The Social Media Elephant in the Room
There’s something I need to get off my chest. It’s been sitting there and pinning me down like the elephant in the room that it is. I’m talking about this “Expert Economy” that we currently live in on the social web.
You’ve seen it before; Twitter denizens who sound like all knowing wisemen/women by tweeting messages with social media marketing advice in a voice that sounds almost visionary. Newbies to the game eat it right up and become almost cultish in their ritualistic retweeting of what is just mumbo jumbo. When I got my start and was noobishly quivering at the implications that social media had for the web (back then it was called “Web 2.0″), I too was tempted to learn everything I could from all kinds of “experts” as I taught myself the ropes years ago. However, early on, I noticed a trend in the discourse surrounding the subject of social media: most of what was being put forth as expert advice was just the same old message regurgitated over and over again, ad nauseum (pardon the pun). Oh, and the buzzwords were, and remain, just rampant with some of the most frequent offenders being words like “engage,” “advocacy,” “measurement,” “ROI,” and, well, you get the picture.
There’s nothing really wrong with looking for some inspiration from others who sound like they have a unique perspective on things but I would say it’s worth a moment of your time to think critically about what’s being said. You may just find that there is nothing really being said at all.
In essense, Social media is just the digital equivalent of word of mouth. That’s pretty much it. Yep. So when I hear “experts” and pundits tweeting about how it’s important to be nice and to listen and interact with people who follow your brand, product, blog, etc. I say “DUH!!” When did expertise in social media just consist of telling people what their mothers taught them as children? In fact a lot of the “expert advice” that is given on twitter, in speeches at lavish, expensive events or in books, is just common sense manners that you should be practicing to, you know, get along in society…
I’ve been called an expert on the subject (although I will never accept that title on principle of what I’m saying here) and been asked to speak at this conference or that meetup and have always been asked the same question: “what do you think is the future of social media? Will it die?” and I always reply with the same response: “It’s just going to become the way of the web, if it hasn’t already.” What I mean by that is that gone are the days when you would see websites with 20+ “chicklets” lining the bottom of a webpage allowing you to share the content on one or (gulp) more of the numerous social networks that were around when this social media thing blew up. It has since contracted and condensed as the cream of the crop have improved their offering and audience. For example, everyone’s on Facebook so that’s what sites are tailoring their social sharing tools and strategies. This isn’t anything new and even the most uninitiated are likely aware of this. Eveyone wants the scoop or the easy answer, but the hard truth is that there isn’t an easy answer. Nobody expected twitter or facebook to happen; they just did and were a big hit that got bigger over time through, yes, word of mouth.
So let’s say you’re new to social media, marketing, PR or what have you and you are looking to learn as much as you can in a field that as yet has no accreditation. You’re probably one of the many who are also looking for the “secret sauce” or the quick fix. So you get on twitter and most of what you see are tidbits from social media “gurus, “ninjas” or “mavens” like the ones posted above (names and handles removed to remain respectful) – what have you learned? Well you may have learned to play real nice online but in the way of an actual marketable skill you’ve learned bupcus. All you will have to show for it is a pile of “self help” style books and an even bigger pile of wasted time. When I was learning I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to help edit and publish a book about the actual nuts and bolts of electronic and physical distribution (i.e. supply chains, consumer patters and pathways) so I tended to to lean toward educational materials that were both quantitative or empirical rather than just qualitative. If you are serious about making a career in the digital frontier I urge you to take the expert advice with a grain of salt (I’m not saying to totally ignore it) but make sure you counterbalance it with some real, marketable skills such as understanding analytics, maybe a bit of coding and a solid understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Some PR and marketing sense doesn’t hurt either.
Many success stories come in the way of case studies on community managers who have gone above and beyond the call of their employers. I have lots of respect for them as they are not just sunny customer service agents, they are actually also great business people at the same time. The real difference between a community manager on paper and a social media rockstar is a combination of a very positive attitude, lots of energy and the ability to buckle down and get to the nitty gritty numbers so one can make sense of all of that to an employer who, much of the time, has no idea themselves on how community management works but has heard stories of people like Erin Bury and Casie Stewart and wants the same success they’ve shown to be emulated for their own brand. As a personal friend of both these ladies I know that it’s not all parties and tweetups. There’s some real work involved that usually calls on the skills I listed above and more – so if you’re thinking that social media is just an easy job where you’re paid to party, you’ve got another thing coming.
Trust me on this one and face the elephant in the room head on, otherwise you run the risk of sounding like you got your social media strategy from this site.