Ever since reading The Cluetrain Manifesto a few years ago, I’ve been struck by the strand of utopianism that crops up on a regular basis in writings about social media. There’s a belief that we’re heading towards a point where the way that individuals and companies interact will be completely different, where brands are entirely owned by consumers and it’s the voice of the individual that’s all-powerful.

There are many compelling elements to this way of thinking. Empowerment of the individual has a nicely democratic feel to it, and the rise of the global brand in the 20th Century and its demise in the 21st has a satisfying symmetry.

The reality is far more complex.

There’s no doubt that the diverse range of tools that have sprung up under the banner Web 2.0 are having an impact on the way individuals and organisations talk to each other. However, social media should be recognised as only the most recent addition to the many factors – political, social and economic – that are constantly shaping and remaking the communications landscape.

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