Shouting in an Empty Room: Why the Audience Matters More Than the Content When It Comes to Social Media

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Shouting in an Empty Room: Why the Audience Matters More Than the Content When It Comes to Social Media


Posted by Theron Lalla, Associate Account Manager

There seems to be two general schools of thought concerning when social media really took off. The first school thinks that it started with social networking sites like Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook. The second school traces its beginnings back to the first e-mail sent in 1971. Personally, I think they’re both wrong, and if we really want to think about the advent of social media, we need to look past the invention of the Internet, all the way back to 2500 B.C. Egypt—the first record of live theater performances.

For the purposes of this Article, we can break down any performance into two key elements—the media and the audience. Without an audience, the story may as well have gone untold—and for this reason, the audience matters more than the story when it comes to social media.

Most modern-day proponents of the virtues of "social media" are very big on publishing content in a place where users can see it; the more the better. Yet, many of these people don't actually facilitate audience feedback.  Instead, they hope someone cares enough to start a discussion. The truth is, everyone has an opinion, and the ability to share it—often loudly—is what makes social media… well, social. So the advertisers that haven’t facilitated a community discussion have essentially put on a great performance but prevented their audience from clapping or cheering, either because they forgot about the social side, or perhaps they’re afraid of the audience booing. So they hope the media is compelling enough so that audiences retreat to Facebook and share their content. Is leaving it completely up to fate how you want to approach your social media efforts?

The ability to share opinions on anything and everything is a likely factor in catapulting Facebook to success over similar sites like Friendster and MySpace. It wasn't the simplicity of the design or the exclusivity. It was the ability to comment on everyone's pictures, activities, relationship statuses, and even their status updates. It wasn’t a platform for publication. It was a platform for dialogue. And even when the dialogue was about something or someone they intensely disliked, the point was they were discussing it, period. You find just as many comments on videos popular for being entertaining (a.k.a. the auto-tuned "Bed Intruder" song) as you do for what is currently generating buzz as the worst video on the Internet (Rebecca Black – Friday). Without the ability to comment on the musical genius or failure of these songs, sharing would essentially be limited to forwarding media like chain letters to everyone on your contact list (no one still does this, right?)—everyone would see it, but no one would talk about it. So whether seeking to inspire fans or generate controversy, if you want a chance to be relevant, you need to give the audience a reason and a way to discuss. Even the movie industry has had social media before the Internet. Magazines like People and US Weekly produce no actual content, but instead offer commentary on celebrities. Social media has always been about the sharing of opinions, not necessarily content. And just as socializing is not limited to the Internet, neither is social media.

One of the existing problems with current approaches to social media is that we tend to focus on metrics on the sites where our content is published. Yet are you looking at the level of participation you're generating? More importantly, is your content worth sharing—either because it's hilarious, moving, controversial, or even a ridiculously-great deal? Or is it equivalent to well-produced spam?

These are some of the bigger questions that should be considered when launching—or maintaining—your social media campaigns, or your story might as well be untold, too.

So what’s your take on it? What do you think are the blind spots most advertisers have when talking about social media? Are you tired of the phrase “social media”—and do you think it’s somewhat of a misnomer? Let us know in the comments below!

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