Individuality in a Social Age

Individuality in a Social Age
By David Montes

For many traditional marketers, “social media” is somewhat redundant and superfluous. Some might even say it’s a gimmick. After all, aside from hermits and survivalists, who else but members of a society purchase goods and services? Marketing is already social. What’s more, the phrase ‘social network’ is not even new, having been around since 1971. Before that we had social climbers and social butterflies; social contracts and social security. Just about everyone’s taken a Social Studies class where we learned about social workers and social science. What’s so new and innovative about the word ‘social’?

Originally, the word was associated with friendliness and companionship. It meant to be united, living with others. Being social has been a part of human behavior since clan became tribe, which became village. Society emerged as the city-state and expanded into the nation-state. Now we are in a “global” age. Interconnectivity between geographic landscapes and political barriers unites those who are living online. And perhaps that itself justifies the gimmick. For if our new village extends beyond our old neighborhoods, what then is a neighbor? What is word of mouth advertising when our words of mouth reach billions of ears?

It would seem that such skeptical traditionalists are only hurting their own business by their hesitation to embrace the social age, just as many in the news industry loathe the journalistic upstart bloggers who may soon render obsolete the printing press. But it may be worthwhile to ask if Gutenberg would have chosen ink and paper over digital glyphs to publish the Bible had he been given the option. Maybe that’s the point: more technology yields more choice. And unless you’re a holdover from the Cold War era, abundant choice is eminently preferable to a lack of it. More choices for consumers means more opportunities to reach them. More platforms may lead to more revenue.

But as the cliché goes, it’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks. With more new tricks comes a longer learning curve. What may be a foreign concept to an old-school ad man (think of the Big Data analytics involved in calculating ROI) is now standard required study material for a generation that speaks tech as a first language. Is this then a generational crisis? Not really. Some of the most traditional social marketers have done their homework and are able to combine proven techniques with experimental theories. As always, it’s up to the dog to either adapt or to forfeit the future.

That’s not to say there is no legitimacy to social media skepticism. Online privacy issues, spam, cutting above the worldwide fray are examples of inevitable issues that tag along with progress. Social Darwinism and social engineering are also old buzzwords, ones that imply a loss of choice and control, not an increase. As for progress, in what direction is society going with all the garbage and vice that comprises a significant amount of internet content? Is it worth it to society for businesses to pinch off a few extra customers if it means cultural decline?

Profound or not, such questions are academic. The future is now and it is social. The more fruitful questions for companies to ask themselves still center around adding revenue and cutting costs. Many believe that social media is the best way to do just that. Ultimately, however, both skeptics and believers alike must concede that just as there cannot be a network of one, there cannot be a network of none. Without individuals, social media cannot exist. Social is an adjective not a noun. It is not one single person, place, or website. It is a process that, for better or for worse, accelerates the drive to new inventions, new ideas, and yes, new customers. So embrace social – just so long as you don’t surrender your individuality. Most will agree we’re all better off that way.

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Photo Pin | Creative Commons

David Montes is an entrepreneurial filmmaker and strategist. He graduated with a B.A. in Journalism & Mass Communications from New Mexico State University and operates out of Las Cruces, NM. He is always looking to connect with creative businesses and thinkers and can be reached directly via Twitter: @MolotovSOnline.