A few months ago, Enterprise Irregular and friend, Susan Scrupski, lamented in a tweet that "social media was more fun when it was run by hippies" or something to that effect. (Susan, correct me if I err.) But while her observation was, of course, astute it was nonetheless a signpost in our progress toward the post-revolutionary stage we're rapidly entering.Other signs abound: Wikipedia reaching its fund-raising goals, no longer able to survive on self-policing and a couple of servers, facebook flagging real estate and willing to tweak your privacy to do so, twitter caring to turn a profit and the constant clamor for ROI. But is this a bad thing?
I think not. I recently was reprimanded by a member of our Social Media Today Linkedin group for what I had rather injudiciously referred to as "our business," that is, running a series of moderated web sites which hopefully retain the freshness and collaborative quality of social media, but which are (although still counting every nickel) more and more beginning to look like a real business. Whether it's twitter, facebook or our humble enterprise, making money is a good thing, sharing it is even better, and chaos does not order itself (unless those who understand chaos theory would like to embellish on this point.)So, if the revolution is over and the dust is settling, what after all is really different about this new media world, or are we simply changing the personnel at the top of the heap? Bumping Pinch for Chris Brogan? Tossing out Rupert for Mark Zuckerberg? Whatever the future holds, I believe that we're never going back to media-as-we-knew-it, and here's why:
No longer can content be silo-ed. At whatever point the value is added or the moderation occurs, we'll never again see the day when content creators will put all their goodies in one spot and wait for readers to blandly absorb and move on. Information does want to be free, free to move around at any rate, even if we'll increasingly seeing value put on that information in various ways. The trick for the content creators and aggregators will be to find the proper point at which to create a transaction, in other words, to ask for remuneration from either a sponsor or a consumer, or both.No longer will content go unanswered. People whose job it is to report something, which is pretty much everyone with a phone anywhere in the world, and whether paid or unpaid, will always expect a response and not wait for the letters to the editor to arrive. Content will continue to be ever-moving and collaborative.
But the song remains the same. More and more, for their attention to content and for their distribution of content, providers will expect to be paid, but in a very different way. The business models of journalism are shattered and will never reform in their vertically-integrated fashion. Forbes magazine recently approached one of the bloggers whom we've put on a retainer and asked that blogger to write for them for free. But the blogger confessed that although we are not paying anything close to what a Forbes reporter would have made, the fact that we do provide a stipend made him unwilling to take Forbes up on their offer. In other words, while Forbes would ask for his attention but would not pay him did not persuade this blogger in the least. As we producers of media begin to re-aggregate content, money will matter, no question.And finally, although right now companies are creating communities or setting up twitter departments, they are going to get tired of trying to "do social media." It requires an unprecedented amount of relationship equity and human capital to do it right, and increasingly they are going to get frustrated and outsource it to agencies, consultants, or dare I suggest it, to the new media. Just like before the revolution.