Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Believe In Social Media

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reason.” from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

You don’t need to believe all social media is real in order to believe in the powerful reality of social media.

If the mark for knowing whether a YouTube video has reached epic viral status is determined by when a link for such video hits my middle school daughter’s email box, then Hi-Tec’s “Liquid Mountaineering” video went epic at 9:16 am CST August 31, 2010.

The three-minute video depicts men talking about a new challenge – namely running on water. As you begin watching, you wonder whether these people are actually serious. Its straight-faced delivery is ultimately what makes it pretty funny. It’s reminiscent of some classic Saturday Night Live commercial spoofs from the ‘80s - in particular (my personal favorite) “First Citiwide Change Bank.” The high production quality of “Liquid Mountaineering” almost begs the viewer to question its authenticity. Which of course you should. Unlike a Daniel Ilabaca parkour YouTube video¸ “Liquid Mountaineering” is not real. The video was actually created about four months ago by Amsterdam-based CCCP for sportwear firm Hi-Tec. It’s been viewed over six million times on YouTube thus far. If you’ve seen it, you likely remember it. If you haven’t, it’s worth watching.

There are those that would call such a video a hoax, a ploy, or a marketing stunt. I’m sure some initially took (and perhaps some still take) the underlying premise at face value. But I don’t think it should be called a hoax, ploy, or stunt. It employs something more innovative than basic deception and is thus worthy of praise, not condemnation. It’s not meant to fool the audience. It’s not LonelyGirl15 or Milli Vanilli. Rather it’s smart, oddly funny, entertaining, and subtly informative (by showing viewers that Hi-Tec shoes are waterproof). It could easily become a classic online video. And dare I say it borders on cultural satire by exposing our natural desire to believe in possibilities. You want to believe in what you’re seeing, but you know you shouldn’t.

Utilizing social media can be a tricky proposition. How best to use it? How best to track it? These can be hard questions. The answers for which evolve over time. In an online world that is easy to manipulate, it’s sometimes hard to know what’s real. Creating online scams, perpetrating fraud, or simply deceiving others for the heck of it is actually quite simple. Creating online content that is smart, oddly funny, entertaining, informative, and satirical all in one on the other hand, is a decidedly different innovative challenge (although not quite as difficult as running on water I suppose). A challenge we should all take up.

I still often hear the debate concerning social media as an instrument for doing good or evil. But this is different than the simple belief that social media is powerful. This would be hard to deny. There are few people (or I rather I hope there are few people) that can deny the pure power of social media – whether used for good or evil. But I suppose Jesus walked on water (without Hi-Tec shoes). And he certainly had (has) his skeptics. You don’t need to believe what you see though. Just know that its power is real.

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