The allegory of the cave

Every good philosophy student, and even the really bad ones like me, remember Plato’s allegory of the cave. Man is chained, looking at a wall where shadows from a puppet are the only reality they know. One man (the philosopher-king) breaks his chains and discovers the true reality of puppets and the real light.

Like the cave, the distinction between reality and illusion in social media is being called into question more and more and typically not for good reasons. Whether it is network news quoting false blog reports such as the recentMSNBC incident, sexual predators, or Whole Foods CEO posing assomeone else or an uproar over LonleyGirl15 being a fake, there are many incidents where individuals or organizations have used created false profiles at various social media sites.

While in no way would I ever condone or support using social media for anything illegal, what I am very excited about is creating personas like Lonleygirl15 to entertain or promote in new and clever ways. Though there was an uproar when people found out that Lonleygirl15 was not real, people were still hooked and watched to the last episode. I think that it is in our human nature to want these surprises that make us question what is real and what is not. There are many other examples in a variety of media from Hitchcock’s original War of the Worlds broadcast, to the Blair Witch Project, to Borat.

As I have posted before, social media marketing is a diverse field of several disciplines and many opportunities for marketers. Leveraging profiles is a largely untapped entertainment and marketing opportunity. To illustrate my point – imagine the Blair Witch Project redone, but online -using all the social media tools at their disposal. The filmmakers could all creating their profiles on MySpace, and in fact talk about their ‘upcoming project’ there to add an air of legitimacy they could create LinkedIn profiles and add their resumes to Monster for all to see. Obviously, they could post post videos to YouTube and do other clever things like enter other message boards to discuss issues – for example the female lead could post on iVillage about her concerns about camping with two men and then one of the others could post onMarthaStewarts’ or Fine Cooking’s message boards about simple foods to make while camping. As their adventure in the woods starts, they can post to blogs and post an occasional video and/or audio file.

As you may imagine, marketers or entertainers that head into this territory will have to do so carefully and ensure that in the end the audience does know what is real and what is a shadow on the wall.

– Colin

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