The two faces of social media

Image: Tough sledding

Last week the New York Times reported on the possibility of cheating in the Pepsi Refresh fundraising competition for non-profits. Pepsi assured participants that the most rigorous technology to ensure the integrity of the process, but as with all technology that is by its very nature neutral, abuse is always a possibility. Still, the suggestion that this might occur is particularly jarring in the context of such an inspiring and breakthrough campaign. But the issue at hand is far larger than any one brand, competition or individual.

Over the coming years we will continue to see brands that engage in social media disingenuously, either by doing a better job of masking their true motives or because their efforts are little more than window dressing.

We will continue to see advertising agencies that engage with social media on behalf of their brands only to protect their own client territory rather than trying to genuinely engage with consumers to build brand awareness and profits for their clients.

We will continue to see consumers looking for ways to use technology to their sole advantage.

We will continue to see technology specialists treating the connective tissue between millions of people as little more than an opportunity to bombard them with sales offers or spam.

While this is a concern, it is no cause to be disheartened. The power of social media is not limited to its most obvious abuses or trivial uses. Rather, the only thing that’s ever positively changed our world is collective action based on shared values, and social media and technologies represent a unique opportunity to do this again on an unprecedented scale.

With each iteration of social, mobile and gaming technology, we will see its equally rapid abuse or cynical exploitation. Yet what’s important is that those that have experienced and believe in the power of magnified human connection demonstrate and champion its meaningful use.

We find ourselves at a unique moment in history in which the intersection between social media and social change can be potentially transformative. This can only happen if we celebrate the positive application of new technologies, reward brands truly dedicated to social change, and support them using our purchasing power and social influence. Abuses will occur but that does not diminish the opportunity before us to work together as brands and consumers partnering to build a better world.

Do you believe social media can be instrumental in building a better world? If so, how and why?