Thirty years later Social Media is the Message

Social Media is the Message

As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian digital Media visionary and innovator who uttered the term “The Media is the Message”, it seems almost bizarre that few people know of his work.

Indeed it is almost as if the notion of ‘Social Media’ has been re-discovered and its value to society at large and business specifically is ‘unproven’. 

McLuhan and Advertising

The fact that McLuhan influenced Media and Advertising theory and practice globally is uncontested and more than ten years after his death he was named the “patron saint” of Wired magazine. 

So why is Social Media ‘new’?

Silicon Valley, Profit and Social Media

While Social Media is not new, the ability to build a business model around it to extract profit from its richness has only recently been refined.  Indeed mining profit from Social Media required the old Media conglomerates to die because they could not scale fast enough to attract enough investment to deliver the value that McLuhan recognized in his lifetime.

Newspapers and magazines were limited by the weight of paper and cost of delivery.  Television and radio were limited by the weight of the affiliates required to extract profits regionally and nationally.

McLuhan’s vision of the merging of Media and Message had to wait until the US Military created the internet and hundreds of billions of dollars were squandered in the Silicon Valley IPO boom chasing fast digital profit.

Three critical innovations crawled out of the ashes of the 1990’s IPO crash in Silicon Valley–the internet browser was born, a little known Swedish company created a mobile phone browser and Yahoo created a digital directory.

Fast-forward ten years later and the Social Media islands have triumped as a result of honed business models that have or will soon eclipse Google and the largest telephone and software companies, digital though they may be.

Obviously an Accident

While all this has happened in just ten years the business elite is in awe—

  • When did Google and Amazon step between our products and our customers?
  • Where do we advertise to reach out and touch our customers?
  • How do we identify opportunities and minimize risk?

Old Measures and New Business

In ten years the way of doing business has far exceeded the ability of business to measure and people now have unlimited options for spending their money.  They now use their own measures of success rather than embracing the measures associated to the brands they once cherished.

Business however generally continues to measure opportunity, risk and profit from its own perspective rather than the perspective of the patrons that can guarantee their future success, their customers.

Simple Mathematics vs Complex Business Analytics

Customers employ simple mathematics and focus on simple questions and answers to help them decide what to buy and when. 

Business favours the use of sophisticated models that are based on historical and backward facing data, and to add insult to injury business stores data typically in numerical format it computer databases which are the equivalent of graph paper—rows and columns.  Customer stories are stripped from transactions in deference to the mathematicians and accountants who are comfortable with numbers and at the end of the year Marketers are called in to determine what happened and why.  Generally people are surveyed and the stories are ‘pasted’ onto the historical data.  Forecasts are then made from this ‘cleansed’ data and business assets are marshalled and deployed for the next year or two.  Needless to say a considerable amount of executive time is devoted to ‘adjusting’ to the market or correcting errors of judgement formulated from data that didn’t actually exist or if it did, would never be able to represent the future as the same products and motivation for purchase never would.

 Social Media Saviours

The re-discovery of the ‘Global Village’ or globalization and ‘Media is the Message’ or Social Media and story relationships offer us an opportunity to create value from what happens naturally rather than work with un-natural representations of mathematical forecasts.

Social Media provides insights on what happens once a business ‘determines’ what will sell and orders a product to be manufactured and shipped from China or other distant country.  Since customer needs constantly change, understanding those changes as quickly as possible allows business to adjust the value of their products as they flow across their extended and global Supply Chains.

Counter-intuitively, the value of Social Media is considerably enhanced by applying the insights mined from its story reservoirs to the Supply Chain rather than Marketing or Advertising efforts.

Marshall McLuhan was prescient about this Social Media observations, now it is time for business to apply the value of his knowledge to where it can help people the most—along the global Supply Chains where their products flow.


Nick Trendov @SpeedSynch

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