Like most everybody, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the new role of social media and the decline of traditional media. But unlike a lot of people my livelihood depends on one or the other. I'm a freelance writer who blogs, hoping that if money stops flowing to one income stream it will flow into the other.
On the journalism end, companies are spending less on advertising. Since advertising pays for the journalism that surrounds it, there are less newspapers and magazines around, and those still around have reduced their size. Thus there is generally less journalism work around for those of us who freelance. (And a lot of unemployed staffers.)
Many companies who formerly advertised in traditional media are "shifting" to social media, but this shift helps create a content-free world. Here's how:
Because with social media companies/brands can now speak to consumers directly, they play in the social media space by "engaging" bloggers and others online. They may make games or have a blogger of their own. They send out recipes and often samples. They join in the conversation about their brand. This is all good.
But what I see as the problem is that conversations usually take place around content: the weather, a feature story, news of the day. Social media, including most blogging, is a conversational space but not a content generator.
As brands shift their spending power toward social media, they are hiring bloggers and facebookers and twitterers to talk about their brands. This is internal spending; PR. But they're not so much buying ads in this space or doing much (so it seems) to generate content. It's more "Hey we're here. Talk about us!"
Though advertisements in traditional and social media are very static, boring things, they fund journalism and content creation for the content that goes around them.
Thus in the current model, No more ads = No more content. Imagine Facebook/Twitter if it was only internal. It would be all messages like "I had the best sandwich today!" and no sharing links to news stories or other outside content. Awful.
The internet has devalued ads (thanks, Google!) and also devalued content (thanks, copy-and-paste!), so that in the social media space there doesn't appear to be any reason to bother with content generation or advertising if you are a corporation.
As someone who makes a living generating content, I'm worried about all of this. One one hand, journalists are being starved out of the industry. On the other hand, are corporations morally obligated to advertise to keep journalists employed? Unfortunately not.
I haven't thought of any workable solutions to this, and neither has anybody else that I know of. In the meantime I am hoping luxury brands who can afford it keep buying ads in traditional media and toss the occasional website sponsorship my way. Right now content isn't seen as a necessity because there is plenty of it still floating around for free. But in the not-too-distant future content may become a luxury item again.