Social Media Tools

Wake Up – Why It’s Now About the Media not the Social

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Jay Baer Blog PostThe tools and technologies that have aided and abetted the social era have grown up and forsaken us.

The big social players have all rolled out features and functions that position them squarely as media platforms that maintain comments functionality, rather than their original roles as social networks.

Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter aren’t the new MySpace, they are the new ABC, NBC and CBS (tweet this)

Our desire to connect with one another (and with companies and organizations) via these platforms is what drove their usage and rise to prominence in the first place, but now that they have our attention (and do they ever), they’ve pivoted to supply us not with more and better ways to interact with real people, but instead more and better ways to consume content that corporations pay to put in front of us. Sound familiar? It should, as this is the exact same model network television has employed for 60+ years; give away something that is truly wanted (programming), and when people take you up on that free offer en mass, monetize that aggregated attention wherever and however possible.

Facebook Wants to Join Coffee as a Morning Ritual

Facebook’s new Paper app is just the most recent development in the move away from social and toward media. The name is no accident, as Facebook aims for its new mobile darling (and it IS slick as hell) to be your primary, catch-all source for information, replacing the bygone era’s newspaper. Remember in August, 2013 when Facebook announced it would penalize “low quality” content like memes, in favor of “quality” content from trusted publishers, like traditional media companies? (good write-up about it here by Brian Carter). Well, Paper is the manifestation of that move toward quality content, and ridding the stream of memes coincidentally frees up more real estate for promoted posts from advertisers.

Linkedin is quietly building the same thing for business content, using their Pulse app, and Twitter already has a lock on breaking news (at least culturally), despite Facebook’s occasional cries that it has more real-time chatter and hashtag usage.

The Product Creator is You

What’s both insidious and brilliant about the Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter moves to become the new networks that monopolize our time and attention, is that unlike TV broadcasters that have to pay for what they put on air, the new big 3 media titans are mostly curators that are simply taking the content that you, me and every other user publishes, and repackaging it as a vessel for advertising adjacencies.

The world’s one billion social media users are history’s largest unpaid workforce (tweet this)

Look at the Linkedin Influencers program, whereby the company has invited thousands of name-brand personages across many business disciplines to publish on Linkedin. These posts create significant traffic for Linkedin, and boost exposure for the thought leaders. But of course, this content is created for Linkedin for free, giving it more advertising inventory and simultaneously building relationships with an influential group. It’s pretty much the most successful blogger outreach program in history. (disclosure: I am not in the Linkedin influencers program, but am evidently “on the list” for inclusion some day).

Social is a Means to an End, and That End is an Ad

The reality is that the Big 3 (as well as Instagram, Snapchat, Vine) do not inherently care at this point about whether or not you are able to satisfactorily connect with your friends and family. “Social” and “Engagement” are a means to an end for them now, a stickiness engine; a reason to keep you spending time with them every day. I don’t begrudge them, necessarily. They are public companies with shareholders (including me) to appease. But somehow it all feels like a bit of a disappointment, as if the “power to the people” sloganeering of the social media revolution was just curtains obfuscating the money-making machinations under construction.

With so much money at stake, perhaps it was naive to think it wouldn’t end up this way. But the truth is that if you want to keep the social in your social media, it’s up to you to do so.

Day-to-day, in practice, what do you think that means?




Article Name
Wake Up - Why It's Now About the Media not the Social
Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin don't care about social connectivity, they care about media and inventory and monetization. Here's why, and here's what it means.
  • moovd

    Excellent piece, Jay, and the right word is “forsaken”. There’s simply more ad dollars in established media content than in ‘social content’ for want of a better word. But that social content is still useful for one thing, feeding the machine with user data to optimize those ads.

    • jaybaer

      Yes Simon. Like I said in the piece, I don’t begrudge them. From a business perspective, it’s clearly the right play.

  • Tom Asacker

    Way to pull back that curtain, Jay!

    • jaybaer

      Every once in a while, I can still fire out a barn burner. Thanks Tom!

  • Bill Franklin

    If the big 3 push the accelerator on advertising too hard they’ll start losing users.

    Which means the market will open up (or Adblock will monetise and be the one to make a killing..?).

    • jaybaer

      You would think that would be the case, but they have pressed pretty hard (especially Facebook) and I’ve seen little evidence of abandonment (except among youth, which is a different issue).

      • Bill Franklin

        Exciting time to be entering social media! 2.0 is on the way.

        • Isabella Lo

          Social Media 2.0? How does it look like? Doesn’t it have a business model still?

  • Mark Frisk

    Thought-provoking post! Re the social networks not really caring “whether or not you are able to satisfactorily connect with your friends and family,” I do think there’s a bit of a line they need to be careful to not cross too far over. The farther over that line they go, the less likely people will be to visit their platforms. Many companies have shot themselves in the proverbial foot in the past, and many more will do so in the future, no doubt.

    BTW, it’s “aided and abetted,” not “aided and abated.” [Sorry! Wouldn’t even have pointed it out, except it’s the lede.]

    • jaybaer

      Fixed. Thanks Mark!

      • tracibrowne

        I kinda liked “aided and abated”. Sounds like a great little country tune.

  • Stan Dubin

    Re the Big 3: When you have millions upon millions of “users” and there are next to no real alternatives out there, there are a multitude of mistakes you can make and still keep rolling along.

    • jaybaer

      Ain’t that the truth Stan. Same thing with TV until cable and steaming. Now, a different story.

  • Chris Bailey

    Yes, I can understand the disappointment, but in hindsight it feels almost inevitable. Which leads to a couple of questions/thoughts:

    1. What will it take for us to be more conscious participants in this new media landscape? If more of us saw the reality of our participation in providing FB, TW, and LI with their means of existence, would they choose a different course? Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s the price we’re willing to pay for our amusement and sense of connection (if we can still call it connection).

    2. Is there a potential opening for a nonprofit-like entity to enter the scene? Think NPR/PBS model among the major broadcast networks. How could something like this gain the needed audience to become a viable enterprise?

    Just some ideas that your post provoked, Jay. Thanks for nudge.

    • jaybaer

      Fascinating concept on a “public interest” social network. I need to ponder that.


        Would my site be considered a public interest network? where we offer two membership levels free & Premium. Premium members pay a small annual fee to have full access.
        Because our premium members are in a sense investing in our network we give thanks by giving back. Premium members who invite friends & family to join and those that do and select a premium membership the inviting premium member will get an monetary a portion of the membership fee. This is our way of saying thank you.
        We understand that without our members we could not possibly exist so we value them and their needs more than anything else.

    • Carrie Morgan

      I like your non-profit train of thought, Chris!

      Nice post, Jay. I think it’s more a natural progression than a reason for outrage, but nonetheless, thought provoking about where we headed. Is it the same cycle, different tools, or a new direction? Hmmmmm.

      • Chris Bailey

        Thanks, Carrie. Given the problems that PBS and NPR have had lately with funding, I’m not sure who wants to tackle this…but this may be just the opportunity to innovate in a way that folks might gravitate toward. Imagine a social network that isn’t about selling your data to the highest bidder, but one that genuinely wants to keep you in touch with friends, family, and the greater societal good.

        • AlexSchleber

          Would you be willing to pay $1/month for such a (fully functioning) network? (guaranteeing that the servers stay on without the need for any privacy/data exploitation…)

  • temafrank

    Bang on, Jay. Jaron Lanier has been pointing this out in his book, Who Owns the Future.

    I’ve been noticing how people have simply adapted to the presence of ads in these social media platforms. At first we were all outraged, but the network effects (because so many of our friends were already there) have kept most people using them anyway. As Lanier argues, he who owns the most powerful computers wins.

    I’ve also noticed that platforms like YouTube and the TV station websites have now ported over the interruption marketing strategy of traditional advertisers. Yes, YouTube generally will let you opt out of an ad after 3 seconds, which is a bit of an improvement, but that will only last as long as their ability to make money doing so continues. And most TV websites don’t let you opt out.

    • jaybaer

      Such a great point about new media relying on old media ad tactics. Hmmm. Maybe there is no better way?

      • temafrank

        Not that’s as easy to scale. Your book gives great examples of alternative ways of connecting with customers and prospects, but those require more creativity to come up with and, as you noted in our interview, take time to bear fruit.

        Mass marketing/blast marketing/interruption marketing does build awareness quickly if you spend enough on it. And as much as people claim to hate it, it does still work more predictably than an attempt at a viral hit.

    • jaybaer

      Of course, they focus group this stuff to death, so they know we’ll tolerate the ads en mass before they roll them out.

      • temafrank

        Well, yes and no. There are still campaigns that mess up big-time. (Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct, mentioned one of their boo-boos in my recent interview with him. They had to pull the ad, and blow off their RRSP season (401K in American parlance, I think)

        I wonder how many people flip tabs while the screen plays the pre-roll ad?

  • Ramsey Mohsen

    Great points. It makes me wonder however, is this inevitable for any type of network? Meaning, once it scales and reaches mass- a flight to quality is needed?

    • jaybaer

      Kind of seems that way, right?

  • Claire Axelrad

    Very thought provoking. I work with many nonprofits, so the idea of a public interest social network is intriguing. What’s sad is that so many nonprofits are just hopping on board the social media train as an inbound marketing strategy to effectively engage their constituents. As the rules change, it will be challenging for them to muster the resources to cut through the clutter and stand out.

    • jaybaer

      True Claire, although we see examples all the time (like Chief David Oliver, who we interviewed on the podcast) of people/organizations with no budget that are succeeding wildly with authenticity and humanity. It can be done. Not easy, but doable – even for NFPs

  • Jim Peterson

    Great post Jay. Disagree that providers don’t care about connecting you to friends and family, as others have noted here they walk a fine line there or people would leave in droves.

    Organizations who truly are a “Youtility” (reading a second time now) and can play in the “friend of mine” space as you call it, with valuable and original content, will dominate.

    Thanks for this fantastic blog and the masterpiece that is Youtility. See you in San Diego next month.

    • jaybaer

      Thanks so much Jim. I’ve screen shotted your comment, printed it, put it on the fridge, highlighted the “masterpiece” part, and made my kids read it. That’ll teach em to listen to me ! ;)

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    A post with abundant ideas Jay. A lot to think about, but here is the point I’m stuck on: They “do not inherently care at this point about whether or not you are able to satisfactorily connect with your friends and family. “

    I guess on a theoretical level that may be true, but at a practical level, they of course must be interested in any activity that causes people to spend time on their site because that a) contributes personal information for them to collect/monetize and b) it creates the essential opportunities to show ads.

    The primary reason people go to Facebook is to connect with friends (which is the engine driving a) and b) so I’m thinking that friends and family connections must still be vital to the network and in fact a priority. I’ll bet LinkedIn would do anything for that level of social engagement — their economic engine is driven by similar dynamics (along with subscriptions to a premium product)

    Now that Facebook is a public company, they are naturally going to introduce adjacencies that further a) and b). I don’t necessarily see that as a sign that they are any less committed to the financial results that derive from friend and family connections. If they ever lose sight of that they will really be lost.

    Thanks for the rich and thought-provoking post!

    • jaybaer

      Thanks pal. I see where you’re headed, but I’m not certain I concur. As our pal Robert Rose writes in the comment above yours, don’t we actually spend more time in “social” networks consuming content that is not necessarily intended for us alone? Seems to me Facebook is more like a media company than the telephone at this point?

  • Robert Rose

    Jay… As always a wonderful, insightful post.

    Some just random thoughts that hopefully fuel the conversation a bit.

    You say:
    “The new big 3 media titans are mostly curators that are simply taking the content that you, me and every other user publishes, and repackaging it as a vessel for advertising adjacencies.”

    Yup. And taking a page from your broadcast television (and arguably Cable now) metaphor and my own history – there are some very real analogies here. To borrow from Andy Grove – there are strategic inflection points we can point to in TV – and it seems we’re approaching one here as well (nice writeup on Grove’s inflection points here:!paranoid.html).

    The only difference I’d call out is that FB, Twitter and LI are more like the broadcast networks of old – and who got their milkshake drunk by the Cable Companies who discovered that people would pay for highly curated and niche content that fit their personalized needs (giving rise to niche focused content providers a la HBO, ESPN etc..). And now Cable providers are getting their cord cut by the phone companies who are providing video services over broadband (both wireless and wired). The question now for many is – is TV a service? or is it an appliance?

    I think you’re right – none of them care if we connect socially – as long as we “tune in”… Let’s be honest about our usage of Social Media. How much of it is actual human connection – and how much is it to see who’s posted the latest “Upworthy video” that will somehow shock or delight us. But none of the three are doing more than applying an algorithm to surface “what’s relevant”. So the question for me (and one I’m truly uncertain about) is how soon will it be before they get the big three milkshake drunk by a company that figures out people may prefer a more niche curated solution.

    • jaybaer

      I totally hear you, and thanks for the smart comment. Isn’t Path supposed to be what you describe? Curated connectivity? I kind of dig Path, but I don’t see it gaining any real traction out there. And yes, people are cutting the cord to cable and satellite, but that’s not a flight to quality, it’s a flight to convenience. I think there’s an important difference there. Not sure precisely why yet, but pondering! We should do a podcast crossover and talk about it on both shows.

      • Robert Rose

        Excellent excellent point…. I do agree it’s a flight to convenience… It brings up an important nuance: that it doesn’t really change IF quality content is surfaced, but rather HOW easily it is surfaced (some might “shocked” at that) :-) And – yeah, Joe and I will touch on this today when we record… For sure… The Paper news and Zuckerberg’s claim to be competing with Google now, and this will be our top story… :-)

  • Andy Newbom

    I am shocked that all these insanely brilliant people in “new media” cant think of anything else to do besides reproduce the failed old media they replaced. Blog post thoughts on it launching today. Thanks for rocking it jay

    • jaybaer

      Thanks Andy. I really don’t believe they can’t come up with something new. I believe it’s the best of a bad set of business models.

      • Andy Newbom

        or is it just the result of pursuing “shareholder value” uber alles? I do not expect that any of the platforms to come up with anything besides advertising. new replaces old by being the same

    • Konrad W Gorak

      The reality is that they can come up with something new. But from their perspective, why should they? They’ve let us play in their backyard for couple of years, free of charge. And now they feel that they’re entitled to make such actions. Is it good for us? No. For them? Insanely good. Pressure from the shareholders is stronger than social dissatisfaction.

  • Lisa Kalner Williams

    The irony of all this is that traditional publishers now shudder at any mention of “paper” or such things editorial. I worked for 10 years in textbook publishing — textbooks are referred to as “products” and the editors I worked with at my former big publisher are now called “content developers.”

    • jaybaer

      Yes, and newspaper reporters now do keyword research when writing headlines!

  • Jennifer Carroll

    The evolving position of media platforms may be a significant piece of an even bigger picture: the sustainable business model for media sources today.

    In the past, ad revenue from businesses covered the cost of reporting the news, creating the shows, etc. The media source, for better or worse, owned the media platform (arguably, a system with its own inherent flaws). Now, everyone can be a media source with varying degrees of ethos and reliability. With so much fragmentation, it makes sense that people still want to come to just a few places to discover and consume content. Oh, and they want that content for free.

    So, are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter paying media sources (including traditional ones, such as ABC, NBC CBS and the like) for their work? Of course not. And, as you mentioned, programs like LinkedIn Influencers get content from thought leaders for free. The ultimate payoff comes when an influencer’s organization gets a lead, sale, donation, etc. However, the payoff for a traditional media source is when a reader clicks through to a web page that’s filled with ads — which is where this whole conversation started. That business model is familiar on media platforms, but can it sustain the cost of creating content?

    Could the day come when traditional content creators eventually can’t cover their costs? It’s already happening for newspapers and TV. Just recently, a local paper implemented a policy of payment in exchange for the publication of certain types of news releases. What does my organization decide to do? We publish our own news on our own site, thank you very much, and push it out on a host of media platforms for consumption by “history’s largest unpaid workforce.”

    What if “‘quality’ content from trusted publishers, like traditional media companies” is no longer as readily available? That seems to leave the influencers and a myriad of organizations sharing their (hopefully valuable) information. Is that content enough?

    • jaybaer

      100% yes. I wrote about that years ago here, that the only “journalism” we’ll have left will be underwritten through some type of false economy.

      • Jennifer Carroll

        I’d like to read that post. Can you share the link?

  • kpogge

    I agree, this is a great post and point. It seems as though the idea of being “social”, seeing the posts that are important to each individual, has gone to the wayside with Facebook. Its frustrating to think that if I follow a page I might not be able to see their regular updates unless Facebook decides they are worthy in terms of content or engagement. I suppose from a business standpoint it makes sense for these companies to move in this direction but with all the innovation and creativity out there, perhaps there’s a way to reach their financial goals without taking away the core reason most people joined their sites. Things are always moving and shifting so you just never know! :)

    • jaybaer

      Such a great point you make about following a page and not seeing their updates. Facebook would tell you (and does) that if you click the “see all posts” button you can customize the algorithm to see everything from that business (or even that old high school chum), but I can’t imagine how often that’s actually done? .0000000001% of the time?

  • Tommy Landry

    Great post, and one I completely agree with. For the past year or so, I’ve regularly reflected on why to keep using the big 3 social networks. In the end, I am still on them because of the people on them. When I reconsider, it’s always because of intrusive advertising, brand overload, and similar stuff. But never the people.

    And really, Facebook has the people but also the most intrusive advertising experience. That’s why the younger folks are running away – they don’t like marketing and aren’t willing to suffer through interruptions like we were in the pre-Tivo days.

    So the big question – where do we go from here? Niche-only networks? Abandon Ship? Join the machine?

    • sabbadoo32

      We are marketers. The buyers are at the machine, so we are too. If we’re good we keep an eye out on what the new disruptors are doing. When it’s time to make the move, we should be ready.

  • Andy Newbom

    Jay inspired me to finally publish this post. His is better. jaja

  • Ed Alexander

    “Free” never really…was. We all “rent out” bits of our identity whenever we click, touch and type.
    That aggregated data then becomes the world’s largest Excel pivot table.
    Savvy people in business, media, academia and R&D then mine it to help improve our online experience.
    As long as curating our online experience isn’t overly obtrusive to the point where it distorts our view, that’s okay with me. But it certainly “ups” the ante for us marketers to do our level best while respecting people’s privacy.

  • Jennifer Kane

    I don’t see the “power to the people” sloganeering as having been curtains, but merely over-optimism about our collective inherent capacity to innovate and change.

    I think we had a real chance there in the early days of social to break some schemas and try new communication approaches (and some companies were having success doing just that.) Even though how we create and consume media has been completely transformed in the past decade, ultimately companies only know the “stick an ad on it” model, so everything that gets invented ultimately just gets an ad stuck on it.

    It doesn’t as much feel like being hoodwinked as it does being betrayed by laziness and greed. All of this is just further confirmation that people like me (who signed on for the revolution) need to exit stage left and find something else to do.

    • jaybaer

      Great comment JK. But you can’t exit. We NEED your smarts on this scene.

  • keithquesenberry

    Great insights Jay. It all makes sense. It is interesting that as social goes public and has to start generating profit it starts to look more like traditional media publishers. Quality content becomes more professional and networks start to fill with advertising. Huffington Post is a news organization with professional reporters and a seat at White House press conferences. Digg now relies less on peer voting and focuses on “quality” content filtered through Digg Editors who decide what and where stories should appear. Of course it has always been about quality content, but at some point we all need to figure out a way to pay for it.

  • James Loomstein

    I see these media first platforms as the next evolution of the “connected economy.” Welcome to the worlds largest yellow pages, newspaper, and directory. In the old days of the “industrial economy” it was about who could deliver a day faster, ship quicker, etc. The connected economy focuses on who do you, where can I connect, how do I find, etc.

    These “platforms” of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. allow for access and introduction. How long would it take to make 100 phone calls, send 100 letters, or knock on 100 doors for a restaurant recommendation, local lawn care service, or tourist recommendation for DC. The power is in the connection – the ability in one click to “access” your network to answer your question.

  • John Moneypenny

    You make some very good points here, Jay. But aren’t we all individual “curators” to some degree as well, knowingly participating in the same pursuit of “stickiness” as the “titans”?