After years of hearing about the Social Media Revolution, many of the rebellious, counter-culture figures are starting to disappear to the sidelines as the big money Wall Street investors and traditional media guys take over. The companies that we thought were going to completely topple traditional media are starting to look a lot like the companies they once scorned as they embrace new strategies that emphasize the value of the almighty advertising dollar.
Nearly every day, social media darlings like Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare announce new ways they are becoming "real companies" with "revenues" and "business models" and "exit strategies." But, in the process, are we seeing a betrayal of the original promise of the Social Media Revolution?
In The Revolution Betrayed - perhaps one of the greatest critiques of revolution ever - Leon Trotsky argued that in Russia's Bolshevik revolution, new dictatorial bureaucracies would simply replace the old elites as leaders like Stalin struggled to hold on to power at all costs. In the social media revolution, it's the dictatorship of Wall Street - and its focus on revenues and profitability - that's struggling to hold on to power at all costs. Consider that revolutionary guys like Mark Zuckerberg – who famously did a F*** You to investors while wearing pajamas - are now doing dog-and-pony shows for Wall Street investors. That’s like Trotsky deciding to make nice with the Bolshevik elite in 1930s revolutionary Russia – and look where that landed him – in Mexico City with an ice axe in his skull. No wonder Zuckerberg is taking so much heat for the botched Facebook IPO: he's fallen out of ideological favor with the Wall Street dicatatorial elite.
We had a social media revolution in this country, and now it seems to have run its course. Call it Web 2.0 or the Social Web or whatever trendy name your favorite marketing agency can dream up, but the social media revolution feels a lot these days like a warmed-over ideology. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare – heck, even Pinterest – they’ve all been co-opted by the Big Media establishment. As a result, all the top social media sites are copying the strategies of the old media sites (lots of ads and lots of pandering to brands). New entrepreneurs are dreaming up new ways to monetize social media, leaving the original revolutionaries to feel like they're somehow being forgotten. (Wasn't the Social Media Revolution based on the notion that all content should be free?) At the same time, sites like Twitter are tripping over themselves to partner with traditional media in order to boost their "scale and reach." In just a few days, Twitter will become The Official Narrator of the Olympics in partnership with NBC.
Granted, there have been sporadic efforts every now and then to radicalize the revolution. Last week, a college student had the temerity to suggest that social media – if it was really to achieve its objectives - was a job best left to the Under 25 set. There have been other attempts to push forward the social media revolution – but they often end up sounding like recycled ideas from the past. Browse Tech Crunch or Mashable these days and what do you find? Does anybody these days really need yet another photo-sharing or social networking site?
So what can be done to return the Social Media Revolution to its ideological roots? For starters, the Facebook “like” is just too timid. Would Lenin have “liked” Communism? No way, comrade – he would have “loved” it. We need to rekindle the passion of the original social media revolutionaries, who dreamed of toppling the traditional media elites and empowering everyday citizens to achieve great things. French revolutionary Danton famously proclaimed, "We need audacity, and yet more audacity, and always audacity!" Next, we need to reduce the influence of the Wall Street investment bankers in Silicon Valley, who are driving formerly "cool" companies to become bland, soulless money-making machines. Otherwise, we’ll end up with Marat dead in the bathtub, Wall Street calling the shots in Silicon Valley and millions of Facebook “likes” for pictures of Internet LOL cats brought to you by your favorite brands.
image: The Death of Marat / Wikimedia Commons