Why Marketing Threatens the True Promise of Social Media

I just wrote this for Mashable:

Social media is everywhere, and finally accepted as much as, well, as much as the Internet itself. Sadly, though, in reaching this level of ubiquity, we have ended up surrendering the real promise of this medium.

I fought for so many years to convince people that the Net was a social medium in the first place. Until recently, everybody seemed to believe that “content is king,” and that all this messy socializing between people was of little value. It was all about getting people onto a sticky website so they’d make purchases. Their conversations and innermost thoughts were once considered utterly un-monetizable.

But thanks to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, social media has arrived as a justifiable expense for businesses looking to do whatever it is that’s intended to replace advertising. And as a result, people who should know better -– many of us who have some understanding of how social media actually works –- are busy working for companies who want to turn this social landscape back into a marketplace.

This isn’t about pointing fingers or laying blame. It’s about stopping ourselves before it is too late. We still have a chance for social media to generate the biggest change in how culture and commerce operate since the invention of the printing press. But it will require that we recognize what is so special about it, how it disrupts the status quo, and why it’d be such a shame to give all this up without a fight.

A Historic Opportunity
The most disruptive feature of social media is that it allows us to connect with one another relatively directly. (Even Facebook’s architecture of central servers is completely unnecessary for social networking to occur, as new tools like Diaspora are quickly demonstrating.) The direct connection via media –- for socializing, or even for commerce — has been controlled by both governments and businesses for the past 600 years. That’s right: This is our best opportunity in six centuries to connect with our peers via technology without the oversight of powerful interests.