Imagine you’re walking in Time Square and suddenly you and everyone around you are holding megaphones. For a moment hundreds of hesitant faces look around at each other confused, but slowly, one by one, the entire block begins to speak into their personal voice enhancers. As more people add their voice to the chorus, the noise becomes chaotic; it’s now almost impossible to make out what any single person is actually saying.
You’ve been yelling, “Balls!” just to see if you can get a reaction from anyone when you look up and notice one of those iconic Time Square marquees scrolling, “$50K will be given to whoever can attract the largest crowd.” – No qualifications, no rules, just this simple challenge and very enticing reward. Is this some weird Hunger Games thing or what? Who cares… the game is on!
With this new challenge presented to them, this group of lawyers, teachers, stay at home moms, hormonal teens, joggers… have entered into the entertainment business and are now reaching into their personal bag of tricks to try and grab some attention.
A high-school chorus group on vacation from San Diego breaks into song. An aspiring comedian who just moved to the big apple stands on a plastic crate and starts his act. A very attractive young woman starts a striptease performance. A homeless man, already blowing bubbles for change, adds some spoken word. Those unable to move the needle or too timid to try, become passive observers of this circus.
At first the acts are cute, but the longer they go the more people lose interest. Having no time to prepare and little experience entertaining a crowd, the participants double down and use whatever cheap tricks they can think of to get noticed. The comedian, having no luck with his act, starts berating passerby’s out of frustration. The high-school chorus group, now having several musical competitors, makes a move out of desperation and joins forces with the striptease dancer.
None of the acts are “good” per-say, but some are definitely more entertaining than others and as audiences roam the square a few performers stand out, until one – the chorus/strip tease team – is crowned a winner.
The marquee suddenly changes to read, “Same rules, same prize. Competition resumes tomorrow.”
Everyday the pattern continues and as word gets out, more and more people flock to the square.
Any respectable artist wouldn’t be caught dead here. In the creative community, the square is for hacks, sell-outs and anyone willing to debase their craft to whatever cheap trick works quickest to win over an audience’s attention.
The catch is that as the crowds grow, attention is pulled away from plays on Broadway just a short walk away. People forgo the theater to see what the square has to offer. It’s not as good as the actors on the stage, but it’s still entertaining and it’s free. As the crowds become more consistent, businesses start to notice and show up to take advantage.
Cities across the country take notice of the experiment’s success and start their own versions of the Time Square madness. Yada, yada, yada…
I think I can stop the metaphor here.
When social media splashed onto the scene it gave everyone with access to a phone or computer a platform and a megaphone.
As individual follower counts began to grow and people became addicted to the Like, normal, everyday people were judged instantly on their ability to entertain.
While networks, studios, and professional creators stayed away, the appetite for content on these platforms increased rapidly and “social media influencers” stepped in to fill the gap.
If you build an audience, brands will come and they have – both in advertising on the platforms directly and in hiring influencers for endorsements.
Now that real money can be made from owning a large following, the race is on to attract an audience by any (legal) means necessary.
It is truly the wild wild west.
In theory, a “social media” that takes power away from major media conglomerates who have largely controlled what stories are told and by whom IS a good thing.
But now that our media has been liberated, we need new leaders to offer an approach that creates a more responsible, integrous and professional environment.
Over the next few weeks we’ll dive into the causes, effects and possible solutions to the new media landscape we find ourselves in.
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