This is a guest post contributed by Anuj Srivas, tech. journalist and blogger, until recently the author of Hypertext, The Hindu.
“Once every hundred years, media changes,” social media king Mark Zuckerberg declared at a Facebook advertising event seven years ago.
“The last hundred years have been defined by the mass media. The way to advertise was to get into the mass media and push out your content. In the next hundred years, it will be shared among the millions of connections [that] people have. You will need to get into these connections. The next hundred years will be different for advertising and it starts today.”
It isn’t too surprising to see that Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd. (BCCL) – publisher of Economic Times, Times of India and numerous other ‘mass media’ outlets – has heavily channeled Mr. Zuckerberg with regard to the controversial social media policy it plans on imposing on its journalists.
In a nutshell, BCCL will start creating company-specific Twitter accounts for its journalists, with the log-in credentials being shared by both parties. Both the company and the journalist will be free to tweet on news and such, though any revenue earned from the Twitter account would go straight to BCCL.
The company would prefer that the journalists themselves maintain only the one Twitter account, but if journalists have a personal Twitter profile, it should not tweet news or such information, thus not competing with the company-sanctioned Twitter account.
I like the way BCCL – much like Zuckerberg himself – considers ‘brand-building/advertising’ and ‘media’ to be synonymous. It cuts through the bullshit. It simplifies. Editorial is advertorial, says BCCL, which has been its motto for a long time. A ToI journalist’s Twitter account will now have the face of a human and the tweets of an editorial-advertorial machine.
It seems a little surprising that Twitter power-users like Prem Panicker, who is the managing editor of Yahoo! India, have reacted with such panic. In a piece tinged with sanctimony, Mr. Panicker insists that his ‘professional’ online self and ‘personal’ online self are two mostly separate things. The Brand and the Self, as it were.
“This new world comes with its own challenges,” he writes. “A certain mild schizophrenia is one of them. At times, I have to split my online activities into two; at the best of times the two halves are complementary, but at times they are disconnected from each other.”
This could not be further from the truth. Most of the Twitter elite amass followers, in no small part, due to their professional job titles and positions of authority.
Furthermore, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter have, for years, been perpetuating the notion that advertising is social. The ideology of advertisement-supported Silicon Valley is that, in a sense, there is no marketing pitch that is not a conversation. There is no crisis that is not a branding opportunity, no friendship that cannot be monetized and no drama that cannot be solved by offering an expert tweet opinion.
The journalists/actors/musicians/technology entrepreneurs of Twitter are brands themselves, whether they believe it or not. Facebook’s ad system has had ‘Social Ads’ for quite some time, which combines the social graph (graft?) with advertisements. Consider the company’s business model – they get users to give up their personal data, sell that data to advertisers, and then have the users be the vectors for the advertisements. How can one be expected to maintain a clearly demarcated professional and personal online self in such an atmosphere?
Perhaps Mr. Panicker’s disgust comes from the fact that until now there has been a largely informal system of mixing editorial with advertorial in the social media space. So as long as people continue to genuinely believe that they are engaging in a conversation that is free of marketing and advertising, there is no problem. Never mind the fact that the conversation is very rarely genuine or even advertising-free.
With the formal institution of a social media policy, which sets up automated accounts where the company and journalist are one and the same, it appears BCCL has crossed a line. I would call it a natural evolution of what awaits us in Zuckerberg’s next hundred years.