I’ll say right upfront: I can be a Pollyanna, naive, an idealist. And sometimes I can get uptight when confronted with an over abundance of rules. I’m not into conformity. Shoot, I can’t even tolerate a group exercise class.

So back in 2009 when I became fascinated by the business application of social media, I liked that it was a new frontier, the Wild West where everyone was making it up as they went along. At least in my circles, forward-thinking, creative individuals were driving the movement — not companies. In this grassroots effort, individuals were cajoling their employers to give social media a try, to witness the powerful way social tools could connect a business with its customers and potential customers.

When consumers or customers posted on social media and when individuals representing companies posted, those tweets, Facebook posts and check-ins mostly seemed authentic.

But now most companies of any size have decided that social media is a necessary part of doing business today — just as they did in the ‘90s with creating a website. They have formalized efforts and they endlessly analyze the science and numbers behind social media. Gone are the days of throwing it up and seeing if it will stick and flying by the seat of your pants.

Sure there was more risk, but there was more adventure too. Am I the only one missing those early days?

I started thinking about the contrast after hearing about the launch this month in New York City of a new iPhone app called Kapture. The advertising platform rewards users for taking and sharing photos via social media of brands, products and services. For sharing, they get discounts and actual goods.

So next time you see a photo on Twitter or Facebook of a fancy waterfront hotel or that scrumptious-looking dessert, you might question the motivation behind the post.

Sure, we’ve been gradually heading in this direction in social media. While early users of Foursquare, for example, checked in places for the love of the game, now many more have gotten into the game for the discounts and freebies they can earn for their check-ins.

Corporations, meanwhile, are setting tweet quotas for employees and establishing rules for maximum and minimum numbers of posts per day or per hour for Facebook and LinkedIn. I consider this to be the corporatization of social media.

So perhaps this is where my naiveté comes in. Because I have more dealings with smaller companies than large corporations, perhaps more of this has been occurring that I realized. For others, maybe the curtain was pulled back much earlier.

I did find that one writer cited the corporatization of social media two years ago, with General Motors’ hiring of a social media marketing agency.

“Social media marketing is increasingly subject to business oversight,” Joel Postman wrote on Social Media Today in December 2010. “It is measured for effectiveness, and programs that do not generate sales leads, subscriptions, revenue or whatever else they set out to do will be terminated, with some of the people responsible possibly being subject to the same fate.”

Maturation, I realize, isn’t easy. When puberty hit, I complained that I didn’t want to grow up. I liked being a child.

And perhaps now I’m being a naive child, longing for the early days of social media when people tweeted because they had something to say and not because of the time on a clock or the need to meet a company’s daily quota.

 

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