State of the (Media) Union

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Social media is the ultimate democratizer, equalizer, uniter and divider because it gives a voice and platform to anyone who is willing to engage. We are witnessing, and contributing to, the largest media paradigm shift in decades. The convergence of our country’s declining trust in traditional media, the growth of social media adoption, the ability to behave anonymously online and a splash of Donald Trump has created an unprecedented (or if you prefer ‘unpresidented’) dynamic. Get your umbrellas out because we’re in the perfect media storm.

Whether you believe what’s happening is positive disruption, destruction or democracy at its finest – it’s happening. We will see if Friday, Jan. 20th, Inauguration Day, is the official start of the Bigly big league season and this past election cycle was just spring training.

Before we play ball, I figured we should have a state of the union and map out some rules of the game.

Who am I kidding, there are no rules. Let’s simply take stock and level-set:

  1. It’s about time we drop the word ‘social’ and promote social media to just media. We can’t turn on the television without traditional media reporting on what’s happening on social media. In many cases that’s the focal point for TV news so I hereby declare social media is now just media. Hence the strikethrough. It has been argued that social media was the secret weapon that won Barack Obama the seat at the White House in 2008. The same could be argued for Trump in 2016. That said, you’ve earned this promotion, social Welcome to the big(ly) leagues.
  1. You are the media. We, the People, are the media. Donald Trump is the media. He has become the media because consensus is the true authority and we’ve empowered him by following and engaging with him whether we officially support him or not. The traditional media reports on Trump’s media activity as mentioned in #1. Therefore, he’s leapfrogged the system. Regardless of whether or not you’re a Trump supporter, he’s been very effective with this strategy. In the old days, circa pre 2016, a “follow” on social media meant you supported and endorsed the account you were following. It was an act of empowerment. Now, it’s simply necessary to get news and stay informed. The value of a follow has changed.
  1. When we mix #2 with the fact that traditional media is trusted less and less, the formula starts to get interesting. Then add the fact that social media is a key enabler of “fake news” because of how easy it is to hide your identity or publish something as fact when it’s not. Now we have a problem. Herein lies the storm or at least the storm in the cloud. Who do we trust? What’s real? Who’s accountable? Who’s credible?
  1. Speaking of Trust, why don’t we have a governing body or more regulations for social media? Who audits these platforms? Do we need to have checks & balances in place? We’ve identified that social media is extremely powerful (#2), do we need systems in place to make sure one specific platform or one certain entity doesn’t get too powerful? Is there such thing as a mediamonopoly? So many questions. Yet there are no rules. Media B.S. (before social) would provide affidavits when TV or radio was placed to serve as a legal document for proof of what was bought, was delivered. I’m not suggesting I want Facebook to send me an affidavit for my $15 ad buy but is someone looking under the hood to make sure everything is on the up and up?
  1. Ok, let’s address anonymity. Trolls are an issue in large part because they can hide behind their keyboard. (The fancy term is online disinhibition effect.) I recently spoke with Mark Cuban and asked him what he’d do if he were CEO of Twitter. He said one of the immediate things would be to address this very topic of trolling and privacy settings. Yet we can’t just blame the trolls.
  1. We, the non-troll People, are off the richter scale these days when it comes to emotional intensity. Social media simply amplifies and accelerates what already exists. (Evidentially sometimes facts don’t exist. Referring to the fake news.) Emotions and personalities are also amplified. You know what I’m talking about. How many political brawls did you witness, or engage in, during the election? Not just healthy-tension disagreements. We’re talking gloves off, friendships ending, negative emoticon throwing shade. Which leads me to ask the question …

What’s the solution to this perfect media storm? How do we turn this ship around? One idea is to open-source generosity online by scaling the spread of serotonin. No big deal. More on that down the road. We The People make pretty good use of social media during disaster recovery and relief situations, why don’t we do this every single day as well?

Where does all of this net out? We’re fatigued. Overcapacity. There’s never been more discussion around digital detox and having healthier relationships with technology. Simon Sinek recently explained this eloquently in an interview. (The internet went bananas over this video which is indicative that he said what we’ve all been thinking.) We want to go on a digital diet yet we’re craving the adrenaline that #1- #6 perfect media storm provides.

Social media has always been the Wild Wild West, there are no rules. Yet the storyline has changed. We’ve gone from more of a Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie kind of wild frontier where we connected, communicated and humanized our brands. An occasional #FailWhale would breech here and there but the future looked bright. Today it’s more of a Jesse James, shoot first and ask questions later, troll-infested cloud of dust that we’re all secretly addicted to.

What remains the same is that the space is alive, it moves real-time and each post, comment, photo and message can have a powerful and serious impact. We wouldn’t litter in the physical world, why do we do it in the virtual world?

There are no rules for this in the POTUS handbook. We live in a time where international diplomacy, or potential lack there of, is taking place in the cloud via 140 characters sometimes sometimes with and sometimes without grammatical and spelling errors.

It’s time we start thinking about and talking about these questions. The mixture of technology and media is the future of humanity. We, the advertisers, the influencers, the users, the government officials and the social media platforms decide if technology and media will shape us or if we decide to take over the steering wheel.