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Social Media is a Dirty Word … and the Ten Reasons Why

[ 0 ] June 14, 2011 |

I stopped myself cold the other day when my keynote introducer described me as a “social media guy” who “commands the social world” and is “always on Twitter and Facebook”.

Cringe. Never mind whether it was right or not, I hated the characterization. Why did I feel so ill-described? Why did I feel compelled to correct the perception right away?

Here’s the great lie – as much as I’m invited to speak about the proper, appropriate and occasionally motivating use of social media, spend a good amount of discretionary time in these environments, believe their growth is real and continuing, and actually like the in-virtual relationships I’ve made here, if you ask me over a beer – I really do think social media is a dirty word. That’s right I said it – it’s filthy – let’s get rid of it.

I usually hate debate and discussions about semantics because they are quite insular industry discussions, but in this situation “words are important”.

A few weeks back, I secretly cheered as Peter Shankman put forward an argument “Why I will never hire a social media expert?”. Perhaps he was just being provocative or brave enough to withstand the scrutiny that was likely to come (at last count his post had received 622 comments with an equal mix of support and disdain and a sidebar discussion on the merits of refrigerating bread).  Put aside  whatever camp happens to be your professional designation, there is a streak of truth in Peter’s post that the pendulum has swung too far onto jumping on this social media specialist bandwagon.

One of our hopes in spending so much time authoring our manifesto for customer-centric organizations is that “Wikibrands” or Wikibranding (instead of social) becomes a term more popularly used to describe the direction and ensuite of tools used by customer-intimate firms. Heh, you have to have dream big. My belief  is that social media’s precursor term “word of mouth” is social media’s daddy and “Wikibrands” (or just plain great, sharable and collaborative customer-driven organizations) is the granddaddy.

Want to know why I think this way? Let’s dress down the term “social media” for a few minutes:

1) Social media is a damn tool - you will be a moron, if not now than certainly a few years from now, using social media as a term in intelligent business conversation. “We should Dot.com that, could we blog it, perhaps let’s make a viral video”. All vacuous terms from years gone by, right? Next year, we may be talking about a “hyperlocal” mania. You are playing chess, not falling in love with your rook, people.

2) Social media is like “love” as a term – so I build a blog and turn off comments. CNN convenes a debate enabled by YouTube.  New York Times live tweets.  Starbucks uses Foursquare to broadcast out deals. Facebook sells pay per clicks. What is social and what is traditional? I really don’t know anymore as worlds have collided.  There is increasing less “us” and “them” and thus social media has lost a lot of its descriptive meaning.  Because I can love a dog  and I can love a spouse, but for the majority of us, that’s two different things – give me a term that describes the difference.

3) Social media has failed as a business tool – whereas social media has played a great role in personal branding, promotion of celebrity, destruction of old form journalism and galvanizing political movements, it has largely failed as a business success lever. That’s not “social media” ‘s fault, that’s usually the sponsoring business. We should move onto a different “one level up” term that describes the successful digitally engaged businesses and what they are doing differently.

4) Social media is an unfair whipping boy – to the resistors and the uninitated, social media is like satan incarnate. “Watch out, don’t hire him – he’s one of those social media dudes”. “What does she do all day, all she does is drink and vomit social media”. Let’s not demonize some of these likely customer-friendly people. As a CEO, I want my staff to be engaged and maybe even collaborative, but not ON SOCIAL MEDIA all day (even though it might mean the same thing).  It also makes anybody with the slightest amount of gray hair or previous trepidation, feel like they’ve converted religions if they start practicing social. Like diets, everything in moderation should be encouraged – maybe it needs a new inclusive descriptor.

5) Social media is a “nice to have” experiment - hate to tell you this but your executive team really doesn’t care about your Facebook page or Twitter profile – they are actually tasked to build value for their firm by their stakeholders and shareholders (as however they define it). In our rush to Facebook fever and social media scurvy, many practitioners don’t understand, or have ceased to understand, the difference between the  play thing and true value driver.

6) Social media – yeah we do that - in conversing with Shel Israel the other day, he mentioned how social media experts have come in from the cold. He’s right. The debate is no longer should we do social media, it’s how we should do it. You will no longer be martyred as freaks if you engage in the social occult. Given the shackles coming off, most incumbent firms have flocked to hire typically young and poorly paid digi/social experts as their social eyes and ears without buying in. It’s a checkbox that allows them to hold onto more billings, exclusivity on relationships and perhaps a veneer of coolness, even though most agency owners can’t reconcile how to turn TV dollars into digital cents effectively. Not surprisingly agencies aren’t very good at it, most companies aren’t very good at it and a tribe of people that are really good at it, can’t get their mitts on it.

7) Social media is that crazy department – in most companies we talked to, the idea of having a separate siloed department called “social media” has failed as a concept. RIM’s Brian Wallace went so far as to say that somebody “should fire him if he still had a director of social media” two years from now.  We all support the tools, it’s just social media doesn’t need its own straightjacket. Social media in a business context is the table stakes for doing great digital and solid business – let it be handled by the people empowered to do that and get rid of those people if they can’t embrace and handle it.

8) Social media is so Kardashian – social media has a real candy coating to it. When Kim, Khloe and Kourtney occupy the 5th, 44th and 57th rank of most popular Twitter accounts, you get a feeling that social media has a soft underbelly of gossip, smut, relationship crises and lacking substance (and one person’s opinion, but Kourtney should be first). And remind me, what do these girls do again – because to my knowledge they don’t act, they don’t sing and they don’t dance. Like some social media experts, they are famous for being famous.

In fact, when you look at the most popular top 100 Twitter accounts – the breakdown is as follows:

Musicians/Singers  35,  Actors    11,    Talk Show Hosts    8,   Websites  8,    Sports (celebs, teams and leagues) 8, News Groups 7,    Web Personality 7,  Famous for being Famous 5,     Politics /Politicians 3, Brands  1

Only one traditional organization is in the top 100 firms (that may be another issue)!  So let the celebs have their saccharine-sweet social media and let’s create a new thing for businesses who smartly use the same tools.

9) Social media is out of whack with the world – I looked at a combination of Ad Age, Marketing Magazine and Wired the other day and more than 70% of the articles had a social media bent. I get it- there are 1.5 billion of us spending a tonne of time in social networks.  It’s a social phenomenon, but 70% coverage! That’s way too much cheering on and buffing up “the big shiny new thing”. When was the last time you read an article on a company revamping it’s customer service department or how employees embrace digital practices. I’ll tell you – not often. Remember – what is sexy, isn’t always necessarily what counts.

10) Social media is stealing your company’s value – the current and future valuations of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter almost beg the need to get your company embedded, ensconced and enveloped into their worlds. For them, social media = them = $$$. There will be some sexy pitches and client launch parties ahead, I’ll assure you. You want to know why these platforms are so valuable – they know a tonne about your customers and they are using your money to fund their knowledge and database. It’s great f0r the Facebook brand that you are advertising your www.facebook.com/acmecompany at the back of your commercials, not so much for you. And like with Facebook groups currently, what happens when these platforms change the rules on you when you finally become dependent.  I’ll post soon about having a good “home and away” Wikibrand game, but don’t outsource your digital footprint to social media, create a hive of the passionate in your own real life and digital worlds, whether that’s social or not.

If I had an 11th reason, it would be that by calling it a media, it cheapens the value of the benefits that social media can bring and organization and makes it comparative to the eyeballs you rent in traditional media. But that would be cheating.

There, I feel better already, very cathartic. Ooooh (interruption), sorry phone call “yes, Blogworld- you’d like me to talk about social media in Las Vegas, sure I’m available….”.

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Category: Resources, Wikibrand Guidebook, Wikibrands Insights

About Sean Moffitt: Managing Director, Wikibrands and President/Chief Evangelist, Agent Wildfire View author profile.

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