Contentinople: social networks, who owns the message?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about social networks and their marketing (revenue) model, and I’ve recently drawn an ugly conclusion: They’re flawed.

Why is that? Traditional media operates in two channels — content and marketing. Think about watching TV. You watch your entertainment program, and then there’s a commercial. Church and state. You always know where you stand with the marketer. Everybody’s happy.

On social networks, the content and marketing have become inextricably intertwined. Sure, there are fenced-off areas where ads inserted in context, but at the same time, half of the alleged “content” is really just people promoting themselves or products. It’s marketing.

I call this the “BS” factor. In a traditional media model, it’s incumbent upon the content producer to craft the content and filter out the BS. On a social network, because it’s self-serve, you are expected to be your own BS filter.

I also believe that audiences are not stupid. One thing I’ve learned over many years in the media is that they know how to call the BS. But when they see it, they don’t like it, and it has in impact on their perception of the brand or the channel they are using. The more BS they see, the more the brand degrades.

That’s fine, as a utility or a free communications software model. But as a marketing channel it’s pretty dubious.

Social networks, if they really want to develop a viable marketing model, are going to have to figure out a way to clean this up, better filter messages for their audience for their use, and deliver real marketing value that preserves the integrity of the content. They might also have to decide whether they are primarily a communications tool media network.