“Social Media is going to transform everything,” “It is the magic sauce that changes every situation”, “Social media is the empowerment of the individual at the expense of the corporation”, “Social Media is a challenge.” Stop me if you have never heard any of this before. My own book on the subject used at least one of these phrases, but what do they really mean? Or better still how do they exactly work? Why is social media empowering? How does it become a power for transformation? Why is it a challenge?
The answer to these questions underpins the assertion that social media can change the world. Understanding just how it does is crucial to deciding whether it even has a chance to work. The classic example of the world we lived in the pre-social media age is provided for us if we take a look at advertising.
Before I get too wordy and this article becomes a treatise take a look at Mercedes’ latest advert for a zero emissions car:
In the pre-social media era the advert would have been a little along these lines:
The Peugeot 305 advert pushes all the right buttons:
- It features a sleek (for its time) car
- A hot girl
- Hip music
- Suggestive scenarios
These are elements which advertisers used to manipulate us into making emotional purchases. We saw the end result, produced in a sleek package, that allowed us to see none of the research behind it:
- Cars appeal to men because they increase their sex appeal to women
- A back seat is great if you have a family (or if you are planning on having one and do not have a place of your own yet)
- Owning a car is perceived as glamorous
- Not to own a car can feel emasculating
- If you own a car you will get the girl
These were all facts which would be accumulated through focus group testing and extensive market research and the advert would be field tested using more focus groups and maybe even go on a limited market trial, all the while accumulating cost and creating a longer timeline to implementation. This costs would have been added to the production cost of the ad which itself would have probably needed to be reshot a couple of times, and, in the meantime, you and me, the guinea pigs at the receiving end, would be treated like lobotomized lab rats who needed to be given just the right stimulus to respond.
How Has Social Media Changed All This?
The Mercedes ad above has over nine million views at the time of writing. The car makers showed us a new car but they also showed us the challenge of making the ad for the new car and in doing so they explained why it was a challenge and the kind of ingenious solution they came up with in order to meet the challenge.
You notice they did not try to sell us the car. Instead they made us virtual partners in the making of the ad and by doing so they ‘cleverly’ subverted our natural resistance to advertising. But that’s not all they did. They showed us what is possible when technology and passion come up against the necessity to work. They made us realise just how difficult their job is how skilled they are at overcoming its challenges and, oh yes, they made us aware of the Hydrogen Fuel-Cell technology, zero emissions car by Mercedes.
Each time it is employed social media achieves three fundamental qualities which change in their consistency according to the setting and situation: Transparency, Accountability and Empowerment. It strips away the layers which we have become accustomed to hide behind and reveals the inner workings underneath and the moment it does that it also allows us to wholly participate in the exercise, assess the underlying logic and analyse its effectiveness. This way it spreads awareness, knowledge and a much different way of making decisions than anything we have had before.
This cuts across the board, from ad-making to marketing, to creating a law or making a cake. What we then choose to do with this increased knowledge and awareness is exactly what has the power to change everything.
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