The social media industry is broken—and it’s our fault

Social used to be the great new hope of the communications world. It hasn’t lived up to the hype.

I didn’t want to be the one to write a post like this. But my brain was about to explode.

I got into the social media industry shortly after getting my MBA, because I saw the incredible disconnect between what we talked about in business school and what was happening in the real world. The old ways of thinking about business, not just marketing or PR, were changing.

Out there, people were connecting with each other in new and exciting ways. They were creating interest groups around new ideas, they were sharing information and interesting content with each other like never before — and they were sending complaints about companies into the void with no response.

So I joined the chorus of people saying that every company needed to be on social media. Now. Without delay. It was time business started changing for the better.

Several years in, that hasn’t gone so well.

Today most social media managers spend more time trawling Wikipedia to find out when National Sock Day is than trying to add value to any conversations. The channels that were supposed to create mutual value between businesses and their consumers have mostly become condescending like-bait and embarrassing attempts at relevancy. The “Attention Economy” is crashing.

What happened? Well, we happened.

Those of us who convinced companies to take up arms on Twitter and Facebook came under pressure to deliver results quickly. Senior leaders wanted to know how social was supposed to fit into their traditional marketing mix. They wanted to know how it should be measured. They wanted to know how it could supplement their traditional advertising campaigns.

Instead of pushing back, we made it work. Instead of casting a bigger vision of what social integration could really mean for a company beyond just marketing, we let it be put in a box by CMOs who didn’t know any better.

And the end result? Platforms that are downplaying organic content in order to better serve advertisers. Marketing departments competing against each other to see who can troll the Super Bowl better. Publishing tools like Buffer making it increasingly easier to share content that you haven’t even read.

I just threw up in my mouth a little.

So I’m saying enough. Let’s get back to the original vision of what social can be. Forget fitting it into old, stagnant corporate cultures and B.S. marketing metrics. Let’s start changing business itself for the better, making it more open, more accountable, and more valuable to its consumers.

I have some ideas for how to do this, and I’ll lay out some of those soon. But if you also think that this industry has become a shadow of its potential, let me know. Maybe we can do something about it together.

Photo Credit: Bernat Casero