Today’s Social Media Purists = Yesterday’s Freeform FM DJs

By Tad Miller | Aug 8, 2008
More Articles by Tad


I fully expect to get crucified for proclaiming this online, but… The proponents and evangelists of Social Media need to relax and enjoy their “art” form while it lasts, because it won’t last the way they want it to or profess it should be. Like all forms of media it will either evolve to serve the masses or be too small to justify the time and expense. There are a lot of exceptions to that statement, but for the most part it’s true.

The Blogosphere and even the bookshelf’s are full of information from Social Media evangelists right now advocating for what Social Media should be and especially what it shouldn’t be. Honestly, I think a lot of them are a little too hardcore and holier than thou about something that is really the most free form of media out there. Most of the conversation setting up unofficial “rules” for Social Media deals with the area of business use of it and “Transparency” with using it. Use of “personas” or avatars in Social Media Bookmarking to “Spam” Social Media in order to improve Search Engine rankings has been a big topic of conversation lately.

The reactions of the “proctectors” of Social Media got me thinking about a great quote from one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous. Fairuza Balk plays a Rock and Roll Groupie in the early seventies on the road with a band. She’s a groupie for the sheer love of the music and has no other aspirations but loving the music. When other’s come into the picture with motives not as “pure” as hers she rants:

“Can you believe these new girs? None of them use birth control, and they eat all the steak. I mean, they don’t even know what it is to be a fan. You know, to love some silly little piece of music, or band… so much that it hurts.”

Similar comparisons of the future evolution of Social Media could be made with FM radio.

In the early days of FM radio, the AM dial was still setting the pace, so FM was a place where it didn’t matter much what you played or how you filled your timeslot. As a result, free-form FM became the mainstay and DJs established their own style, both personally and musically. (Think “WKRP in Cincinnati”) Success ruined FM radio once the suits moved in with their focus groups and required play lists.

I found a great review for a book called “FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio” by Richard Neer that yielded what I think are prophetic quotes for what happened to “Freeform FM Radio” as it relates to the nature of Social Media.

“…isolated FM stations like KFOG in San Francisco, WXRT in Chicago, and what later became the Mecca of them all, New York’s WNEW, FM’s stock was slowly rising. At these stations, ownership tolerated experimentation–what was there to lose? WNEW was one of the first to abandon the rigid Top-40 format and embrace what those nutty kids were listening to. Big-voiced, relentlessly cheery, airhead AM jocks were replaced by cerebral deejays who talked to listeners about politics and philosophy. They read poems and polemicized about the civil rights movement and played whatever they wanted. Jocks mixed Miles Davis with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix with James Taylor. They flaunted their encyclopedic musical knowledge. When it worked, it was groundbreaking.

“The most important point in the book, one that Neer nails, is

that free-form radio’s self-righteousness killed it, perhaps deservedly. “These jocks were interested in self-expression, which often translated into self-indulgence,” he writes. “It’s the elitist attitude that, `I know better than the marketplace. I know what’s good, the great unwashed public doesn’t.’” As that passage suggests, deejays lorded over set lists as if they were works of art. The seamless segue from one song to the next was considered a transcendent moment of sublime ecstasy. Jocks wanted only to educated listeners to their own tastes–in other words, a lot of these guys sounded less like jocks and more like jerks.”

And then the “suits” moved in:

“The little bud of cool was discovered, deemed valuable, commodified by The Man, and extinguished in its original form. It’s said that America avoids revolutions by absorbing them. This is exactly what happened to cutting-edge FM radio some three decades ago.”

So how will Social Media evolve? I think its role in being defensive for business is firmly entrenched as a mechanism for damage control of bad publicity going forward. But, how it gets used pro-actively is where the evolution will take place. Right now the most easily measurable successes from proactive Social Media is its use as a tool to improve SEO rankings. How, SEOs “ethically” leverage Social Media to improve Search Engine rankings is up for debate right now between Social Media Marketers and SEOs.

A top ten ranking on a search engine is something you can take to a CEO that mentally translates into a success metric. How does a small, but likely expensive, forum about “kitty litter” used to strengthen “Brand” translate to the same CEO?

Does this mean that Social Media Spam is the future of proactive Social Media? No, but it isn’t going away. The future of proactive Social Media is unwritten, but it likely won’t look like the Social Media purists of today want it to be. It will either fail as a mechanism to make companies money because the scale is too niche, fragmented and small to be meaningful to bottom lines or it will be leveraged and exploited in some way to make it wildly profitable and will be “corrupted” in the eyes of purists in the process.

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