The Chosen Media
originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
(update: for the benefit of the Walgreens representative who commented below, and the benefit of anyone else who may be confused, this entire column is an opinion, as is everything else on this blog)
“Now therefore, if You will obey our voices, and keep our covenant, then social media shall be a special treasure to us above all media. For You are holy media to us, and we have chosen You to be our treasured media from all other media on the face of the Earth.” – The Gospel of Zuckerberkowitz 3:16, shamelessly bastardized from Biblical passages cited in Wikipedia
Social media has clearly become the Chosen Media. If you have any doubt, consider the outcries over the past week directed at Google, Facebook, and Walgreens:
1) Google sparked the biggest backlash. As noted by fellow columnist Cathy Taylor, Google betrayed users’ trust by pumping Google+ results into natural search listings while shutting out Facebook and Twitter. The outcry will reverberate as more people initiate searches that trigger questionable social results. My friend Dan Lewis tweeted, “Google's social-ly image search stunks. [sic] I like @dberkowitz, but I don't want his vacation pics when doing a search on ‘Tiananmen Square.’”
The headlines coming out of it were sometimes scathing. The Washington Post ran a guide to its privacy and antitrust implications. Gizmodo declared, “Google just made Bing the best search engine.” Relevance is personal, so Google had some defenders, but if this is what social search looks like, the early verdict indicates people would rather keep the two separate.
2) Facebook can thank Google for taking attention away from its own controversy. The social network is now mining public and private Facebook posts for data that Politico can use in its reporting. Anytime you reference Mitt Romney driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of his car (that means you, Gail Collins), Facebook will tabulate your feelings about it and send it over to Politico’s editorial desk.
The problem lies with Facebook mining private posts without educating users about what it’s doing or providing a way to opt out. There are probably millions of people paranoid about the government monitoring their lives who don’t realize that Mark Zuckerberg’s operation is at least as sophisticated. ReadWriteWeb noted that this is a great potential service from Facebook, but Facebook can’t violate users’ trust.
3) If you can’t trust Google and Facebook, you can at least trust your local pharmacy, right? Not so fast. Walgreens has been involved in a lengthy and public dispute with pharmacy benefits provider Express Scripts. While Express Scripts is reaching out to consumers to help them switch pharmacies, Walgreens is wagering that the court of public opinion will be decided through social channels. It kicked off a widespread campaign by sponsoring tweets and paying off bloggers, with the goal of pressuring Express Scripts to relent to Walgreens’ terms.
The problem for Walgreens is that it’s bringing a lot of extra negative attention to the issue. Promoting a tweet with the hashtag “ilovewalgreens” hardly feels authentic, and the bloggers being paid don’t necessarily have any connection to or affinity for the retailer.
In each of these examples, the offending party is being accused of violating the Covenant that was formed between the People and the Chosen Media. It’s a Covenant that says transparency, privacy, and authenticity are sacred. It’s a Covenant that says the People own the Chosen Media, no matter which corporations participate. It’s a Covenant that says that the People’s loyalties are to the Chosen Media, and to each other; everything else is fluid.
Few other things are sacred anymore. The prophets of Lucy and Berle and Cosby no longer carry the same resonance. Newer idols, like “American Idol,” work precisely because they resonate through the Chosen Media. In lieu of temple chambers, we have echo chambers.
What’s sacred today may not be tomorrow. Yet right now, media companies, marketers, and everyone else must respect the Covenant between the People and the Chosen Media — or face the uproar by those aggrieved.