Last week I found myself roped into a debate on the rise, influence and importance of social media from a PR and marketing standpoint. Harvard Public Relations asked me to be part of a panel to present views on the subject, then discuss and expand on any points or questions raised by the audience. The audience was made up of the PR and marketing folk from the leading technology companies in the UK. The other guest panellists included Jack Schofield (Technology Correspondent for The Guardian) and Nick Sharples (Director of Corporate Communications, Sony PlayStation).
The main point of the event was to evaluate the importance of non-professional online content, or social media â€“ while myself and Jack were on hand to discuss how social media differs from traditional journalism, and whether the phenomenon is having an effect on professional publications.
I have to say that I found the whole premise somewhat amusing, since three years ago when I launched TrustedReviews, the debate in the PR and marketing ranks wasnâ€™t the validity and importance of social media, it was the validity and importance of online media in general. Back in 2003, most manufacturers considered web publications to be unimportant and often refused to support online media, instead concentrating on traditional printed publications. It was only after a lot of hard work, trumpet blowing and leveraging old friends and contacts that Iâ€™d made during years of editing magazines, that I managed to put TrustedReviews on the map. And now, here I was acting as an expert panellist for the same people that had considered an online technology publication a risky prospect just three years ago!
Now it seemed that social media was the risky prospect that needed to be discussed, and discuss it we did. The upshot of the morning seemed to be that despite there being literally millions of bloggers and forum posters out there, only a very small percentage of them have any influence. Nick Sharplesâ€™ presentation concluded that it is the content aggregators like Engadget, Gizmodo and Digg that are important, because they can take an otherwise anonymous story/opinion/rant and put it on millions of screens around the world. But then surely that isnâ€™t social media. Surely that is professional media dipping into the amateur ranks of â€œCitizen Journalismâ€ for their own commercial gains.
Sites like Digg exist under the pretext of democracy, but in fact they are so open to abuse. The idea that stories that make it to the Digg front page get there through the democratic process of average readers voting is, unfortunately, a misconceived idealistic fairy tale. Digg, like so many similar sites, is controlled by an elite group who can almost guarantee front page promotion to any story they back â€“ democratic? I think not.