. Will it matter? Not a bit.
Is social media to be overthrown then?
With every luxury, and every good thing, there is a danger of losing self-control. It’s the classic trap of progress in capitalist societies: we are wealthier than ever, and yet less satisfied or content than ever. The rise of social media means we see more Facebook-crazed loons who have to tweet the colour of the toilet paper they’re using and tell the world what they’re having for breakfast, but for those of us with reasonable levels of self-control we don’t need to worry too much.
And anyway, with Facebook now at over 500 million users and still growing fast, we’re not likely to see these worries make a difference any time soon.
Crucially, social media does serve a fundamental need. Like the SMS message – it has given us a new way of connecting with each other that has unique advantages over other forms of communication, with the capacity for enriching our lives and shared experiences.
In any case, even if social media was the corrosive force some people might argue, it’s a separate question whether that would help it survive or not. In fact, doesn’t the history of capitalism teach us the direct opposite…?