Social Media is Leveling the Playing Field
With the advent of social networking, people are rapidly outpacing the government’s and businesses ability to control their message.
Before the internet’s explosive growth, large entities like businesses, massive corporations and governments — here on to be known as “the man” — where able to control the public’s perception of a product, issue or event with far greater ease. Social media — and the internet in general — has turned the status quo on it’s ear and we’re seeing the man struggling to adapt.
Sure, sometimes the man manages to adapt, but usually it’s because they made a mistake and someone is calling them out. This is a painful and evolutionary process.
Banking – A big topic in the United States right now is the banking industry. It all started with the economic crash, bailout / TARP, and now, the focus is on the fees that banks are charging. One woman, named Anne Minch, had her credit card fees raised from 12.99% to 25.49% after losing her job and missing 1 payment. Incensed, she took her story online to YouTube with this video.
The video has over 300,000 views, spawned the website DebtorsRevoltNow.com and got the attention of Bank of America executives which contacted Anne to discuss revising her debt. Before the video, she had talked to BofA trying to negotiate her interest rate back down with absolutely no luck. In the end, Bank of America agreed to return her interest rate to 12.99%.
Telecoms – AT&T is one of the largest telecom providers in the United States. Their TV and print ads claim that they have the fastest network, best coverage, and they revel in the fact that they are the sole carrier of Apple’s iPhone in the United States. However, on the internet, their facade doesn’t hold up.
Twitter, Facebook and the blogs are rife with complaints about AT&T’s service, pricing, no matter how much money AT&T throws at advertising the complaints simply won’t go away.
When Apple launched the new iPhone 3Gs, AT&T decided that it would not be supporting tethering or MMS capabilities until “later in the summer”. They couldn’t even hit that deadline, instead, launching MMS today (the 25th) and still have not announced when they plan to support tethering.
AT&T has attempted to reach out to people via Twitter and Youtube, however many people — including myself — felt that their attempts where insulting at best. Their YouTube video was essentially a 3 minute video where they blamed their customers for AT&T’s inability to handle the iPhone.
Before social networking, AT&T and other telcoms where able to simply handle complaints via their support center, with no repercussions for poor service because there wasn’t a way for people to share their experiences. Now, telecoms are being forced to interact and respond to their customers.
Government – The government is the ultimate representation of “the man”. Traditionally, government spin and message where taken with some measure of reverence. Most people have a basic level of respect for their government and as such trust most of what they are told.
However, the internet and social networking have allowed people to communicate and question events and what politicians say… instantly. This has spawned something more intense than even the 24 hour news cycle — live, nation-wide discussion.
A humorous –non governmental– example of this would be Kanye West’s recent outburst at the VMAs. Within seconds of him interrupting Taylor Swift, people were reacting, discussing and commenting on his outburst. Within 30 minutes, it was a trending topic on Twitter, and by the next morning, Kanye had become an internet meme.
Another more important example is the recent election in Iran, where hundreds of thousands of Iranians were mobilized to protest the election results, and millions world-wide connected to show their support. The government was forced to adapt it’s heavy handed tactics (to some extent) because they could not control the message that it’s own citizens were spreading.
The Man is Adapting
2008 and 2009 has seen some amazing events, many negative, some good, however, it is clear that the man is learning from it’s mistakes and is beginning to view social networking as a necessary evil.
Small Businesses, are by definition more agile, and have adapted to social networking quickly and many are experiencing the benefits of their early adoption.
Larger corporations have adopted or are exploring social media to varying success and for different reasons. Starbucks is currently launching it’s VIA instant coffee brand via Twitter, Youtube and Facebook to what looks to be great success. Other large corporations — like AT&T — are implementing it out of a necessity to help combat the negative press that their service is generating.
Governments are even getting involved with social networking. President’s campaign has attributed much of it’s success to it’s use of social networks. Since his election, they have greatly boosted the transparency and reporting via popular online mediums with the public, an encouraging sign for many fed up with the previous administration’s policies.
For those that choose not to employ social media / networks into their advertising and company strategy they will find it harder and harder to compete with other businesses that do implement it.
This article got me thinking about my personal interactions with “the man” via social media, and it made me curious to see what experiences others had. Please share below in the comments!
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