Social media didn’t used to suck. Why the backlash?

Daily_Jerome_Jerome_Dave_Matthews_Band_Sucks_Ass_DMB_Playlist_iTunes_Summers_Eve.07.10.09Right around the time Dave Mathews Band broke through with their huge hit Satellite, a friend of mine attending a hippy jam-band show told me about a bumper sticker he saw in the Red Rocks parking lot. It read: “Remember when Dave didn’t suck?”

A recent article from a farmer makes no bones about Michael Pollan and his dilemmic omnivores acting as “Agri-Intellectuals” with no moral authority: one-book experts who think farmers are “too stupid to farm sustainably” and “too careless to worry about their communities, their health, and their families…Enough,” he writes. “Enough. Enough.”

Crocs, once “the quintessential American success story” with their staggering IPO giving a windfall for fashion laymen in Niwot, Colorado is facing a series of oddly brash predictions of their demise. Crocs is “toast,” and needs to “do the right thing” for shareholders and sell. The ugly shoe we love has somehow become the ugly company we hate.

Today, the jam-band festival of the internet, the gathering place for media-intellectuals, the promised land for laymen content creators is under attack. People are happily pointing out the cracks in social media.

Plenty of others have already done the heavy lifting on this topic. @olivermarks digs in and suggests that all of this is just too messy, too noisy, and too many amateurs are involved. He aptly alludes to the desktop publishing revolution, suggesting to me that there’s a learning curve to overcome and metaphorically we need to stop using so many fonts.

@geoffliving points out that the allure of social media is innovation. Not the end state, not the result of the activity, but rather the process itself. And now that the technologies have matured, social media is disinteresting him (in fact, it’s dead to him). Without “What’s Next” there’s “Not Much.”

Increasingly there’s Not Much in social media for younger demographics. If against-the-status-quo campaigns are any barometer younger participants are clearly resisting Facebook (or if you prefer, there’s actual data). And have you checked out Urbandictionary.com’s definitions of Twitter? Here’s the entry with the most Up’s:

b2_quote A stupid site for stupid people with no friends, who think everyone else gives a s**t what they’re doing at any given time. Also lacks the functionality of other social networking sites, not that it matters because just like Twitter all those sites suck anyway.

(So if I’m on Twitter and Facebook, is my brand Bermuda shorts and black socks? Yikes.)

Yes, the backlash is in full swing. Spam is pervasive. Snake-oil salesmen are accused. Charlatanism warned. Value questioned.

But what does a backlash mean? How and why do backlashes occur? And why is it happening to social media?

Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Faludi wrote a manifesto about a backlash against feminism in the 1980’s. In Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women she suggests that backlashes aren’t coordinated conspiracies “with a council dispatching agents from some central room.” Nor are the elements of backlashes equal in their significance or power, and they aren’t always intentional.

Some manifestations, Faludi suggests, are “generated by a culture machine that is always scrounging for a ‘fresh’ angle.”

Certainly an apropos thought for the social media backlash. Once a brand or idea is perceived as breaking free from the margins (Dave Mathews Band) early adopters flee like frightened sparrows. Once the pragmatists take over, you’ve entered the Early Majority stage. Good for brands looking to scale, but not so good if your core market segment’s identity is on the margins.

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There’s another possibility for the social media backlash. Quoted in Faludi’s book, Dr. Jean Baker Miller says backlashes occur when an existing power structure feels a threat. A backlash, Dr. Miller suggests, can be an indication that a new movement is actually having an effect, “when advances have been small, before changes are sufficient to help many people….almost as if the leaders of backlashes use the fear of change as a threat before major change has occurred.”

Do Pollan-ites pose a threat to the agri-business structure? Do small entrepreneurs who break rules and make millions with simple shoes upset the fashion status quo?

media100growthWe clearly don’t know what kind of effect social media will have on the revenues of Bermuda-and-black-socks media giants. Or exactly what effect it’s had on newspaper closings. But if you’ve even heard of Manufacturing Consent, it isn’t a reach to suggest that there’s more than a little power under more than a little threat.

Systems have a way of casting out agents that aren’t in service to their prime function. All you have to do is come down with a cold to understand how this works. Or watch a few episodes of The Wire.

Or see the power that 140 characters and a YouTube video can have in the midst of a disputed election.

The new age of collaborative information: a threat to power structures or just not cool anymore?