SXSW, Social Media and the Death of Authenticity

from miss_rogue on flickr

Every once and a while you read an article that fully articulates a thought that was half-formed in your head; last week, the NYTimes had just such an article. Waxing about the “Enough Already!” response of many Twitter users subjected to the torrent of updates gushing out of the SXSW gathering, the article put a finger on the frustration of many who were subjected to a week of online posturing and bragging by those who attended.

I found myself, through the week, getting increasingly frustrated with the disproportionate number of irrelevant updates flooding my various social feeds, many of the “guess where I am?” variety. In the midst of a busy week doing other things, and a wrenching anxiety about the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan which punctuated my attention, I found these constant broadcasts a sudden deluge that did little to share what was so interesting about the experience people were having; they focused only on the fact that an interesting experience was being had. Scrolling through the posts had more commentary on the parties and the food than it did on the content…so why the urgent need to share?

The trouble is, we all do this. I’ve many times sent off an update saying “Look at me, I’m on a plane to…” But this is a trend towards something beyond sharing, I think.

For those who use Twitter and other social media channels to share information and extend engagement beyond immediate, physical gatherings, this was a moment that should be noted down; the “social media” revolution has turned on itself, and we have become what we meant to replace.

The great promise of social media, by those who choose to evangelize it, is that it forces organizations to truly engage, to communicate and to be authentic. Gone will be the old TV spots telling us what to buy. Gone will be the passive consumer. Those companies that refuse to listen will wither and die in the face of others that listen to their customers, engage them and create brand experiences that are authentic and compelling.

What I saw last week was not that people and social media had remade companies, but that companies and social media had remade people. All of the hallmarks of what made this generation cynical and tired of the canned messaging of the corporate world have now manifest themselves on an personal level, as individuals relentlessly curate their own “personal brands”. Worst of all, it doesn’t feel very authentic.

I have, for some time, been somewhat cynical about the rhetoric around social media. I think it is neither as complex, nor as astounding as many make it out to be; it is a technological augmentation of patterns which are intrinsically human. True, it is in the application that interesting possibilities arise. But last week, to me, has shown that social media is neither new, nor revolutionary, but is instead another means for old patterns to repeat themselves.

Remember what made Google Adwords so revolutionary? It was contextual. It was relevant. It wasn’t somebody trying to tell you how good their car is when you’re looking for a toothbrush.

Listening, from the outside, last week made me think about how I use social channels. Does the information I share add value somehow to others? Is it relevant? Or is it simple, blatant, self promotion? Am I Coke, Pepsi, or a person who has an idea to share? I have a new lens for thinking about this, but for those who don’t heed; if I have to hear about your ‘new formula’, ‘new look’ or why you’re ‘new and improved’, I’m going to unfollow you.

For me, I’ll watch what I tweet. I’ve been as guilty as anyone, but seeing it in the context of a trend towards the commercialization of the self, I’d rather find something new to talk about.

6 Responses to “SXSW, Social Media and the Death of Authenticity”

    August 9, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Nice article. I bookmarked the URL and sent it to a few friends of mine. I would recommend tweeting this out if you haven’t done so already. I am going to add this page on my Twitter account as I have a few thousand followers that may have interest in reading about this.

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    August 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

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