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Distracted Across the Great Digital Divide

  |  October 10, 2008   |  Comments

Content is shaped by the medium that delivers it, so what the hell is going on?

The world is really quite amazing these days. Financial collapse, an unprecedented U.S. presidential election, and advances in Lego technology have possibly put us in a new dimension of human experience.

Never before have people been able to share one or more events with each other simultaneously. Think about it: I can watch a debate and see someone making fun of it at the same time. Is that a form of social medication? I can see a full-on parody of the debaters days after it all happens. It can make you wonder if there's anything serious out there anymore. It seems that our ability to have parallel emotional experiences on one subject simultaneously is either the beginnings of madness or a new level of brain function.

During these last few debates Current TV's "Hack the Debates" campaign has been running tweets over the debate in real time, sometimes a few seconds earlier than broadcast TV.

Now that's great fun, but it's kind of a misnomer in that the feed is vetted by someone before comments are posted. Yes, for our benefit I suppose, but it doesn't reek of the pirate behavior it's advertised to be. Nonetheless, it does give Twitter, Facebook, and others a run for their money in connecting with a wide audience à la broadcast TV. This is a new way of experiencing an event. No, live feeds over video isn't new, but what we're doing with them is.

Current events such as the financial debacle and presidential debates are some of the most serious issues we've faced in the last several generations. The idea that we can connect to them in a variety of ways and with a variety of emotions is in some ways disquieting.

Here's where it all goes pear-shaped. Current TV has done a great job of being an inclusive media. Yet when a viewer watches something and tweets on it, it's not interactive. You just sit, watch, wince, chuckle, and wonder who all these people are.

Remember, Current TV is a TV channel and an online channel, so it covers narrow- and broadcast bases very well. Twitter, Facebook, and others, however, aren't broadcast media in any way, shape, or form. But you can converse with other people on them, because you created a network of your own. In some ways, it's like your own socio-political online TV channel.

Social media is the new media. These times are an apt indicator of this truth.

The real meat of the matter is this all depicts the power of communication media. And what's evident is that social media are in no way an advertising medium. In fact, they're against the idea of single-point advertising ideology.

Yet in many ways the notion of experiencing an idea on many levels at once is a lot like advertising. Traditionally, advertising gives you too much to think and feel about a situation before shocking you with a message. But they're a lot different.

This is the big disconnect for advertisers who see social media as another form of audience reach. The people you are reaching are probably laughing at you or ignoring your message entirely.

If we turn all that on its head and mix it up a bit, something else appears as a possible solution for anyone who uses rich media, video, or any type of channel that delivers more than just a message. In many ways, social media has brought about the idea of causes and thoughts as the currency of online interactivity.

Brands may need to dig deeper into their collective soul and find something to stand for, in many ways a cause without the charity. I don't see an Exxon Facebook group that advocates for wildlife in Alaska anytime soon. But I do see an energy producer advocating and educating on the need to convert all municipal energy to alternative fuels. As crazy as it sounds, it's an idea that overpowers the negatives of the messenger.

So the notion of an experience with a brand on many levels: logical, skeptical, regional, international, and emotional, can happen. And we may have opened a new way to connect without a snappy tagline. I, for one, would miss that very much.

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Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.

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