Social Media and the Unbearable Smugness of Tweeting

Anyway, by some horrible mischance, someone stumbled upon this blog and that someone was responsible for the content of a US website, Ragan, which is a resource for the PR and coporate communications industries. Cutting a long story short, this person asked whether I’d mind if she published one of my blog posts – this one – and of course I said ‘no’, because, well, the internet, it’s a free-for-all, isn’t it. So she did – perform clickety here – and, my, well – read the commentary for yourself.

I took a number of things out of this experience, and I think one or two of them are worth having a look at in a bit more detail.

My original post was, in part, prompted by an article in the Wall Street Journal, which talked about big firms – such as Ford and Coke – adopting a policy (or considering doing so) which would allow their employees to post to social media sites, on behalf of the company, without going through the communications department first. For one reason or another – you can read it for yourself – I felt this was a bad idea, and I said so.

Plenty of people disagreed with me – plenty of people felt that the age of the employee is upon us, that vox populi, vox dei and that taking away an employee’s unfettered access to social media was like taking away their telephone or email account. This is such a trite piece of bollocks that I won’t even bother to get into it here, as was the idea that by recommending that staff access to social media should be controlled, I was in some way denying the fact that employees have a life outside of work. (Of course they do. Of course they talk to other people about their work, Just not – normally – to hundreds, maybe thousands, of strangers in a virtual environment.)

In addition to the cyber-hippies and the foaming new media evangelists there was, however, comment from both Ford and Coke – authored by the very people mentioned in the original Wall Street Journal article. This was fascinating and I was genuinely delighted that a) they’d found my article and b) they’d taken the time to respond.

On the back of their responses I learned that the WSJ had over-egged the cake slightly. What both firms are doing is less about giving employees free rein to post whatever, whenever and more about creating a network of hand-picked, well-trained social media ambassadors, with the ability to talk about the areas in which they specialise and the understanding to know when to refer an enquiry to someone else (this last is Coke-specific). This is great and sounds very wise – but is very different to what is being preached/recommended by those in the grip of social media fever.

I then went on to consider Ford and Coke’s responses further – and the fact that their reactions had been very rapid – and the fact that their reactions were both posted by the senior social media guy. I’ll leave it with you to decide, but did I detect a slight overreaction? I mean, who am I – and what do my opinions matter? Is it possible that – somewhere – these guys are worried about the substance of social media and its true value to big corporate? Might it just be that they don’t want too many questions asked? Are they the guardians of the horrid secret? That the Emperor is in the buff? As I say – it’s for you to decide.

So, having accepted the brickbats, I conducted a personal brand health check (and if you don’t do this already, you should be doing it). I googled myself. Specifically, I googled ‘jeremy probert social media’. And, there I was. My point of view was being roundly condemned on – ooooooh – at least three online fora.

But most interestingly – for me, anyway (I know, I know – don’t get out much) – was that Scott Monty (the Social Media type at Ford) had tweeted to the effect that he couldn’t find me on Twitter. The implication being (and picked up by one of his fellow twats) that if I didn’t have a Twitter account, then I was in no position to criticise social media.

Again, this is such trite bollocks that I won’t even dignify it. But I will share an opinion. I do wander around social media sites a lot and I do find myself on Twitter on a regular basis. Sometimes I enjoy it – there are some interesting people, sharing interesting stuff – always, however, individual, always unbranded, very often comedy. And then there’s what appears to be quite a large majority, using Twitter as an unconscious ego trip, basking in the delusion that someone actually cares who they are, where they are or what they do.

The research into Twitter usage – and the¬†use of other social media outlets – is well-documented. I don’t have to tell you what it says.

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