The BBC’s threat to axe its alternative music station 6 Music was always going to be a battle ground for social media. The cynics, including me, assumed that it was never meant seriously – the Beeb’s real concern was that after eight years so few people knew of its existence, and after the inevitable outcry from its adoring niche audience, and the newspaper headlines that followed, it would become much better known.
So no surprise that the BBC Trust has now stepped in and rescinded the management’s decision. No surprise, either, that the reversal is being hailed as a triumph for social media. As has been noted, in earlier times a few outraged letters would have been printed in newspapers – and ignored. At the most, a paper might have started a campaign, which might or might not have worked. This time, 180,000 people joined a Facebook campaign and millions of tweets were made on the subject. The BBC also received more than 25,000 emails and nearly 50,000 online responses.
But who was in the driving seat here? Did the BBC buckle in the face of a rebellion by its customers. Or did it provoke the rebellion for its own nefaarious purposes? If the latter, it’s an interesting example of how social media can be harnessed to achieve a particular effect. Yes, it’s manipulative, but only in the sense that all marketing is manipulative, and if everyone ends up getting what they want, what’s to complain of?