What If We’re Wrong About Social Media?

Maybe it’s time to change the game in 2014.

Barry Cunningham
Dec 15, 2013 · 7 min read

I went down to the crossroads, Tried to flag a ride. I went down to the crossroads, Tried to flag a ride. Nobody seemed to know me, Everybody passed me by.

Those are the words of the consummate bluesman, Robert Johnson. The music he made nearly 80 years ago has been a staple of blues musicians ever since.

Eric Clapton lauded Johnson and declared him "."

Johnson is so revered that because of his influence in the music industry, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first induction ceremony held in 1986.

Robert Johnson seen circa 1936 in one of only 3 photographs on record

In 2003 Johnson ranked fifth in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton, all have said that Johnson was one of the top ten guitarists of all time!

When Keith Richards first heard one of Johnson's songs he asked,

Richards couldn't tell that it was Johnson playing on one guitar.

Not bad accolades for a man who died in 1938 at the age of just 27 years old. Johnson is the subject of legend. I don’t dabble in the occult, but the story as told, and believed by many, is that Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical gifts.

As we turn the calendar and move into 2014, I feel like I’m standing at the crossroads myself. Maybe not the one in the Mississippi delta where Johnson met his fate, but a social media crossroads.

And from what I’ve been seeing, I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are a lot of people making their way in this social media game feeling the same way.

So many brands and businesses are looking to be seen. Dying to be heard. Praying at the altar of the social networks to bring them eyeballs. In essence many are dastardly cutting their own deals with the devil.

Chasing algorithms, gaming SEO, begging for likes, retweets, comments and shares. They all seem to have the same dilemma that Robert Johnson wrote about 80 years ago. The same problem he seemingly solved by shaking hands with the devil.

That being the fear of being unseen. The fear of being wholly irrelevant. The fear of . The fear that was so compelling that legend says he made the deal that took his soul…forever!

How many brands do we see selling their souls daily. Doing anything to be seen. Terrified of being irrelevant. That’s why I believe we’re all sitting squarely at the crossroads of social media. Something has to change.

After working with many brand clients, sports teams and personal brands I’ve come to a a conclusion. A conclusion that many won’t agree with and that many will find crazy. But then again, I’ve never been one who looks for safety in the pack. So here goes.

No one on social media really cares about a brand. No one on social media really cares about a brand’s tweets or Facebook updates. Social media may build some long term affinity but no one is really getting excited about a brand’s latest post.

No one is standing around waiting with baited breath for your latest attempt at humor. No one is sitting there waiting to see what coupon you’re going to offer. No one makes visiting your social profiles a major part of their day.

Social media has become an advertising farce. Most of us are fast-forwarding past your social posts in much the same way as we do with commercials. We’re too busy doing what we really like to pay any real attention to your marketing messages. The more you try to be cool, the less cool you really are.

There are entire departments at brands and divisions at advertising agencies who work extremely hard at pushing out marketing messages that even they themselves and their friends would completely ignore.

They sit in meetings and create horrid content calendars wrapped around things called initiatives.

Do these people really think that will work in 2014? Don’t they realize that life isn’t lived in scripted fashion?

Brands are spending vast amounts of time and money hoping that the social networks will actually show their offerings. They continue their futility by relying upon a fraction of the people who may see those messages to hopefully buy something.

In my opinion, this is the social media marketing equivalent of selling your soul.

Does this sound like a long term social business strategy that can be successful? It’s not likely to work and it’s time for some serious introspection and internal review. .

You see the world has undergone a tremendous seismic shift. With all of our technological advancements, humans are seeking to actually be more communal.

Robert Sillerman, the guy who put SFX together once said (and I paraphrase) that the more prevalent technology becomes, the more we will crave human interaction.

Bingo! We’ve arrived at the crossroads! As we move into 2014 that’s exactly where I feel we’re standing. So I believe we have three choices:

  1. Keep doing what we’re doing ()
  2. Sell our souls to the devil ()
  3. Change what we’re doing ()

I’m opting for number 3. I believe in evolving and adapting with innovation, so there’s no way I’m going to be stagnant and keep doing what has already been done.

I certainly have no desire to live a life of torment being in some kind of social media purgatory serving the masters of the social networks.

So for me, I’m making some changes and I’m advising all of my clients to make some changes as well.

In order for a brand to be relevant, they MUST be front of mind. They must be experiential in nature. I believe that moving forward brands must create memories for their audiences. The social networks are merely distribution points to support and promote those experiences and memories.

In 2014 brands must realize that they ARE the media and take that seriously. You’re not a company that makes cookies that happens to post tweets and pictures.

In 2014 you need to . You’re not a candy company that posts Facebook updates to promote your products, .

In 2014, the successful social businesses will be those brands who comprehend that social media has forever changed the manner in which we market our goods and services.

Brands need to accept the new economic reality that people are more likely to buy products from brands that are a part of their life.

They are LESS likely to buy from brands that interrupt it.

In 2014, brands that still think of people as consumers instead of as their audience, will suffer greatly. Brands and their agencies that foster this transition will see amazing results.

Understanding that we are all in the media business now must be quite daunting to some. It’s not comfortable as the landscape has been, and will remain, quite fluid. Technological changes are ongoing. We’ve seen it and I believe it will be constant. Count on it!

In my opinion, chasing the changes is dangerous. Doing so places your brand at the mercy of the network. Chasing the changes is indeed dancing with the devil.

Instead, in 2014, begin focusing on the one variable that you may see some stability in. Your audience.

I believe if brands begin creating those unforgettable experiences with their audience members and using the social platforms to scale those experiences, they will be able to distance their products and services from their competitors.

Today’s audience is empowered. They are no longer simply consumers to be talked at. They are active members of a community. They’re expecting to participate with your brand.

I believe in 2014 we’re going to see that social media can power experiences to amazing heights. Your audience wants you to be relevant. As a brand interacting with its audience you must always remember that relevance can’t be an afterthought.

If you want to penetrate your community and compel them to respond, at scale, create experiences fueled by social that positively impacts their lives.

Or you can tell Robert Johnson that we all said hello. The choice is yours.

I went down to the crossroads, Tried to flag a ride. I went down to the crossroads, Tried to flag a ride. Nobody seemed to know me, Everybody passed me by.

    Barry Cunningham

    Written by

    An antagonist of conventional wisdom. Helping brands & sports teams become the media. Tweeting @barrycunningham