The broadcast medium formerly known as social media.

Being social at a partyBefore it became commercial, the web was social.

By the late 1990s it was definitely more commercial than social.

Then, with the fast growth of dedicated social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, it became seriously social again.

The arrival of the smartphone in 2007 made the web even more social. Smartphones are, by definition, social devices. And many of the most popular apps for these devices are hard-core social.

And then…

And then social media became a commercial broadcast channel.

OK, that’s the short version.

To put it another way, while you and I still enjoy the truly social aspects of the web, both on our computers and our smartphones, companies and organizations are using “social media” as a broadcast channel to sell their products and services. They are rarely being social at all.

Go to the Facebook page of any large company or brand and you’ll find plenty of promotions but very little in the way of true conversation.

To be fair, I think a lot of companies started out on social media with good intentions. I think they wanted to be social. But found it just too hard.

Big companies and organizations have a lot of history to get past if they actually want to talk with their customers and really listen to them. They have a hundred years of ingrained habits that make the idea of actually being social something they find hard to fathom.

To compound the problem further, companies large and small are being sold tools and services that enable them to automate their social media. For example, a company can schedule a tweet or Facebook update a few weeks in advance.

Is that social? Hardly. It’s like scheduling what you’re going to say at a particular point at a dinner party that won’t take place for another two weeks.

How could your comment possibly fit into a conversation that hasn’t even started yet? It wouldn’t.

All this to say that I think social media experts and managers have lost their way.

They are using social media as a broadcast channel, not as a way to enter into real conversations.

The only people who are really being social on these platforms are regular people. Individuals. Not companies.

When I see something like this happening, I immediately think “opportunity”.

If companies are not being well served by the experts and tools they use now, it’s time to give them something different.

And my guess is that the best person to offer that kind of difference is someone like you. Why you? Because you’re a writer and a marketer, and you’re still living and working on a “human scale”. You still interact with others one-on-one, and not through automated systems.

I see an opportunity for a new breed of social media writers who approach companies and show them how to pull back from the broadcast model of social media and tap into the conversational model.

Would companies be receptive to that kind of approach? I think so, because I think a lot of companies also recognize that the broadcast approach to social media just isn’t working.

If I had the bandwidth to open up a second career for myself, I would be all over this.

If you do have the bandwidth, you might want to give the opportunity some thought. Social media marketing desperately needs help in getting back into the “human realm”.

NOTE: For foundational training in social media, and in what it means to be a social media writer, you might want to check out my program, How to Make Money as a Social Media Expert.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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6 thoughts on “The broadcast medium formerly known as social media.”

  1. Agreed – Businesses using social media simply to broadcast their products and services are ‘not getting it’. But they do keep their brands in the minds of their potential clients. In a crowded marketplace, brand-building is vital.

    However, many ‘premium’ brands are reliant already on ‘Conversational’ strategies to help to tie in clients and increase both their loyalty and spend.

    For example, here in the UK, if you happen to visit a polo match then you will often find a generously-appointed hospitality tent from Audi, making sure Audi owners are better cared for. BMW just nailed the PGA Championship at Wentworth by having preferential parking arrangements for BMW owners deployed. Big signposts on all major roads made it clear to everyone. The conversation begins in earnest!

    Social Media currently seems to be the preferred ‘broadcast system’ with the ‘conversation’ beginning once the customer (or hot lead) clicks ‘like’.

    So, maybe the model is ‘two-tier’? Maybe Social Media is the net and then ‘Conversational’ is the port where the fish are landed?

    • Neil, hi

      I think what you suggest can work very well for those premium brands. But regular household good and services? Not so much. I think they need to get social on the networks themselves.

  2. So true Nick. I always say don’t follow logo’s, follow people. Real people.

    Lately I was only posting on Google+ using Friends+Me to repost it directly to Twitter and LinkedIn (Not using Facebook at all). It’s also a sort of scheduling. It never felt good, so I stopped a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m writing my own tweets again I also found back what I liked about Twitter: thinking about how to KISS: Keep It Short and Simple. Playing with words, find the essence.

  3. Mischa, hi. I went through the same process a few years back. The lure of automation, and then the realization that automation is not conversation!


  4. But how do businesses on Facebook show up in newsfeeds, regardless of their content? Only 1 to 5% of the posts from businesses show up organically. Do we have to pay to play?

    I recently turned down work to manage social media for a client. I felt I would just be taking their money and could not deliver results.


    P.S. And I’ve completed your very excellent program, Nick…

    • Donna, hi.

      Yes, if you are a company on Facebook, you pay to play. Most companies know this, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to your clients.



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