I’m just back from a visit to Internet World – a trade show/expo at Earls Court for internet business peoples. It sounded interesting, so I thought I’d head down for a look.
I guess it didn’t help that they were sharing the hall with a direct marketing expo, but the feeing that one was in the belly of mammon, in a space largely devoid of creative thought or concern for human interaction and anything other than statistical dominance in a given field was pretty overwhelming.
Actually, that’s not strictly fair. A lot of the companies there were touting content management software, e-commerce solutions (no bad thing in an of themselves) and a couple of speculative social networking start ups. But there were loads that were selling a model of internet usage that just seemed sooo archaic – the basic message still seemed to be that it’s all about emailing millions of people, getting to the top of the search engines, getting google adwords in the right place, and then whatever you’re doing online will be a success…
I suppose it’s the nature of the show that it can’t really be concerned with content, because the content could be anything from health information to porn, ethical shoe-shops to online gambling, but the total lack of any visible discussion about making the net a nicer environment in which to work and play, the focus on spreading ones marketing message by whatever means made for a pretty sickly experience (I had one bloke accost me in an aisle and ask me if I wanted to buy email addresses! WTF? So spammers now have their own stands at expos??)
Bottom line was, the expo looked for all the world like a shop front saying ‘for your business you don’t have to interact with your audience/community/end users; you just have to pay us stacks of cash to put together a slick looking site for you, virally market via BS videos and downloadable games, crass adverts and paid-for email lists, and you can get on with being scared of the web and thinking Myspace is the big news in the future of internet usage, safe in the knowledge that we’ll sell any old crap just by spamming so many people that one click in a million will yield results…’
Which is bollocks. And it’s bollocks despite it supposedly ‘working’ for a lot of people. It’s bollocks because it’s intrusive in its methodology, hopelessly inefficient in terms of the amount of hours of people’s time it wastes compared to the return (time spent filtering out unwanted email, watching endlessly forwarded viral nonsense etc.) and because it’s a distraction from what those of us who actually CARE about a) what we’re producing and b) the environment in which we live and work on line actually need to do to enhance the lives of the people who come into contact with what we do.
I’m not in the marketing business. I USE elements of marketing strategy to try and make my music – and information about my music life – available to the people who want to find it. I don’t want to have to send unwanted emails to 1,000,000 people in order to reach 600 who might like what I do. Even though those are 600 people who might otherwise not find it. Why? Because I’m sick of being one of the 1,000,000 people who get spammed with BS hundreds of times a day just on the off-chance that my address might lead to someone who’s interested in the product. That ruins the web for all of us. And I don’t really care whether the address list is pure (illegal) spam, or some kind of crappy opt-in list that’s 99.9% full of people who just forgot to click the right check box, it’s still generating way too much negative web-karma for it to be of interest to me.
I try to operate online the way a rather wise man once suggested we carry out all our human interaction; ‘treat people the way you’d like them to treat you’. I don’t want to be spammed, I don’t want my email address to be a salable commodity, I don’t want to be seen as part of a wall to throw mud at in the hope that some of it sticks.
Here’s where Social media comes into its own – I can set up an interconnected network of pages, sub-communities and widgets whereby anyone who is interested can find my music, try it, engage with it on whatever level they want to and then share it with others if they think it’s of value. I’m not throwing it at them, I’m asking them if they’re interested, and offering information about the how, what, where, and why in as many mediums as I can. I can do videos explaining my methodology, I can blog about the processes involved in the music making, I can provide widgets so people can share my music with people who visit their sites or blogs or facebook pages or whatever if they are interested, and each time it’s driven by real interaction.
There’s the scattershot stuff as well – Seth Godin posted this great piece about unfocussed web-traffic – sure it makes us feel great to have 10,000 visits a day, but in all honesty I’m much better off with the coupla hundred people who actually read my blog each time I post over and above the thousands who have found my blog over the years looking for stuff about David Beckham or Bernie Clifton. They, as Seth points out, are gone in a couple of seconds.
That’s not to say that search engine traffic is bad, or stumble upon, or even adwords or whatever. The problem comes when the purpose of your site/blog/enterprise is traffic. Where what you’re making becomes about getting people to look at it, download it, buy it.
The joy of social media is that it removes the need to obsess over ‘bigger better faster more’ – it allows us to focus on deeper, richer, more important, personal, engaging, thoughtful, nuanced creation than we ever could have if we were relying on record companies, radio, TV and newspapers to spread the word about it. In the language of barcamp, it enables us to engage in UnMarketing. To tell the story around our art, our creativity, or lives and our services, and allow an informed, liberated audience to choose whether or not they want to be a part of that, and on what level they want to be a part of it.
There are loads of ways in which internet professionals can help content providers – this isn’t a rant against web designers, CMS companies or e-commerce specialists. We just need to get our priorities right, and if art is of any importance to us, then the marketing should be there to connect with a willing, searching audience and free us up to do our art better, not force us to dumb down in order to fit some loser’s ‘projection’ of the kind of big money we could make if only we targeted our content a little more specifically ‘Steve, you could clean up in smooth jazz, if only you’d get a quartet and start grooving more….’
Keeping our sights set on that which made us want to get into art/music/creativity in the first place is vital to understanding the magic that social media can facilitate. That means keeping a tight rein on those who would seek to make your art the content that drives their business venture… Or at least being honest about that relationship and understanding it for what it is (again, before I get accused of being some kind of purist, I don’t have a problem with people who make music commercially for a living, or indeed an objection to making commercial music where people want me to do it, it’s just that it’s a WHOLE other world to making ‘me-music’, and requires a very different approach…)
So for me, the kind of marketing-driven, spammalicious devoid-of-community BS I was hearing at Internet World fails in every way that the Social Media Cafe succeeds. I’ll blog more about the SMC later, as it deserves its own post, but suffice to say as a community of webby social media lovelies, it’s provided me with more inspiration, information, connections and ideas in the upstairs room of a pub in soho than the amassed fortune spent on Internet World could have done if I’d spent all three of the days there trawling for quality…by