Navigating The Polarities of Social Media

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If there’s one thing this term’s political conventions are showing us, it’s the polarity of contemporary America. While each wing seems to be slowly and worryingly radicalizing, an interesting New York Magazine cover story this week suggests that it doesn’t stop at the opinions of constituencies. In a hugely telling, borderline damning, and certainly self-deprecating article, New York Mag dives inwards to explore the flaws of contemporary mass media by interviewing the influencers. One issue stands out: that the industry has stopped challenging bias, and has begun accommodating it—“a kind of blindness” that stems from a desperation to be respected. Only further antagonizing this new media climate, another respondent prophetically claims social media has created an audience able to “find the people that say what [they] want to hear”.

From a bird’s-eye, conceptual vantage point, suddenly nothing seems more true. One voter who can’t stand the rhetoric of Fox News is counteracted by someone who cuts all Trump criticisms from their Facebook news feed. If you’re a metalhead, you can tailor a new Twitter account in five minutes to block out any mention of Kanye West. Consider the magnitude of that power; that anyone can now take a story plastered through the check-out line tabloids and half of this morning’s radio conversation, and simply say “no thanks”—a requested that is instantly and fully accommodated without question. In terms of media, we now each create our own worlds, our own realities.

It’s not an overly surprising state of affairs, as modern consumers know what they want, and what they want to hear. Access to information has made being culturally and politically literate a complete 101-level task, and anyone can now occupy a niche, take a side, have an opinion, and denounce opposing spheres. Media is now accommodating by becoming specialized, so as to stay respected, and reaching ears that shave against your grain is therefore becoming harder and harder. Saying “the right thing” is going to be more and more dependent on understanding your current loyalists, and brand personality will need to be strong and relatively niche to rack any up at all. Pleasing everyone may soon be an impossibility. Likely will this further confirm the rise of “big data,” providing answers to the questions we need to understand the buyers behind a brand, and their behavior.

We already talk about Millennials as a unique, outlier breed, and how brands often need to bend over backwards to keep them entertained. But a new conversation may be rising, that the question won’t be “how do we reach millennials.” It might be “how do we motivate politically conservative millennials,” or “how can we win street cred with the hardcore hip-hop enthusiasts.” Avant-garde consulting firm K-Hole remarkably insist that being “unique” has become so typical, that the only way to stand out is to be as bland suburbia as possible—coining the term “normcore” and spurring a style movement. When one generation breaks into thousands of cultural compartments with loyalty, which ones are you going to align with?