Social media has gotten stale.
Sharing of links to existing media has become the norm, and truly original content is disappearing. What remains is not the new new thing anymore and is, at times, devolving into a cesspit of pointlessness, be it “I had eggs for breakfast” to “SUYT you B!#@$”
Into this fray we now have what some might see as an even more mundane concept–live streaming of ordinary people. Periscope and Facebook Live now give the power of any person to turn a camera on and have an audience around the world. The beautiful and the banal, the majestic and mundane can now be streamed 24/7 live from any place on earth, well anyplace with a good enough mobile signal.
So why is it that live video streaming could be the revolution that Social Media really needs?
It’s often said that the holy grail of social media is a “conversation” that you can have with others. A two way street where you can communicate your views, values and beliefs with others, or just share a funny cat picture and have people comment on how funny it was. But even in the best of circumstances the conversation currently being foisted upon users is rather one-sided and shallow. Social media has stagnated behind fewer and fewer moments worth sharing and a growing corporatization of social media which has made it somewhat unidirectional and boring. (Don’t believe me? Check out the Twitter feed of the Microsoft CEO, which has to hold the world record for the most canned and unoriginal content in the history of Twitter.)
The problem with social media, as understood by the public relations departments of most major companies and social media ‘stars’ is that they aim rather low. They seek to have a “conversation” and then love to talk about how the conversation is leading to engagement, but “engagement” is a rather hollow concept and many traditional measurements of ‘engagement’ are as useless as ‘eyeballs’ as a metric. It may be a quantifiable (and billable) number, but does it really matter?
Into this landscape comes Periscope and a host of other live video streaming services. Live, raw, unfiltered views of the world from ordinary people communicated out to waiting eyes and ears. With a motto of “See the world through someone else’s eyes” Periscope has millions of producers around the world sharing their slice of life to a waiting and eager audience. And while it, at times, has dropped in the banal and boring, there is something else going on that is worthy of note.
Despite some feeble attempts to script and control the narrative of a live video stream by some broadcasters, the end users of live video actually have far more control over the conversation than most public relations professionals would ever allow. Discussions overlaying the presentation can go on tangents of their own, and users can often stray the conversation off the intended course and subject despite the best efforts of the broadcaster. The conversation can turn directions and spin and it takes a steadied broadcaster to keep it on focus and moving toward the real goal.
It is this ebb and flow of conversation that offers the best opportunity for social media in its history.
What should be sought, developed and fought for with this new medium is the true Holy Grail of social media. People should cast aside the one-sided conversations that are pointlessly supported by the hollow engagement metrics of likes and shares. With live streaming we have a chance to really communicate what is most important:
Understanding comes when you see the world through someone else’s eyes and UNDERSTAND why they see it a certain way. A person who watches a live video experiences the decision-making process of another person first hand and begins to UNDERSTAND why they turned this way or that, why they eat this or that, why they buy this or that. When a person is given the chance to see things live as they occur, and occasionally even take part in the decision-making process of that individual or guide a conversation a certain way, that person develops a much greater understanding of what is going on, and a greater respect for the other person.
Periscope started with the voyeuristic view of the world: “Look at this, I’m seeing a guy in Hong Kong ride the ferry to the toy store. He’s taking his morning hike in the clouds above the city. He’s taking a tram to get some lunch. Wow. This is amazing”. But as time goes by and people start to think more about what they are seeing, a new, empathetic realization takes starts to take hold. “Yes, I am seeing a guy on a tall mountain, but he’s really just out for his morning walk. And he’s really just going to get some lunch. Hey, I go for hikes, I eat lunch–wait a minute–this guy is a lot like me.”
The empathetic instead of voyeuristic reading of “See the world through someone else’s eyes” is what offer the greatest potential for live video to rule social media. A person who listens and understands is someone who has learned something and may alter their own behavior to that in line with that understanding.
A myriad of choices, from political decisions to simple mundane tasks can be altered when an understanding consumer of social media makes their own decisions with the views of another person in mind. It also leads to a tremendous marketing potential in that a person who understands why they should do something a certain way become a consumer who will perform that way without additional influencing. It’s one thing to have a conversation with a person and say to them “I really think you should buy this product” but it is something far greater, and more valuable, to have a person say “I understand why I should buy this product and will buy it myself, now and in the future.” Getting to this level creates a consumer FOR LIFE, not just for one transaction.
While difficult to quantify, the empathetic consumption of live video can truly be the revolutionary social media development of the next decade.
Or it might just end up as an updated version of Chatroulette… (more on that in my next post).