Been having some interesting discussions with social media marketing/techdev types the past few weeks and I've come to realize that the SM industry is about as inbred as an industry can get. That's not good. Here's the background:
I am still very tied into the old media world through very deep relationships. I have good friends that not only work for newspapers, they own them. 5 years ago these friends saw they businesses crumbling but they still thought there was a chance to turn it around and the SM was just a fad. Today it is quite different. They understand they were wrong now, but they still don't understand how to put it into the context of their audience... because the SM industry doesn't care about context. They care about selling stuff... through relationships. In other words, an industry built on Amway marketing philosophy.
But that's not what social media is supposed to be about. SM is about building community through shared information. The health of that community is specifically tied to the validity of the information. If your core of information is subjective gossip and self-promotion, you will have a very sick community. If that community is based on objective information and common purpose, you have a healthy community.
That's where the headline comes in. Our objective information core is still in print and old media. When I hear people, whatever the age, sit down and talk about the state of the world, their opinion is still based or at least directly influenced by something they read in a newspaper or what someone they know told them about what they read in a newspaper. Of course it is socially acceptable to say bad things about that source, or whether one actually agrees with the content. But nonetheless, the core is still a newspaper and generally a local one.
But what happens if that information core goes away, like so many are? John Paton, the new CEO of MediaNews has said he is all in on digital for the future of newspapers, but at the same time MediaNews has been steadily shutting down local papers it buys and creating single entities for large metropolitan entries. For, example, the respected Contra Costa Times is soon to be melded into a large entity covering everything from Walnut Creek to San Jose. Good luck getting the news of your town's city council when that happens. The community essense will be going away and with it an informed local electorate.
Even when a newspaper has only 10 percent of the local population reading it, that means 1 in 10 people you know are reading that paper and are influenced by it. Ten percent of the electorate is nothing to sneeze at. President Obama would kick his dog if it would boost his rating by 10 percent right now. So why would a social media company turn up it's nose at the opportunity to reach 10,000 users every single freaking day? I don't know either, but they are.
Communications is not an either/or process. We have been hearing that social media will kill newspapers for a long time, but they are still there (and in fact are growing at 10 percent per annum outside of Europe and the US). TV was supposed to kill radio, but it is still there, too. In fact, every form of communication since the dawn of media is still in use somewhere (What about stone carving, you ask? Anyone read --- in newspaper probably --- about the Martin Luther King Memorial). There is a large as yet untapped market out there ready to be taken. For the social media company that realizes that partnering with an old media company-- and making themselves relevant to their needs -- it will be the golden key to success. All those that don't will end up following MySpace into irrelevancy.