The Power of Social Media Can Even Turn Out the Lights

The Power of Social Media Can Even Turn Out the Lights
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In his latest column. B&T’s regular scribe and niggler, Robert Strohfeldt from Strohfeldt Consulting, muses on adland’s obsession with social media and suggests it ain’t all beer and skittles…

No wonder advertisers have become fixated with social media. No other phenomena in the history of communications has come close to social media for reaching and influencing peoples’ opinions and actions.

So many marketers and advertisers have observed this power and falsely assumed they can use it to gain the same results for their brands and products.

Somewhere along the line the anthropomorphic idea that consumers have “relationships” with brands evolved. Kevin Roberts, you have a lot to answer for. Your Love Mark theory has gained way too much attention and credibility.

(Think of the classic Bruce Springsteen song, but change the words to “Brands like us, baby we were born to sell”)

Social media excels at propaganda, the socio-political, as opposed to straight commercial promotion. If a brand becomes part of the socio-political conversation, it is more luck than design. (Some will argue that this was deliberate, but social media is excellent at outing the purely commercial and the punishment can be severe). And it is not always positive. Social media can both make and break brands. If you think all publicity is good publicity, try and talk to Tiger Woods.

Prior to social media, the traditional media proprietors controlled much of the social conversation. They worked hard to try and pick “winners” – topics and people who would garner the greatest interest in an effort to win the ratings/readership/listening wars. In simplistic terms, the more “followers” they could entice, the larger the audience they could sell to advertisers.

Originally, social media could be deemed a pure form of democracy. (Demokratia, meaning “by the people”). No media proprietors dictating what does and does not make it into the public domain – very egalitarian and inspiring.

Most social media use was simply people communicating with other people, without any prior agenda. Friends and family, groups of like- minded individuals hooking up and sharing common interests, pretty much “innocent” stuff, that had the ability to be shared with the world if it went viral. There was no censorship and the interesting and highly intellectual was mixed up with the kooky and dangerous.

Because of the egalitarian nature of the internet, many individuals and groups were strongly opposed to any form of censorship. (In the early days, there was even a thing called “netiquette” – a self – regulated set of protocols to ensure cyberspace was a pleasant place to be. For example, a gross breach of netiquette was to send an unsolicited email.)

But over time special interest groups worked out that social media was a unique and potentially devastatingly powerful device to drive what could broadly be termed “propaganda”.

I have mentioned that nasty little fellow Joseph Goebbels before – the man who drove the Nazi propaganda machine. Though times and technology have changed enormously, the basic tenant of his approach has not:

“A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” And “Propaganda must always be simple and repetitious”.

Today we call it “fake news”.

Even before the internet, we had the “vocal minority” and the “silent majority”. Simply put, people who are passionate about a particular cause (of any type) make far more noise than the vast majority of the population who are more concerned about everyday issues they confront.

The internet, and particularly social media, has been a God send (oops, should I use that word?).

Just how powerful is social media? There a quite a number of topics that could be used as an example, but let’s look at climate change.

It is beyond question the human race has impacted the environment and if left unchecked., would be degraded to the point where the human species would die out.

But, where and how this is occurring is a matter of debate, not just amongst the scientific community, but the population at large.

People believe what they see on social media. Rather than counter ignorance, it often perpetuates it. (Many people rely solely on their Facebook feed for news). I was talking to an American friend recently and he blamed climate change for the recent hurricane Erma, which devastated the Bahamas and parts of Florida. That there had been not been any discernible increase in hurricane frequency and size over the past 100 years was lost on him. Whenever a hurricane, tornado, flood, drought or any other form of destructive weather hits, it is automatically blamed on climate change.

So where do we sit today? One of the most energy rich countries in the world, has the highest power prices of any developed country in the world. It is hard to get an accurate figure – though we often read that Australia, on a per capita basis, is one of the worst offenders for CO2 emissions, we make up between 0.3 % to 1.3% of the total (China is closer to 30%).

Western civilisation has been based on one key premise – Power is cheap. Not any longer, not for Australia.

This article is not intended to argue for or against climate change, rather the incredible impact social media can have on an issue that has no absolute certainties. It also shows how an emotive approach will always top a cold, rationale one.

Obviously, action must be taken. One of the great beauties of science is it is about finding the truth. But science has now become politicised and finding the truth in politics is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The intent of the masses on social media in asking to boycott banks who lend  money to companies to develop gas or new low emission coal power stations is entirely honourable. Misguided, but honourable.

Has anyone ever questioned the amount of power required to build an electric car? Or that lithium is a finite resource? Batteries also contain cadmium and lead, two highly toxic elements. Recycling is possible, but just as in the production of batteries, recycling chews up a lot of energy.

And let’s not forget, batteries don’t generate electricity, they just store it.

You don’t see a fuss over these questions in social media. Like any classic communications campaign, it has been kept on message – climate change is real and we must do everything in our power now to slow it down or stop it.

Sure, we need to eventually switch to renewables, but it is the manner and pace that is causing huge problems that are only going to get far worse. (The issue of our gas going to international rather than domestic markets is a scapegoat that even with changes, will have bugger all impact, except for maybe a few less blackouts).  The old line “follow the money” pops up again. There are untold riches to be made in renewables. GetUp! and similar groups will say they are doing what is best for the environment, but sitting in the background, rubbing their hands with glee are billionaires such as Elon Musk.

The man is a genius salesman. A battery that will run 20,000 houses for a couple of hours is but a drop in the ocean of the total requirements. From reports, most people think he is doing it for next to nothing, which is rubbish. He is making a motza and the publicity is worth many millions of dollars. He is the darling of the left, the ultimate puppet master, pulling the strings as they they drive the social media engine painting him to be a hero for tomorrow’s civilisation.

As the household power bills come in, families are starting to realise they have been duped. A more sensible and workable timetable to the switch to renewables would have saved them the huge financial pain coming their way.

And that financial pain is going to be far worse as unemployment climbs due to industry moving out of Australia to countries where some sanity has prevailed and power is affordable.

I can recall running focus groups in the late 80s and people were aware of and concerned about the environment back then. But higher up the tree of concern was cost of living. Household solar is great, if you can afford it. The “battlers” whom the left say they represent, are starting to pay a very high price for this ideology. Check out the postcodes of the strongest supporters and drivers of renewables and you will see they come from the most affluent areas.

“Let them eat cake.”

For the past 8 or more years, to even dare question the validity of the science and/or question the doomsday predictions was to invite a flogging on social media. I spoke to a geophysicist about 4 years ago. He was a researcher and on the academic staff of Queensland University. I was stunned. According to him, if you wanted to get a paper published on the environment it had to support current global warming theories. To question them was a kiss of death.  From scientific journals to the ABC, only one side of the argument was presented. Anything else was heresy. And pushing it along was social media. Remember all the desalination plants we had to have, according to Tim Flannery and a host of alarmists?  (Costing the tax payer billions of dollars). All have been mothballed, never used.

I am taking a risk of a major backlash, simply by raising and questioning these issues.

Propaganda is where the real power of social media lies. You cannot whip the population into a frenzy over chips, coffee, fashion or even cars. (Though you may start an argument by denigrating a motoring enthusiast’s preference or even passion for a car brand.).

But social media can drive people to act in a self- destructive manner, though using Newton’s 3rd Law, social media has the same power for good.

I hear people talk about social media as the most powerful/effective platform for advertising the world has ever known. Rubbish.

But the power of social media for propaganda purposes is unlike anything the human- race has ever encountered.

Only time will tell if it is for good, or destructive purposes.

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Robert Strohfeldt

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