I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to draw a parallel between the dystopian future outlined in George Orwell’s novel 1984 and the distorted version of society that we find ourselves in today.

Through the social media lens, there tends to be two obvious camps; the exhibitionists who share every detail of their lives, looking for acceptance, popularity and third-party endorsement and the voyeurs who like to sit back and observe those around them, while sharing very little of their own lives.

As an ex-Zimbabwean, you won’t find me quoting Robert Mugabe very often, but I can’t help crack a wry smile in his well-quoted summary of the era we find ourselves in…

“We are living in a generation where people ‘in love’ are free to touch each other’s private parts but are not allowed to touch each other’s phones because they are private.”

However bizarre or crude the statement, it does all seem a little back to front!

The irony gets even thicker when you consider that the recent media frenzy surrounding the Cambridge Analytica scandal all comes back to that same premise… privacy. Or the lack of it.

So, when JD Wetherspoon announced its departure from all social media this week, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this is the beginning of the turning tide for this once utopia-like phenomenon.

12 months ago, this significant act would probably have been seen as no more than a publicity stunt. But instead, in the wake of privacy concerns and changing algorithms (which only result in spiralling costs for advertisers), it has opened up an entire debate as to whether the pub chain has ‘called last orders’ at just the right time.

We shouldn’t be overly surprised. If the history of marketing has taught us one thing, it is that new channels become outdated and inaccessible almost as quickly as they became the latest trend. Usually popularity drives the price up, reduces effectiveness (and therefore ROI) before legislation/change in algorithm/associated costs render the entire channel outdated at best, redundant at worst. That is, of course, until the once costly alternative looks like good value in comparison; JD Wetherspoon opting to use their website and magazine as the alternative to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for example.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that social media’s days are done. However, as a tactic, it is receiving criticism on all sides.

Cast your mind back to the days of print advertising, TV and direct mail – they all gave way to new trends whether that was down to the cost, diminishing results or legislation.

But they were relatively private.

Your viewing habits could not be traced, no one could track how long you hovered on a particular page in a magazine or whether you peaked inside the envelope of that carefully crafted direct mail letter. The only measure of success was action.

Social media on the other hand is a little more invasive. It, to all intents and purposes, opens the front door and invites both strangers and friends into your front room. Big Brother really is watching. And this becomes all too obvious as tailored ads fill your news feed.

You may have been subjected to 4 minutes of TV advertising during a TV ad break 20 years ago, but that ‘targeting’ was no more sophisticated than being related to the show you were watching at that time of day.  Nowadays, it’s courtesy of a cookie stored on your phone/laptop/computer. It’s all got a little too personal, and invasive at times.

What’s the result?

Users have reacted by ‘switching off’.  Now, platforms like Facebook are having to make significant changes to win back their favour and trust. Unfortunately, those changes only further penalise the businesses who have long used the channel as a way to ‘engage’ with their audience. And the audiences aren’t necessarily in a hurry to come back either. Consider how many hours are being dedicated to ‘engaging’ with people online and maybe JD Wetherspoon has a good point.

Not only that, but just as we sit back and reflect, post Cambridge Analytica, the business world is also poised to deal with one of the most disruptive changes to legislation that we have seen for decades; GDPR. Data privacy, and the right to be forgotten, is now on everyone’s radar. In fact, recent research suggests that 33% of people in the UK will use their right to be forgotten with retailers that currently store their data come the 25th May.

So, what’s the lesson to be learned here?

It’s the same lesson I was taught on my first day in a marketing agency all those years ago:

“To use one route to market is to sell yourself short. It is a risky strategy”.

So, before you panic about life after ‘Web 2.0’, just remember that a truly integrated marketing strategy encompasses a little bit of everything. It’s about having the right message and format in front of buyers at precisely the right moment… and sometimes that might even be in the form of a face-to-face conversation. (Madness, I know!)

So, why not see this new digital era as an opportunity? And if you need some help planning how you can make it work to your advantage, why not get in touch?