Social Media – The Other End of the World

As my regular blog snorkellers will know, I’ve not been backward in coming forward with my theory that social media is on its way out. This is for reasons too innumerable to mention here, including the fact that no-one’s making any money out of it, it’s being swamped by spam, the user growth figures are slowing, the user growth figures have never reflected the reality of the amount of people who sign up then never use the service again and – my favourite – because I say so.

There is another theory, however and in the spirit of fairness and balance, I give an iteration of it a hearing here. Clickety-clink – here’s the link!

(Can’t believe I just wrote that.)

The theory says that the traditional digital comms tools – email, websites – are themselves on the way out, to be subsumed into social media. The reasoning goes that social media provides opportunities to communicate and to provide content that email cannot – to summarise and paraphrase – email is one-dimensional and the social media are not. Same goes for the traditional, reasonably static website – why would you, really, when user-generated, arguably richer content pertaining to a brand or organisation is out there in the blogosphere, or posted on Facebook?

But then the theory trips up. I think it trips up because of the widespread inability to separate social media into its two component parts.

  • Something that people do in their spare time (and when they’re notworking, obviously) to keep up with friends and family, ask for advice on things that trouble/interest them and view/download jokes, clips, tracks, patches etc etc.
  • Something that simply is not working as a marketing, communications or reputation-building tool.

Just because individuals, in their day-to-day lives, may decide to run those lives via Facebook or Twitter or some combination of the two, does not make them valid, or valuable, business tools. Business requires communication without distractions, without logins, without a ‘spirit of community’ and – most importantly – without commentary from everyone who reads it. This is why email, as it is currently, works – for business purposes – so well. You can choose who receives it, you can monitor it and you can cane people who misuse it or try to hide their use of it. The thing that will change about email is how we send and receive it and what it looks like when we do send and receive it.

I also draw attention to the school of thought that says ‘ask a 20-year-old whether they’re using email’ as if this has any bearing on the matter. No, they’re not – they’re texting and using social media (well, some are, anyway) – but, quite frankly, who cares? Email is a business tool (and I include marketing and corporate comms within ‘business’) and 20-year-olds are a notoriously difficult-to-reach audience with limited appeal. You might as well ask an 80-year-old whether they’re using email for all the relevance it has.

And traditional, static websites – well, here’s a sensible post. Actually, there’s more of a place for traditional corporate websites that ever before – and why? Because, thanks to social media (and the way the bigger internet players are forcing us to behave – yes, forcing – Google SideWiki, anyone?) there’s such a slew of information that, ironically enough, the only place you’ll be able to go for reasonably accurate and (dare I say) impartial information will be the corporate website.

Now, I’d just like to make it clear – again, and mainly for my wife, who thinks I’m a cave-dwelling technophobe – that I am not either denying the existence of social media or telling anyone to stick their heads in the sand. Social media is here. Loads of people are using it. It is right and fitting that if we work in communications then we should have a knowledge of it. That being said – I repeat – do not confuse the social media that people use to run/ruin their personal lives and the social media that has all the potential to ruin your business (uncontrolled rumour and bad-mouthing) and none of the potential to materially enhance your revenues.

Social Media – B*ll*cks to Twitter

Better late than never. Trawling through my backlog of trade magazines, I came across an issue of Marketing from September 30. Almost a month old. I’d be a really crap journalist.

Luckily I’m not. And neither is Mark Ritson, who wrote this (to my mind) brilliant article. Mr Ritson is an ‘associate professor of marketing’ – whatever that is – and these are his thoughts on the parallel between what’s happening now with social media and what happened 10 years ago just prior to the dotcom bust. Here’s a flavour:

“If you believe the hype, Twitter is the future of media and marketing. John Borthwick, chief executive of web investor Betaworks, told the New York Times last week that Twitter ‘represents a next layer of innovation on the internet’ and that the investment was justified ‘because it represents a shift’. Ten years ago, I would have gulped, assumed I was missing something, and nodded my head at this.

“These days I am older, fatter and a good deal wiser, and I say (in fewer that 140 characters): bollocks to Twitter. And bollocks to it being worth a billion dollars.”

It’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

(Mind – a month is a long time in social media and Mr Ritson may already have changed his mind.)

Social Media – The End is Nigh!

In a recent post, I said I was delighted to be the first to announce the beginning of the beginning of the end of social media. Obviously, I was being provocative – and I’ve been inundated with literally no comments at all about my position.

That has not stopped me maintaining my stance, but changing it slightly. Today, blog snorkellers, I am announcing the beginning of the beginning of the end of this round of social media. That’s not to say that there won’t be more, but this lot are definitely on the way out.

Why am I taking this view? Well, partially because my gut tells me it’s true – and as you’ll all know, there’s a big school of thought that says all decisions should be made with the gut – and partially because of this.

Yes, the Times of London – if you summarise the article and extrapolate the messages – doesn’t believe it’s for real either. And the geeky types they’ve got to explain the social media thing are just trotting out the same old, same old nonsense. So, don’t listen to me if you don’t want to – but do read The Times.

Social Media – Policies, Usage and Effects

The more links I follow, the more commentary I read, the more I am convinced that no-one has a scooby what this social media stuff means, looks like, does or is capable of. In addition – and I’ve been blogging about this for months now (and that’s a long time in social media) – the debate simply hasn’t moved on. The social media devotees are still accusing those who express doubt of being luddites, and the luddites are still arguing about what constitutes a robust social media policy.

(Dear Blogsnorkeller, if you are new to me and my meanderings, I am – I hope obviously – talking about use of social media in a business or commercial context. I have no views on use of social media on a personal, non-work-related basis. It’s a free world. Live and let live.)

Today, I’ve come across discussion of the difference between ‘policy’ and ‘guideline’  – which, admittedly, dates from March, and is in the comments on this post – and which then led me to what looked like a promising debate about what right a company has to dictate to its employees how they represent themselves when posting to social media. I’d have thought every right – but then it appears that some companies, in their attempts to formulate corporate policies, are actually trying to impose rules on their staff 24/7. Which does seem a little strange.

What troubled me was not necessarily the difference between ‘guideline’ and ‘policy’ – in my opinion, it’s quite clear, if you’re talking a set of rules that employees must abide by, then it’s a policy. ‘Guideline’ implies ambiguity – eg ‘Try to be authentic’ (real example) – and ambiguity is open to misinterpretation and misinterpretation leads to error.

No, what troubles me is that this debate is actually taking place – get a grip – social media is here now, we need to understand it, we need to legislate for it, we need to be prepared for a possible future where – if we let it – social media dictates how we do business. A free-for-all, in other words. And as long as we noodle around, playing semantics rather than seizing the tiger’s tail, the more of a headstart it will have and the less chance we have of being able to harness it for commercial ends.

Today I’ve also seen a piece on social media ROI – which, on the whole, I completely agree with – apart from the implication that there are some things that you can’t evaluate and shouldn’t try to, because they have intrinsic worth. Well, that what we said about PR for a long time – you can’t put a price on corporate reputation – and that’s why PR remains a hillbilly cousin to marketing. Listen up, social media strategists – you HAVE to put a value on this. You HAVE to find a way – if you really want social media to become a valued corporate promotional tool.

And, from the same source a bit on  why social media won’t save your business – only just relevant to this post – but I guess it’s about the effects of social media – or rather the effects that it won’t have unless you’ve got everything else right first. Remember, large organisations with poor customer service records or shoddy products, you cannot polish a turd. Aaaah, the more knowing might say, but you can roll it in Twitter.

And then, a really wishy-washy post on social media policy guidelines. (Well, that’s my opinion – you can decide for yourself.) And it makes me cross – going back to my starting point – to see that this feeble nonsense was posted in August this year. Have we gone nowhere? Is no-one prepared to nail colours to masts? What is going on that people are still talking in terms of employees ‘being treated as grown-ups, given guidelines and being trusted to do their jobs’, when this is so obviously dangerous, liberal, Utopian nonsense? (See my thoughts on ‘policy’, above.)

And finally, to reinforce the fact that we really are going nowhere, here’s a post that takes a good look at social media and attempts to get some understanding. I like this post, but – I’m afraid – I don’t really understand where it’s going and, well, the content isn’t new. (If you ignore these two things, mind, it’s quite reassuring.)

Thing is, we appear to be be stuck in a sort of internetty Groundhog Day. We’re just not progressing. Or maybe I’m not looking in the right places.

Social Media – Culturally Diverse, or Simply Take It or Leave It?

Apologies in advance – this isn’t a terribly clever post. (And we do like a bit of clever, blog-snorkellers, don’t we?)

It’s simply that I got randomly forced, like a reluctant and rather fleshy square peg into an unattractive and not-terribly-fulfilling round hole, into attending a training course recently, entitled ‘Communicating Across Cultures’. With the help of some Janets and Johns, we were introduced to the pitfalls of dealing with colleagues and stakeholders from other parts of the world, and the things we might need to think about in order to ensure that the message got across, that we didn’t mortally affend anyone and that the right outcomes were achieved. We talked about direct and indirect styles  of communication, task vs relationship focusing and egalitarianism and status as a leadership and personality styles.

Then, in direct contrast, at home, over the weekend, over a glass of wine, I watched a movie called ‘Body of Lies’. (Which gives you an insight into the sort of cultural level at which I am comfortable operating.) Said movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, is almost an anti-course in cultural awareness. Russell Crowe is extremely effective as the senior CIA operator who – quite clearly – does not give a shit whether he offends or not, and is either self-confident enough, or deluded enough, not to care how he is perceived. At the end, however, you feel he is rather more isolated than he would like to be and, while achieving against his goals and the goals of his employer, there is something slightly pathetic and tenuous about him.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but thinking that social media is the Russell Crowe Body of Lies character. It’s heavy-handed and there’s no room for nuance. Indeed, as the province of the cyber-hippy, where we should all love each other and share everything and give peace a chance, well – there’s no need for nuance, is there?

It works well across communities and countries which share common cultural dimensions. What this will mean in practice is that the US, the UK, Australia and South Africa will be comfortable sharing a social medium, but it’s unlikely that China, or India or (perhaps surprisingly) Brazil are going to want to join them.

The thing about communicating effectively across cultures – and being successful as a business across cultures – is that it requires a basket of difefrent tools – words, attitude, behaviours and knowing which medium to use. The thing about social media is that it is one-dimensional and it brings nothing to this party.

It’s something else for the social media gurus to start working on and something else for their clients to throw money at. And I’d warrant that it’s something else that will never be resolved.

Social Media – The ‘Meatloaf Equation’

Sorry. It’s very easy to poke fun and, as I’m the sort of guy who likes ‘easy’, if I get the opportunity, then I will seize it with both hands.

Today I’d like to draw your attention to mashable.com and an article that was published in January this year entitled ’40 of the best Twitter brands and the people behind them’. You can read it if you like – never say I don’t give you anything.

To cut a long story short because, for some reason, I’m just not that into it today, it doesn’t make edifying reading. In fact, if you look behind the breathless and rather candyfloss tone of the article and examine the numbers, you’ll see that the quantity of followers for each of these brands (the 40 best Twitter brands, mind) is minute. And undoubtedly, there’s quite a lot of effort (even if it’s by one person, in their spare time) going into serving this audience – effort which, simply by the laws of math, isn’t making much in the way of a difference.

Anyway, I recognise that eight months is a long time in social media and there’s been a lot of growth, so – and it’s all my inherent laziness would allow – I picked on one of the 40 best Twitterers (Scott Monty at Ford) and compared followers now, with followers then. Mr Monty is now up to over 25,000 followers, compared to 8,500 in January. Which is roughly a three-fold increase and – on that basis – pretty impressive.

However – and anyone who’s been here before will know that there is always an ‘however’.  Current data says there are 45 million registered Twitter users globally. 10% of that would be 4.5 million. 1% would be 450,000. 0.1% would be 45,000. Ford – and a fair number of the other 40 best – have approximately 0.05% of the available audience. Factor in the statistics for Twitter account usage and attrition and it’s a very, very small number indeed.

It’s an example of the ‘Meatloaf Equation’, which goes something like “Two outta three ain’t bad.” “Yes it is. It’s 66%. It’s crap. A ‘B’ grade at best. Must try harder, boy.”

What’s my point? All that effort put into social media strategies for a possible audience of 25,000. Most of whom are untraceable and leave you with no information about themselves. Many of whom don’t actually exist (in that their accounts lapse as soon as they start them up – the average account, total number of tweets from which is one). And very, very few of whom are going to repay you – for these are brands after all – with a purchase.

’40 of the best Twitter brands and the people behind them’? Self-congratulatory back-slapping for those in the gang. Otherwise – vapid and meaningless.

Monetising Social Media – The Return of The Snake-Oil Salesmen

Couldn’t let this one go without some sort of comment.

Yesterday I was forwarded an email invitation to attend the breathlessly-billed ‘first ever Marketing (magazine) live webcast on monetising social media’. The only good thing about it is that it’s free – but, working on the principle that there is no such thing as a free lunch, I would imagine that sales messages are going to be sloshing over its gunwales and that the ‘highest rated speakers in this space’ are going to be ‘social media strategists’ one and all, representing the very finest in social media marketing service provision. But I’m just cynical about these things.

Anyway, it’s a free world, so if you’re interested, clickety-dickety here.

 However, the bit that I couldn’t let pass without comment was this:

“Sites like YouTube, Twitter and FaceBook have been real cash cows for some marketers, but what are the secrets of their success?”

Sorry? Who, exactly, are these marketers for whom social media has been such a cash cow? I’m aware of a number of brands/companies/organisations that have pumped a lot of money IN to social media marketing – but I really don’t know of any who’ve found social media to be a ‘cash cow’. (And don’t get me wrong – I’d be very interested by, and grateful for, any good examples.)

Or are the marketers that have found social media to be a cash cow those who carped the diem and reinvented themselves as social media marketers – and are now rolling in fees chucked at them by brands/companies and organisations desperate not to miss out on what they’ve been told is the ‘next big thing’?