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From Mass Media to My Media: Consumers Take Over!

By Dan Oshodin

As Facebook, the leading social network website clocked five this year, the world of marketing and brand communication seemed to have been sucked down a black tunnel and spit out on the other side into a completely different planet where long held notions, practices and norms have become the exact opposite of what they used to be.

It is the age of social media. Now I can be in touch with all of my friends and business associates and even their friends without seeing them physically. I can know what's happening to them. I can share an article or cartoon with them and ask for advice on a new purchase I need to make. I can get into an argument with them and even get into a fight, a virtual fight, fought with the typed word read on the computer screen that is.

The sudden explosion of technology has placed control of vital variables in the hands of the consumer: the brand, the media, the message and the relationship between the brand owner and the brand user. Facebook, like Myspace, Youtube and other open source and social media, have turned the age-old concept of mass media to what Masha Lindsay calls 'My Media'. And Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerber says "we aren't finished yet".

Added to the impact of personal media is the powerful technology of internet search which allows a consumer to search for anything from tooth paste to a sport utility van. A consumer with a headache can launch into Google in the privacy of his room and initiate search for a fast and efficient remedy and even place order. This can be followed with door to door delivery! Anyone needing a new cell phone can easily go into Yahoo! Search and make a quick decision about the brand that fits his or her style. It's the phone brands that come up earlier in the search that would be considered and the chosen brand may be that one featured in the Yahoo! Listing of most searched items of the day.

All media categories now seem to make a norm of bundling with the internet, not just newspapers with online editions but television and radio stations are embracing the urge to give consumers that touch of personal experience. The novelty has gone beyond the CNN's ireport and there is even now a station which generates all its content from its viewers who upload programming and advertising via the internet.

What does these all mean for marketers and all those involved with the business of guiding brands into the mind of consumers? It means we have to recognize the power now wielded by consumers in the new media world order and rethink the way we communicate with our consumers.

The new media is free, democratic, out of control and can be very destabilizing, quite unlike the media in its traditional form: the place we ran to when in need of stability and when we needed to clarify issues.

Imagine a group of incensed consumers formed inside a social network who decide to gather round a brand's outdoor signage on a major highway displaying placards expressing their dissatisfaction with the brand's performance.

Brands are beginning to promote their presence on Facebook in order to keep in touch with their consumers and keep a tab on the discourse around them. A consumer can get so unhappy with a brand and begin to post uncomplimentary images of the brand or even potentially dangerous claims on social networks just as a consumer can fall so fanatically in love with your brand the he or she produces an amateur film (an ad actually) about the brand, uploads it to Youtube and it gets to be viewed by millions of your target consumers. The catch in this is that an ad produced by a fan of the brand will most likely be relevant and appeal to others who share same profile and attitude with him.

A brand can therefore initiate a communication programme that connects its loyal users in a community that serves members rather the brand's sales and business objectives.

Marketers should therefore be looking out for their most loyal and most valuable customers, those who always have some thing great to say about the brand and develop packages in their marketing plans that turn these select consumers into advocates.

It is these loyal advocates that defend the frontlines in the 'democratic' and uncontrollable world of the new media.

 

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