The Transparency Failure

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Transparency was the ideal of the social media age in its apex. But as the years have marched on, we have seen that society is not ready for transparency.

Life as an open book is uncomfortable.

When we see open human nature, we punish people for it, hold them accountable for oddities, and for breaking social norms. Or worse, those naked conversations turn into dinner room and Sunday phone call lectures with parents. Bosses and HR engage in brand control. Spouses get jealous when they see conversations with colleagues and friends.

Let us not discount what happens when every action becomes catalogued within the corporate world’s marketing databases. Retargeted precision spamming happens in earnest.

We have seen ourselves — humanity — for what it is, and we became punitive. As posters, we have become self conscious. We let companies exploit our actions. And now when it comes to those naked conversations more often than not we say, “No, thank you.”

The reality of transparency is that human beings — all of us — are very flawed. We’re not ready to see our lesser selves.

Recent Events Crystallize the Transparency Failure

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Seeing the Obama administration chastise media for not digging deep and demanding transparency from into presidential candidates was quite a laugh. Hypocrisy could not find a better definition than the president’s public lecture.

The Obama campaign was elected on the promise of transparency, and then systematically shut down the media in its many attempts to seek information. Keep in mind this information should have been provided under the Freedom of Information Act. No, I think Obama’s manipulation of social media in particular, failure to provide access, and pandering to the public with silly tricks (remember the Death Star letter from NASA?) really typifies the failure of this medium.

Then there is the ultimate in transparency — sort of — The Donald. The more we know about the authentic Donald Trump, the more exposure he gets via Twitter and political gaffes, the less Americans like him.

Don’t get me wrong. I think this growing negative whiplash is a good thing for our country, but if you want to be a liked, are you going to offer a stream of consciousness on Twitter? Be transparent and be like Donald? No, no, you won’t. Sensible people mind their tongues.

Finally, the D’Angelo Russell gaffe last week put me over the edge. For those that missed it, the Laker rookie secretly videotaped teammate Nick Young talking about running girls behind his fiancee Iggy Azalea’s back. The video was leaked online, perhaps by a hacker, a SnapChat friend, or by Russell himself.

I totally agree that Russell broke protocol by not telling Young he was taping it. I also think the story as reported by the media missed a critical point. Young was cheating. He kind of deserves whatever he gets, forgiveness after trial-by-fire or broken nuptials.

In addition, anyone familiar with the NBA knows this kind of womanizing is par for the course in the league. We just don’t want to see it publicly. Transparency into what NBA players do in their relationships turns heroes into antiheroes.

Transparency, you say? No, let’s shoot the messenger and completely villanize D’Angelo Russell, a 20 year old kid who made a stupid mistake and broke the code. Perhaps the scandals of the NBA are too close to the truth for Americans. After all, we just recovered from the Ashley Madison scandal.

Why Dark Social Matters

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Part of being human is sharing experiences with each other. Sharing forms relationships. Yes, that includes the good Fakebook moments where we share our triumphs with friends and family. There is also an innate desire to share the bad, the daily trudge, the disgusting, and the naughty.

If you only post on the mainstay networks — LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — then there is no quarter. You are subject to public indexing, ridicule, and shame. Sure, you could have a private Twitter or Instagram account, but the likelihood of a frequent user remaining private is relatively small. Locked down Facebook posts are also relatively few and far between (and still indexed by the Facebook marketing database).

Some people still post their unfettered truth. And there are some really cool people that I admire who do it, too.

But not everyone is so brave. Instead, most need to trust SnapChat AND hope their friends on there aren’t going to rat them out (sorry, D’Angelo Russell). Some choose the anonymity of Yik Yak or another network. Or create an anonymous handle and go “troll” on a main network (even if you aren’t attacking folks, many people are leery of anonymous handles).

Dark social is the only recourse for people who crave transparency with their inner digital circle and the few who relate with them.

Think about that. We have forced ourselves to hide our own actions. The private lives of people are digital now, but hidden from the common eye.

Public transparency for all has failed, my friends. Not because of the medium, but because of who we are.

What do you think?

7 Signs of the Post Social Media Era

Social media is not a new driver of the Internet, relatively speaking. At best, social data is harnessed to serve larger technology trends like contextual media, marketing automation, and more. In turn, social media and related marketing conversations are no longer groundbreaking. The larger business world has moved on to the next thing.

This “post social media” trend crystallized for me at SxSW V2V last week. Start-ups were working on new technologies and approaches, but they widely ranged from space start-ups to Shinola (CEO Jacques Panis pictured above), a Detroit based maker of high quality wrist watches. What wasn’t central to the V2V conversation was social media. At most, start-ups discussed social as a means to include customers in conversations and innovation, but not the end product of their innovation.

Several larger stories and trend corroborate this post social trend. Here are seven signs that the U.S. social media era of innovation is coming to a close:

1) The Medium Changed

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Internet media evolved and became more mobile, visual and data-centric, and the dollars and associated conversations followed. If you look at what Internet start-ups are focusing on today it tends to be mobile-centric, automation, data applications, contextual use, location media and other types of applications.

New social networking apps, while still developing, are not generating huge investment rounds or attention anymore. Heck, even the most mainstream of social networking apps are retooling to meet the new mobile visual Internet. As the old adage goes, follow the money.

2) Wall Street IPOs Are Waning

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In that vein, the social media IPO craze — led by LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — looks like it may be coming to close. This year’s biggest social media IPOs are coming from Chinese start-ups Line and Alibaba. No big U.S. social media start-ups are on the horizon with the exception of Pinterest.

3) The Rise of “Dark” Social

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Original image by Blake Herman

Dark social is the movement towards conversations that are not public anymore. Private social network communities and newer networks like WhatsApp and SnapChat thrive on people saying what they think without the repercussions of public data, ad retargeting, attention from customer service nazis, and helicopter actions from bosses and parents.

The movement away from public conversation is a significant loss for social media in the conventional sense. People are no longer willing to be transparent because the repercussions of public discourse are too high. Eventually, even those private conversations will become dangerous (like texts and emails that end up in court) causing more off-line dialogue.

4) Thought Leadership Vacuum Appearing

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When my friend Jeremiah Owyang started focusing on collaborative economy models instead of social media, I was really happy for him. At the same time, I could not help but note that another thought leader had moved on from the general social media discussion. With each passing month another member of the old guard stops blogging or moves on to a new venture.

Those that remain — new and old — seem challenged to offer a new conversation beyond Facebook and Twitter dalliances, influencers, and content marketing. While there may be new wrinkles every now and then, I see granular progress compared to the advancements made a few years ago.

5) The Commoditization of Social Media Content

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Original Image by the Foodie Buddha

When discussing the above thought leadership trend with Rich Becker last week, he said one of the primary drivers is the commoditization of social media content. I had to agree with him. To be clear we’re not talking all content, rather content about social media and how to use it.

There are so many people producing social media marketing and trend blog posts that even when a thought leader writes something original, their content fails to stand out. The growing crowd of social media experts — from AdAge beat reporters to mom and pop bloggers — is an underlying cause of today’s content shock conversation, too. A gourmet burger is still just a burger in an online world with a chain on every corner.

6) Gaming Google with Social Gets Harder

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It used to be that social media was a primary way to drive SEO for topical issues. Brands and SEO experts figured out how to use social updates and content to achieve top rank, and the games began. But Google has responded with a series of initiatives — Panda, Penguin and eliminating keywords — that are effectively dampening and possibly even eliminating the SEO industry.

Online word of mouth is still used as a search algorithm signal, but increasingly it must be organic and earned, something many marketers won’t invest in. It’s much easier to buy access with ads and other tactics. As a result, those people and brands not truly vested in social communities are moving on.

7) The Biggest Trend in Social Is… TV?

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Original Image by CBS LA.

Today’s biggest advances in social media marketing seem to be the integration of traditional television programming (live and on demand), native advertising, and visual social elements in a cross-screen smorgasbord of transmedia delight. Even social TV and transmedia not new trends. Rather, this is the maturation of media and technology to serve the advertising industry.

So those are the seven signals that are making me think we’ve quietly entered a new era in Internet marketing. What do you think?

Want more? Read 12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance.