Using social tools for (mostly) solitary ends

We don’t hear much from Robert Michael Murray, the Society’s VP for Social Media. But here’s a little sound bite from the MPA’s inaugural Social Media Conference, where Robert was a panelist:

Robert Michael Murray

“We get caught thinking social media is this bright new shiny bullet,” Robert Michael Murray, vice president of social media for National Geographic, said. “Magazines have been doing these things for 100 years.”

But Murray seemed to be against the idea of selling advertising across Nat Geo’s social products. “I walled that off [from advertising],” he said, adding that he spars with the marketing team over his hard church-state stance. “It’s content driven.”

We wish Robert well in that church-state struggle, especially since it often seems like a losing battle.

We’re puzzled, though, what Robert means by “doing these things for 100 years.” What “things”? The things that social media can do? If so, he’s omitting an obvious point. (Or the reporter did.)

If you go back 100 years… or 50 years… or even 5 years, it was virtually impossible for members of National Geographic to communicate directly with each other. In fact, there was no way for a Society member to identify other people who belonged — unless you paid top dollar for the NGS mailing list. Communication was top down, Editor to readers (one to many); not lateral, member to member (many to many). Which meant that membership was a rather solitary experience: You, in your armchair, with your Magazine, gazing at pictures of cheetahs and bare-breasted women.

Today, all sorts of eye-popping technology exists that could enable Society members around the world to connect with each other online. We have the potential to communicate laterally. We could make the experience much more social. We could be a networked Society, which would open up all sorts of new opportunities. But NGS has kept that door shut. Instead, Society managers prefer to keep our eyes focused on their stage, and to drive us to their content.

Why is that, Robert?

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.