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 – Is Social Not Working?

Here’s an interesting post – as far as I can see, what it’s actually saying is that a good story, is a good story, is a good story. If there were no media at all, a good story would spread by word of mouth – that’s what makes a good story – it’s something that people want, or feel compelled, to talk about. It just reinforces my view that social media is over-analysed and that, if it didn’t exist, no-one would bother to invent it. (Only they would, because there’s always someone looking for an opportunity to make a buck. Oh…….yeah………no-one’s actually made a buck out of social media. Not even the social media owners.)

Anyway, this dropped into my inbox this morning. (Why, you may ask – well, I was trying to comment on one of this blog’s posts – having a pop at me, I may add – and thought that, if I registered, I might get access to the posting tool. Nope, all I got was regular updates from a PR woman in America. Lesson – look but don’t subscribe.)

The gist of it is how clever said PR woman has been to dedicate herself and her agency to the pursuit of social media. She’s now ‘ahead of the curve’ and, if you click on some of her other posts, you’ll see that she doesn’t like to fail, either. If you’ve got time, then I recommend you read the comments thread. You can almost hear the high-fives and the ‘woooo’ every time someone is perceived to ‘get it’.

Erm…… it a possibility that there is, actually, nothing to ‘get’? That the reason that many companies and organisations don’t invest in social media, or outsource it to self-styled social media strategists (the Wizards of Me), is because, in fact, social is not working (on a business level)?

I may be shot down in flames for this – but let’s just stand back for a moment and consider it rationally. In the great scheme of things, social media has been around for a heartbeat. In that time, because of its nature and its ease of access, it has grown out of all proportion to its real value or worth. I’m sure everyone recognises that there has been – as with all ‘next big things’ – a fair amount of band-wagon-jumping, gravy-train-riding, and snake-oil-salesmanship.

Again, as everyone would agree (I’m sure), simply because it is a medium for communication, the corporate communications industry – indeed industry in general – cannot afford to ignore it.

But – it is out of control. By which I mean that it is unregulated, difficult to evaluate (on a qualitative basis), so fast-moving that it requires ever-more effort and investment simply to keep up and – here’s the killer – doesn’t deliver a quantifiable ROI. By which I mean that I, personally, don’t know of any company that’s making money out of their social media activities.

Save for the social media strategy agencies and those involved in providing ‘counsel’ around the phenomenon.

Just to repeat what I said at the top of this post – even the social media owners are not making money out of it.

I do agree that if there is corporate social media activity, then it should be owned by the communications professionals. However I believe that it is but one tool in the box – it is neither a unique selling proposition, nor a deal-breaker if it’s missing.

Oh, and I want to be the first. I want to be the first to say that I sense the beginning of the beginning of the end. I sense (I should be a medium) an ever-so-slight waning in the interest in social media. I sense that quite a lot of companies and organisations have not bought it, and – on reflection – aren’t going to. I sense that the general global population are getting bored with the endless ‘me, me, me’ that is the foundation of social media.

In short – if you’re making your living out of social media – if you are a Wizard of Me – then make hay while the sun shines.

The end, my friends, is nigh.

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 – Sadly, Doing Nothing is Not an Option

It’s one of those horrible moments of dawning realisation, the sinking feeling of impending doom, the painful awareness that the buggers have, in fact, in some way, succeeded.

Yes, ladies and gents, fellow sceptics, I’m afraid that, like it or not, as communicators we are all going to have to embrace social media and actively do something about it. As you may know, this is a bit of a shift for me. I’ve always been of the opinion that there are far better ways of promoting your brand, company or organisation and – while you should not ignore it – social media is one of those things that you keep an eye on (watching for significant change or potential threat) with an 85% certainty that it’s a passing fad and it will go away.

(This opinion is not just something I made up in the bath, mind, it’s the result of having read all sorts of different points of view and assimilated a reasonable amount of data. Some of the latest stuff says that there are now 44.5m Twitterators globally and that, in the UK, the fastest growing age range for Twitter is the over 50s (this from Nielsen). Search the web – there’s loads of stuff – but it all (in a roundabout way) points to two things. That no-one really understands where social media is going or how to harness it and that, unless someone develops that understanding, it is (and will remain) little more than a passing fad.)

Of course, as with any new shiny object, there are those who are terrified that they’re missing out on the next big thing and there are those who feed on that terror to further their own ends. So we’ve seen the rise and rise of the ‘social media strategist’ and we’ve seen more amd more companies embracing social media strategy – some sensible, some less so. At best, you have companies creating networks of highly, trained, carefully controlled brand spokespeople (which they probably already had anyway) with a specific remit to comment on their areas of expertise through social media. At worse, you have an unseemly and dangerous free-for-all, propagated by the cyber-hippies and cyber-socialists, who believe that vox populi, vox dei and that social media is going to change the face of capitalism as we know it.

Still – and so I thought – there’s no need to have – unless you’ve got some spare people, time and budget just sloshing around – a social media strategy. Be aware of what social media is, keep up to date – but as long as your company or brand has a good corporate reputation, is reasonably ethical, fair and honest, and has a decent corporate culture (am I asking too much here?) then you’ve very little to fear and very little to gain.

Of course, there’s always going to be the odd blip, isn’t there? Damage done to corporate reputation by misguided or malicious use of social media? People (employees who are either not enrolled enough in corporate culture, or who are simply not clever enough) using social media without thought for the consequences. Dominos Pizza. Then, earlier this week, Currys and PC World (UK high street retailers). And I’m certain that there are plenty of other examples that simply haven’t attracted as much attention.

Clearly, this is nothing new. There have always been idiots who, given an opportunity to write in a comments book, or give answers to a survey, or email to a suggestion box, are suddenly overtaken by a severe case of Tourette’s. The difference is that, in the past, inappropriate behaviour was generally confined to small audiences of colleagues, or the employee’s friends and family. If it came to light, then suitable disciplinary action was taken. Now however, the Tourette’s-afflicted staff member has instant access to an on-line audience that can number tens of thousands.

So, social media has forced our hand. Doing nothing is not an option. Every company that has a reputation it wishes to protect should now be working on, and implementing , a social media policy which outlines, very clearly, what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace and when/if discussing the brand. As social media use (especially content) cannot be monitored or regulated, it should really be banned altogether in the workplace and the penalties for failng to abide by the policy should be draconian.

All well and good – but imposing a policy like this will inevitably be seen as removing the employee’s right to freedom of speech. (Mind – since when did employees have a right to freedom of speech? They turn up, they work, they get paid for it. Nothing about freedom of speech.) Social media and its soya-sandalled, hessian-draped, patchouli-doused acolytes are creating/have created an expectation of utopia – where everyone is an individual, where everyone has a voice, where the relationship is not between consumer and brand, it’s between consumer and brand employee.

Thus, for the sake of your corporate culture, for the sake of employee relations, it’s not going to be enough just to have a policy on social media usage. No, you’ll also have to have an identification and training programme for social media spokespeople, and a communication programme in place to explain to general population why they can’t post to social media sites and why the accredited spokespeople can.

In fact, you’ll have to develop a social media strategy. Luckily there are simply zillions of social media strategists out there who’ll be delighted to help you work this one out. For a simply stupefying amount of money.

On second thoughts, forget you ever read this.

As you were. Carry on.

Social Media – Careful What You Twit For

There was an article by Duncan Bannantyne (one of those TV entrepreneurs) in the Telegraph recently, dealing with Twitter and how it had got him into trouble. The article started thus:

“Does Gordon Ramsay always eat in one of his restaurants? Does Tiger Woods only wear Nike clothing?

 I suspect not.

 Yet when I had the audacity to spend some time at my French villa in between filming for a forthcoming TV show on great British seaside towns, I was called a “hypocrite” by sections of the national media.”

(You can read the whole thing by doing clickety-doos here.)

Unfortunately, Mr Bannantyne is labouring under the impression that the media hate him because he was filming a programme on British seaside towns, and spending time at his villa in France. I’d hazard a guess that really, that’s not the problem. The problem is that he’s got a villa in France and he’s Twittering about it. And about having glasses of wine. At his villa in France.

It’s a very fine line, obviously. He’s a successful man (I believe) and therefore he has the trappings of success. And quite right too. Thing is, people don’t really want to know about it. What they want to know from Mr Bannantyne is how to ape his success – they want from him pearls of wisdom in terms of entrepreneurship, growing businesses – making cash.

So, three things. (And, in fairness, Mr Bannantyne asks the questions and recognises the issues.)

The hubris of Twitter – why would you post from an airport terminal when you’ve time to spare? No-one – apart from your close friends and family (and not many of them) – cares whether you’ve got time on your hands in an airport terminal.

The content you post to Twitter – if you’re a celebrity, if people expect stuff from you, if you’re an expert on something, then recognise your responsibility. There’s things people want to know and things they don’t.

The ubiquity and immediacy of Twitter – once it’s posted, assume it’s everywhere.

Anyone who follows this blog (the blog that nobody reads) will know how I feel about social media and the dangers to corporate reputation that it represents. I think this is a great case in point – Mr Bannatyne is his own body corporate. He has a reputation to uphold – a reputation that he trades on. His off-the-cuff Tweets did some damage.

He’s a serious businessman. He probably understands the ins and outs of communication. Imagine the damage that could be done by someone posting to social media, on behalf of a brand or organisation, that doesn’t have an understanding of communication.

Social Media – Come Connect With Me

Came across a blog this week – all about social media, social media usage, social media marketing, written by one o’ they new-fangled social media marketing strategy gurus.

At the end of it, he signed off by saying “connect with me on: Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Tumbir, Pownce, Plaxo, Friendfeed or Facebook’.

J*sus H Chr*st, I thought. Who knew there were so many social media sites? (Well, maybe you did, but I’d never heard of Jaiku, Tumbir or Pownce.) Do we need this many? Is it sustainable? What’s the difference between them? How can you keep up with all of them and have any sort of life?

My suspicion is that they’re little more than the result of the social media doughnut being sliced ever-more thinly in order to stretch it out and make it last a little longer.

And the other thing, of course, is – well – that much social media presence. It’s a bit needy, isn’t it? Smacks of real desperation.