Social, not mediated

Earlier this year I wrote that social media for marketing is just the tip of the iceberg. The real power of social media is for getting things done. They facilitate learning and working; which are now joined at hip in the creative, complex workplace that’s 24/7 in multiple time zones and always-on.

I think phase one of social media is almost over. It started with the early adopters who were enthused and helpful. It is finishing with the carpet-baggers; all those social media gurus and brands who want to sell you stuff and see this as an easy marketplace. Just as the snake-oil salesmen followed the travelling circuses and chautauquas in the developing American West, so did every vendor and spammer jump on the social media bandwagon. And some of the bigger kids did too.

Now some organizations are realizing how interconnected, networked people can get things done by working smarter. They are seeing the iceberg under the water line and realizing that social is bigger than media. As Umair Haque describes it, we need to move from social media to social strategy:

Yet, most “social media” strategies have one or more of three goals: to “push product,” “build buzz,” or “engage consumers.” None of these lives up to the Internet’s promise of meaning. They’re just slightly cleverer ways to sell more of the same old junk. But the great challenge of the 21st century is making stuff radically better in the first place — stuff that creates what I’ve been calling thicker value.

Organizations don’t need “social media” strategies. They need social strategies: strategies that turn antisocial behavior on its head to maximize meaning. The right end of social tools is to help organizations stop being antisocial. In fact, it’s the key to advantage in the 2010s and beyond.

My observations of Google Plus reinforce why we need to shift away from the tip of the iceberg (media) and focus on its base (social). The current business model for social network platforms is antithetical to what we really need to use them for. We are the product being sold. How can that be a sustainable social contract?

Google Plus wants to sell my data, hence the requirement to use my real name. It’s not about me; it’s about the advertisers. I think the people who are critical of Google Plus (and it could have been any other company) are signs of an initial sea change. Growing resentment of being used and subjected to constantly changing terms of service could result in a desire for common and open social platforms. Governments and NGO’s could step up and get these going but the marketplace may demand it.  If Status.net offered an ad-free & no-selling-of-data platform for $25 per year (same as Flickr Pro), would there be enough people for a viable business model? Would it be possible to give free accounts to those who cannot afford it?

I believe that as social networking becomes more important in our work and leisure activities, we will be willing to pay for it, in return for controlling our data. I hope that time is soon.

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