Social Media – What Value Conversation?

After my recent assertion that all this ‘conversation’ voodoo was little more than the next great excuse for not doing very much at all (and being paid, often quite highly, for not doing it) – my reasoning being, simply, that ‘conversation’, as she is hyped by the social media gurus, doesn’t actually exist – I come face to face with this. It is a listing and explanation of the ‘ten most common stages that businesses experience as they travel the road to full social media integration’, created by someone called Brian Solis, who, apparently, is a principal at new media agency FutureWorks. (Should you be the sort of terrifying masochist who seeks out opportunities to peel your fingers or pick at your eyes with fishhooks, you can connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.)

Frankly, dear blog snorkellers, where do I start? It’s delusional and, if it got into the hands of the weak-minded (you’re not weak-minded, are you?) could be seen as dangerous. Take this, for example:

“At last, 2010 is expected to be the year that social media goes mainstream for business. In speaking with many executives and entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed that the path towards new media enlightenment often hinges on corporate culture and specific marketplace conditions. Full social media integration often happens in stages — it’s an evolutionary process for companies and consumers alike.”

What on earth does he mean – goes mainstream for business? No-one, as yet, and as far as I can see, has managed to make business out of social media. Not even the social media owners are actually making money out of it. Does no-one remember the dotcom bubble of 11 years ago? It’s not the messiah, people, it’s a very naughty boy. 2010 will not be the year social media goes mainstream for business – it might be the year when business pisses away a significant proportion of its total marketing spend following the advice of Mr Solis and his peers, however.

I also cannot help but noting the use of the phrase ‘the path towards social media enlightenment’, deliberately imbuing his subject with some quasi-religious significance and tacitly implying that those who do not run towards social with open arms are both unenlightened and somehow heathen.

And then there’s the assertion that ‘full social media integration often happens in stages’ – as if it’s something that happens all the time, the new normality, an inevitable metamorphosis that will change us all – thereby bestowing credence on what are, after all, little more than crackpot theories.

And that, gentle readers, is just the content of the first paragraph. There’s pages and pages of this insidious and infectious nonsense. It talks about “the conversation” (as you’d expect it would), it talks about ‘finding a voice and a sense of purpose’ and it talks about “humanising the brand”. It goes as far as to suggest that social media both merits and may cause an organisational transformation, in which it is imperative that teams and processes support formal Social Customer Relationship Management programmes.

To be fair, the document pays lip service to the concept of metrics to measure ROI – volumes, locations and nature of online interaction – but at no point does it address true value-adding business goals, such as selling more product, dispensing more counsel or lending more money. In fact it goes as far as to say ‘we report to executives who may be uninterested in transparency or authenticity – their goal, and job, is to steer the company toward greater profits’ as if there’s a special type of person whose job it is to worry about profit, while the rest of us get down and dirty having conversations, creating communities, listening, responding and adapting our products and services.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is here and it’s (probably) here to stay. Ignore it at your peril. But it is not that important. It is not something that has to permeate your business, brand or organisation at all levels. It is not the future of communication as we know it and it is not an excuse to stop what you’re doing now and enter some Utopian world where no-one’s responsible, there’s no control and you simply have to go with the flow – because this is bigger than all of us, man.

Horseshit! Wake up! This is the call of the sirens and the more you listen to it, the more chance you’ll throw yourself overboard and drown in a sea of endless, meaningless ‘conversation’.

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