I don’t watch American Idol. I’ll readily admit that it’s a timely concept that hopefully can breathe life into the moribund music industry. But growing up in a family of performers with a house full of “voice students in training” taught me to run from sounds that hurt my ears. But what caught my attention here wasn’t the talent, or lack thereof, but the fact that contestant Sanjaya has become the unwitting hero of an anti-AmIdol movement. The “social” part of “social media” has been gamed. Again.
Home grown site Vote For The Worst has decided that American Idol is bad, that contestants are misled, and that winners are picked early. All potentially true …. I really don’t know …. but not the point of this note. Contestant Sanjaya, according to many, has survived thus far apparently due solely to his lack of talent, courtesy of the above website, which hopes to skew the results for its own reasons. We’ve come to understand that Howard Stern, the paragon of taste in 21st Century America, has endorsed the site. Simon Cowell, who needs little introduction from me, apparently has threatened to quit the show if Sanjaya wins the contest.
Any time we offer ourselves up to the masses …. especially in this age of anonymity coupled with low barriers to participation …. we take the risk that those with dubious motives will manipulate the system purely for the sake of manipulating the system. The Z List experiment on Squidoo illustrates this point pretty well.
Recent discussions on anonymity have been flying thick around the blogosphere, particularly in Kathy Sierra’s well reported situation, so I won’t reiterate those facts here as others have done a good job before me. Needless to say, she has my sympathies and support. American Idol’s problems pale in comparison to the severity in this case, but I find that both strike the same nerve.
In response to these types of persistent problems, many have begun calling for a code of conduct for the blogosphere. This isn’t the problem, in my opinion. People who would adhere to such a code of behavior aren’t the people making trouble. Anonymity, low involvement and low barriers to participate are the most tangible problems.
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> Putting your faith in the hands of an anonymous group of unseen people with high speed connections, no dog in your hunt and time on their hands may not always give you what you want. This is probably why self-policing boards are successful and why Sanjaya is now a household word.
> If a disaffected consumer …. or, heaven forbid, a competitor …. gets a hold of an online promotion, research project, or open forum upon which we are planning to make concrete business decisions, we’re going to end up in a bad place. Let’s take this into consideration up front. The old days of mall intercepts and focus groups dealt with this problem very effectively; the internet, for all its speed and convenience, isn’t as airtight as eye to eye contact when it comes to getting unadulterated feedback.
> Simon shouldn’t quit. But he should think carefully about how to change the voting process on American Idol. If we were in Simon’s place, we’d be smart to do the same.
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It’s not that we can’t trust our customers anymore — these we can probably trust because they care about the results. Complete strangers and Howard Stern fans, on the other hand, might not be the brand stewards we hoped they’d be. Perhaps it all comes down to the personal involvement of your audience.
If the downside of social media is represented by lurkers looking to maliciously drag your project off into the weeds, then it stands to reason that the upside should be the cultivation of highly motivated, passionate and involved communities. How we nurture these communities and what checks and balances we place upon them deserve more attention as we build our next generation plans.