The New Social Media Democracy

The New Social Media Democracy

This guest post comes from Mark Seall – Mark is the founding writer at TalkClimateChange and is also a regular contributor at ProBlogger. You can find Mark’s full Bio on his personal blog at marksblog.org.

Until recently, I have to admit to being very skeptical of the long term value of social media. My own experience has been relatively poor in that social media has provided me with few long term readers, which has lead me to discount its value, and largely ignore its potential. I said as much in a recent post on ProBlogger, at which point Brian Wallace took me to task and encouraged me to update my thinking.

My discussion with Brian made me realize that my current position on social media is in fact the complete opposite of the longer term thinking that I usually try to promote. In the long game, social media does indeed offer significant value through allowing smaller blogs to be noticed, enabling the cream of the blogosphere to rise to the top more quickly, and effectively democratising the media industry by allowing readers to determine what gets attention based on merit, instead of allowing editors to decide this for them.

Social media will undoubtedly change things for everybody, from bloggers at the lower end of the media food chain to the global news corporations at the top. Like good politicians, bloggers need to master the process of building a following and becoming nominated to stand in the daily social media elections (my own best performance has been a miserable 50 diggs, and about 15 stumbles – pretty poor), but what are the further implications of the social media phenomenon? Knowing that this revolution is coming, which strategies can be employed to fully exploit the opportunities that social media presents beyond simply becoming a top social media community member?

Right now I have a few emergent and ill-defined thoughts, and even fewer answers. I would like to use this post to share my musings and start a discussion before pretending to come up with some smart ideas of my own..

How will social media continue to be influenced?

I believe that blogs will represent a crucial media battleground in the coming years. Large media firms are beginning to exploit blogs as a cheap way to produce insightful content and win back readers who are being drawn in large numbers to savvy and entrepreneurial bloggers who are becoming increasingly organized, professional and consolidated. Social media will certainly play an important part in this battle, as large media seeks to influence by weight and small media seeks to influence by guile.

Will large media firms begin to exploit social media, or will they continue to rely on the strength of their existing brands? What are the wider implications for the blogosphere if large media firms truly engage in this market? To what extent will the media merge and differentiate?

What about the wider influence of social media on the landscape of content produced?

Democracy is not without its share of problems. Winston Churchill once declared that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all of the others have been tried.” Elaborating on these thoughts he later said “The strongest argument against democracy is a five minute discussion with the average voter”. Reading some of the comments on Digg one can derive some sympathy for that position!

As social media begins to evolve and increase its influence, will the resulting media democracy have a dramatic influence on the content created in the first place? Will editors begin to focus on stories that will bring in votes rather than on quality content? Will quality become less important or more important – or will it simply be defined by what is ‘diggable’?

With this in mind, if you were building a new blog enterprise today, what style of content would you go for? How much would social media influence your content and how central would it be to your overall content strategy? Are blogs which do not appeal to social media still viable?

Will branding continue to play an important role?

Good brands provide a promise which acts as a useful tool for consumers during the selection process. People go to CNN.com or news.BBC.com today because they know what to expect and what they are going to get. However, branding may begin to influence reader behaviour in other ways. Firstly, the rise of new media brands such as Digg will enable the media democracy and become an important and trusted news source, potentially relegating other brands to the position of content provider instead of content portal. Secondly, branding is likely to play some role in the social media voting process. Will voters vote purely on merit, or will they be more inclined to vote for sources they know? Will existing brands be able to use their brand power to leverage social media, or will we see a truly democratic democracy?

Will brand building remain important, or will the value of existing brands be stripped away by the new democratic process? Will social media truly level the playing field, or just partially redistribute it?

What impact will social media have on entrance barriers to the media world?

Before the advent of the Internet, getting published was a big deal. Before the advent of the blogosphere, getting noticed was a big deal. Today, with the right techniques and an interesting message it’s relatively easy to build a following, and by exploiting social media it’s possible to reach a very wide audience very quickly . As social media takes off and enters the mainstream, will it become easier or harder to enter the game?

Will individuals once again become lost in a sea of content as everybody fights over the same space within social media, or will new content creators be able to succeed purely on merit? Will the world of media see evolution or revolution?

These are questions which promise to occupy my mind for a good while. I’ll be back shortly with another post as my thoughts crystallize, but in the meantime I would love to hear your views.

13 Comments

  1. This is a very thought-provoking post. My inclination, though, is that it is going to become harder and harder for new blogs to gain visibility, and that it will be much easier to gain visibility via video and perhaps audio.

    Why?

    Because it’s extremely rare to write such a phenomenally great blog post that it instantly captures the imagination, that you want to view over and over and tell all your friends about. But with video, that seems easier to do. In fact, even BAD video can attract that kind of attention if it’s funny, but bad blog posts don’t.

    I do believe that some large media companies will “get it” and be able to leverage their brands into social media. New York Times blogs, Fast Company TV, Fox Embed, etc. — it’s already starting.

    Scott Allen’s last blog post..My New Favorite Blog

  2. This very intriguing post brings up some very interesting points. When I was younger, I always thought that as I grew up, it’d be less about popularity and more about hard facts. “Adults,” I wagered, “know enough to judge things based on their true merit, not just how flashy and kitschy they are.” Riiiiggghhhhtt.

    I was young, sue me. 😉 The thing is that I’m sure now it’s exactly as I was when I was younger, the cool kids are the popular ones. Or, in this case, the cool blogs, news outlets, etc. I’m rather pessimistic in how I see things progressing, so I don’t really see the hard-hitting, elegantly delivered, hours-pined-over articles making the impact as much as the ones that mention, “Britney’s nipple slip and mini-car accident.”

    The new art is creating information that is both beneficial and exciting. People can’t be dry — it’s all about that personal voice. I really think that if people start adding their own inflection and their own opinions that they have a better chance of success.

  3. This is interesting, but the pure lack of comments seems to validate your fear. Content alone does not make a site or an article. There still is some branding involved in everything. It is why because I have no toplevel domain I get maybe 1 comment every 3-4 posts, and why you have only 2 (3 now ) on this post. It is attached to a known source, but is not one in itself. There is some work still to do, and I wish I could figure out how to do it, cause my electricity gets shut off tomorrow heh. (literally)

    Locke’s last blog post..Enter your password securely

  4. It’s funny. I’m seeing more and more direct parallels between what’s being discussed in social media and what’s happening in the music industry. We’re seeing the major labels jump into bed with music enabled networks like MySpace and Last.fm, leaving true independent artists wondering how this is going to effect them. Meanwhile sites like Pitchfork are getting as much or more respect than Rolling Stone, and a good number of the industry rags are being forced to follow the ad dollars to the web (RIP No Depression). You can pretty much replace the word “content” with “music” (it is content, really) and be having the same conversation that’s haunting music industry blogs.

    Clif’s last blog post..On Crowdsourcing for Hits

  5. Social media has definitely changed the landscape of news consumption (in my opinion, for the better). Large media organizations are beginning to set up profiles on sites like Mixx as a way to attract visitors to their sites.

    Yahoo and affiliated content producers have taken a different tact, however. Instead of embracing this democratic approach and trying to be the best at it, they have deemed social media a threat, and have invested a lot of money into countering it.

    At first Yahoo Buzz appears to be just like most other social media sites. A closer look reveals that this could not be further from the truth. Buzz does not allow its users to submit content, so all of the news appearing on Yahoo Buzz comes from within Yahoo’s tight-knit circle of publishers, who (at least on Buzz) do not have to compete with bloggers and smaller content publishers.

    I think Yahoo has misjudged the very thing that drives social media, and as a result I expect it will be somewhat of a flop.

    Pedro’s last blog post..Wellness lifestyle can help trump genetics

  6. Thanks very much for your comments everybody, they are much appreciated. I’ll be back with further thoughts based on your insights in the near future, and will try to respond to each of your inputs separately – they are all extremely worthy thoughts!

  7. Some more direct responses:

    @Scott – you are right that rich media will become increasingly important. Probably because it requires less effort to digest, and is therefore more likely to appeal to a wider audience. Getting ranked highly today seems to require a combination of catching attention, and then catching the imagination – and you are right that this will remain difficult. The headline may become king over content..

    @Morgan – You hit the nail on the head in terms of the formula that will be required for marketable content in the future. The well thought out pieces will remain niche in terms of coverage – will be interesting to see how they compare in terms of advertising spend.

    @Locke – You are right – it will remain a mixture of branding and content. Although we seem to have some more comments now.

    @Clif – Very interesting observation! Will definitely dig into that next time around!

    @Pedro – It will indeed be interesting to see how the big boys play this one out, and which approach they take. I do see that Yahoo are accepting submissions for other sites (I put my TalkClimateChange blog forward) so perhaps they are going for a spam free, heavily quality controlled version of social media. Interestingly I hear that Yahoo Buzz sends many times the traffic of Digg and the like. Will definitely keep this on the watch list.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

    MarK.

  8. Mark, you mention “merit” several times. Why do you call it a democracy then? We have another word for such a system: meritocracy.

    Democracy comes in to forms: direct democracy (direct referendum) and representative democracy (how most nations are governed). I don’t think it’s applicable to social media.

    The question indeed is how much social media will promote a meritocracy. My personal stance is that it enables it, but does not make it inevitable. Lots depends on the behavior of people. Which people/blogs/voices they pay attention to, especially.

  9. Your brand is who you are, what you represent. Building this, protecting it and accepting criticism is key. If your blind to what they say on the net, you lose!

  10. Twitter Comment


    The new social media democracy…. [link to post] SH

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  11. Interesting article filled with lots of interesting and insightful questions – you got my wheels turning! I’ve been thinking about what you said regarding barriers to entry in the media world, and my opinion is that if you have an interesting message and the ability to develop a viral following, you can create a name for yourself, even your own “brand.” Just look a Perez Hilton!

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