It would be so easy to pontificate a "right" answer, but,
pragmatically, I know there isn't one.
After finishing a re-read of Clay Shirky's prescient piece from 2000,
The Consumer (1900-1999), I found myself cheering. So many
points in there were in sync with what had been written in Cluetrain, and so many of those
points were influential in what I had written in The
Social Customer Manifesto back in 2004, that I found my head nodding
in agreement paragraph after paragraph of Clay's post.
"To profit from its symbiotic relationship with advertisers, the
mass media required two things from its consumers — size and silence."
"Silence…allowed the media's message to pass unchallenged by
the viewers themselves. Marketers could broadcast synthetic consumer
reaction — 'Tastes Great!', 'Less Filling!'– without having to respond
to real customers' real reactions — 'Tastes bland', 'More expensive'.
The enforced silence leaves the consumer with only binary
choices…mass media is one-way media."
The "consumer" is dead. We all now are, or have the opportunity to
be, "customers." We have have the opportunity to be people,
and not just gullets that consume (to paraphrase Jerry Michalski).
The opportunity to be social comes up against a cold, hard reality,
however. As Clive Thompson wrote earlier this year, in a piece entitled
Praise of Online Obscurity, our technically-mediated social
interactions are outstripping our human ability to keep up. Thompson
brings forth a great illustration:
"Consider the case of Maureen
Evans. A grad student and poet, Evans got into Twitter at the very
beginning — back in 2006 — and soon built up almost 100 followers. Like
many users, she enjoyed the conversational nature of the medium. A
follower would respond to one of her posts, other followers would chime
in, and she’d respond back.
Then, in 2007, she began a nifty project: tweeting recipes, each condensed
to 140 characters. She soon amassed 3,000 followers, but her online life
still felt like a small town: Among the regulars, people knew each
other and enjoyed conversing. But as her audience grew and grew,
eventually cracking 13,000, the sense of community evaporated. People
stopped talking to one another or even talking to her. “It became dead
silence,” she marvels.
Why? Because socializing doesn’t scale."
We, as individuals, need to develop better strategies for dealing
with this increased sociality, with better filters, processes and
discipline to cull the wheat from the chaff. If we don't, the era of
the social customer will be a
short-lived one, with "broadcast," and not conversation, again being
the dominant model.