The Epochal Change That The Rise of Social Media Demarcates

Whenever anyone from the traditional media industries writes, blogs, or tweets about Social Media, they miss the point. I find this so exasperating that I want to stab them with the point. Here is my thrust:

When newspaper, magazine, radio, and television folks write or speak about Social Media, they consider Social Media as sideshows or separate from traditional media. They liken Social Media to bulletin boards, chat rooms, or online forums purely for social interactions (hence the name they’ve given it). This misconception is prevalent even in academia. The media school where I teach has created a new position, professor of Social Media, as if Social Media are separate from traditional media.

What they all don’t understand is that Social Media are not separate from Traditional Media. Social Media are the successors to Traditional Media.

The difference between Traditional and Social Media is that the tide has turned. People will no longer go to media sites to find what interests them; they now want what interests them to be delivered to their site. A person’s Social Media page is the edition he will read, the channel he will watch. He will no longer consume traditional media editions or traditional media channels.

For centuries, if a person wanted news, information, or entertainment, the person had to go to the sites of traditional media and hunt & gather there for what might interest him.

  • Beginning in the 1600s, if he wanted news, he had to go read a newspaper posted on or near the public notices board of his town square or buy a copy of that newspaper or, at best, go pay to have that entire newspaper delivered to him. Only a handful of the many stories published in that newspaper edition might truly interest him, but he would nevertheless have to go through the entire edition just to find the few stories which might truly interest him. And starting in the 1700s, he could add magazines to that chore.
  • Starting in the early 20th century, he could receive radio and later television, both of which were automatically delivered to him if he had receivers. Nevertheless, he would wait during the entire programming schedule for the few programs that might truly interest him.
  • And beginning in 1991 (actually 1996 with traditional media), he could go to the web sites of those newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations or networks, where among all the packages of printed stories and broadcast program schedules he might find the few stories or programs that truly interested him.

Thus for centuries people had to go to and through traditional media’s editions and program schedules, and hunt and gather among all the stories and programs for the specific stories and programs matched the person’s individual’s interests. That era is ending.

The rise of Social Media demarcates an epochal reversal in the flow between people and news, entertainment, and information.

The people now want whatever news, entertainment, and information individually interests them to come to their own personal site (i.e., their microsite on Facebook, MySpace, Tencent, Twitter, Qzone, etc.) Less and less will people visit traditional media sites where they must hunt and gather for the stories or programs that interest them. They instead want those individually categorized things delivered automatically to them into their Social Media pages or future equivalents (their Daily Me‘s?)

Rather than hunt and gather, people want to cultivate. They no longer want to go and find at media sites. They now expect the media to come deliver at their sites. It’s an historic change in how they acquire news, information, and entertainment. Indeed, an epochal tidal change: No longer will the people flow to media sites, they now want individually relevant parts of those media sites to flow to them.

This change is one of many ramifications from people’s access and supply of news, entertainment, and information changing from relative scarcity to surplus.

When the supply of something changes from scarcity to surplus, the buyers gain more power than the sellers.  For centuries (no, millennia!), people had scarce access to news, entertainment, and information, so publishers and later broadcasters had the power to compel the people to visit media companies’ sites. Rather than supply each person individually, according to that individual unique interests, publishers and broadcasters were able to insist that the people be a mass and consume aggregated packages, even if not everything in an aggregated edition or channel or program schedule would satisfy each person.

Yet now that people have surplus supply and access to news, entertainment, and information, the people have the power and no longer have to consume aggregated editions, channels, or program schedules. They no longer have to consume as a mass. Each person can compel publishers and broadcasters to deliver only the stories and programs that interest them, regardless of what else might have been in the traditional editions, channels, program schedules, or web sites.

Media sites will still exist, though primarily as repositories of content, and some people will still visit those sites. Yet the vast majority of people will expect the elements they want from those repositories to go to them

Media companies need to learn that the stories in their traditional editions or the programs in their own traditional program schedules are now more valuable separately than as produced as editions or program schedules. Stop concentrating on the producing and selling the editions or the programming lineup schedules. Concentrate instead on producing, syndicating, and selling each individual stories and individual program. Go with the flow. The tide has changed.

About Vin Crosbie