Bursting the Social Media Bubble

Bubble yum by flowers & machinery
Bubble yum by flowers & machinery

THE_REAL_SHAQ

How can u b an expert without legitimate knowledge or legitimate experience Shaq oneal
about 9 hours ago from TwitterBerry

It’s been fascinating watching the odd, mostly one-sided battle going on between so-called social media experts and traditional marketing and PR professionals, as the former continue to pound their virtual drums on a daily basis about how they’re the future and without their expertise, companies are doomed to failure.

DOOMED!

I wrote about the need for some perspective a couple of weeks ago in “Attack of the Social Media Gurus“, and have been tracking the growing backlash there with links to relevant articles as they pop up — including one of my favorites from Ad Age featuring Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Simon Clift’s wise observation: “Social media is not a strategy. You need to understand it, and you’ll need to deploy it as a tactic.” — but a recent comment by social media “rock star” Chris Brogan really rubbed me the wrong way, giving flashbacks to the explosion of the first dot.com bubble, and underscoring one of the main reasons some marketers, and the executives they report to, are reluctant to fully embrace social “media”.

Shaquille O’Neal, of all people, pretty much nailed it last night on Twitter with the aforementioned tweet.

Chris Brogan is the epitome of the social media expert, a canny illusionist who has parlayed his early adopter status into a position of influence, offering common sense advice dressed up in social media terminology to an audience of gullible wannabes who lack the fundamental marketing backgrounds to realize the emperor has no clothes. He’s a smart, engaging guy who definitely knows how to communicate, but he wears his lack of marketing experience as a badge of honor and it’s astounding to me that he’s considered an expert in anything other than self-promotion.

In a recent post extolling the virtues of pay-per-post — where he slickly and misleadingly associates it with Conversational Marketing, sponsored content and straight advertising — Brogan reveals, not for the first time, his lack of any fundamental marketing experience:

Here’s what I believe: I believe that what came before, marketing and PR and business communications as they were practiced, don’t work exactly the same way now. Now, I could be totally wrong. I’m not a professional marketer or PR person. I don’t have a degree in either. But it’s probably better that way. I don’t have the same bias as others. I see tools and I see ways to use them to build business relationships…

But which is marketing and which is PR and which is paid versus earned and all that? It’s so simple:

If you paid money for any part of the relationship, even if that money is in dispensing of products for review or the like, disclose it. A gift card or a loaner car or an airplane trip is the same as cash to the disclosure. Keep a disclosure section alive and well anywhere that these experiences take place. Be clear to the relationships that happen.

Is there more to it than that?

Actually, yes, there is. There are a ton of professions that use “tools” and knowing how to use the latest ones doesn’t make you an expert, it simply makes you a consumer. In Brogan’s case, an influential consumer who enjoys sharing his opinions, but not a marketing professional by any means, and by his own admission.

It’s akin to thinking he could coach Shaq and his teammates to a championship because he won his fantasy basketball league the past couple of years and watches ESPN religiously.

Brogan also gets called on his over-simplification of the pay-per-post concept by a few clear-eyed people in the comments section, where he continues to present the straw man of “disclosure” and whack away at it without really addressing the fundamental questions of transparency and trust. It’s a question that’s easier to dodge as a hit-it-and-quit-it consultant than it is for someone truly invested in the product or service they’re responsible for on a daily basis.

Interestingly, a day after reading Brogan’s post, I came across a comment from Amber Naslund, the Director of Community at Radian6 — a company with the laudable goal of “building the complete monitoring and analysis solution for PR and advertising professionals so they can be the experts in social media” — and one of a few social media types whose opinion and insight I have a lot of respect for I initially found interesting but over time realized actually wasn’t adding that much value to my time on Twitter.

Answering a question about what type of candidate she would chose to replace herself, she gave an answer that I partly disagree with:

I actually probably don’t want somebody with a communications background..sorry communications people…but the truth is there’s a lot of preconceived notions in corporate communications that are very, very difficult to undo and part of the reason that social media is struggling for adoption inside of established companies is that they’re having trouble jettisoning the old ideas they have about how and what to communicate to their customers.

So, if I were replacing myself I would actually want someone who is closer to a rookie and somebody who has the passion for connecting with people.

While passion is definitely important, the idea that it is unique to inexperienced rookies is disappointing, though perhaps an understandable stereotype in the general sense of people generally being resistant to change.

A commenter wisely noted that “a commitment to life-long learning” is critical, and I think that’s true no matter what profession you’re in. It’s the mark of a smart person who’s truly engaged in their profession and not simply punching the clock; there’s no reason an experienced marketing person shouldn’t have the same enthusiasm for new technologies and methods as a rookie who grew up taking them for granted, or in Brogan’s case, an early adopter who has positioned themselves as the kind of “expert” Shaq calls on the carpet.

There’s a significant downside to a rookie’s lack of fundamental experience, though; enthusiasm can decrease the learning curve, but only by so much. It’s a problem that’s clearly on display in the digital realm these days with every Tom, Dick and Harry calling themselves a social media guru because they have a Twitter handle and Facebook page.

Beverly Weinstein offered an insightful bit of relevant commentary in yesterday’s MediaDailyNews, answering the question: “Are there any particular skills ad agencies are looking when they hire for digital media jobs?”

Everyone acknowledged that the opportunity to climb further faster is on the digital side. “We have a digital media supervisor who is 23 and their counterpart on the traditional side is 30,” admitted one interviewee. Another commented somewhat tongue in cheek, ” I have friends that have crazy titles and they’ve been in this business for 20 minutes.”

“We’re promoting people too quickly, but one agency does it and the others follow. The digital business is scaling more quickly than the talent.”

All of the executives found their younger counterparts to give off a premature sense of entitlement. “I’ve got a department of high maintenance kids,” said one. “On the traditional side there are more adults, more rules of business. That’s not the case in digital yet. They grew up in this media and have been able to move through very quickly. In the past you had to win your stripes.”

Some will read this and call it sour grapes. To them, I suggest a quick refresher course on “The greatest defunct Web sites and dotcom disasters.”

Enthusiasm is great, but experience matters.

To the traditional marketing and PR professionals out there, it’s time to step up and integrate these new tools into your daily existence, not because they’re the latest shiny objects that are changing the world, but because less-experienced charlatans are using them against you to devalue your hard-won experience and, ultimately, to take your jobs away.

Published by

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, formerly poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, books, games, running, soccer.

9 thoughts on “Bursting the Social Media Bubble”

  1. Excellent, excellent, excellent job. It will come as no surprise I suspect that we totally agree on this topic Guy. Having spent the better part of the last 2 years immersing in Social Media tools and platforms for both personal use and more critically the need to keep clients informed one great theme developed, especially in the fast pace motion of the last six months. There is a whole lot of BS going on, guru and expert are red flag words. Social Media has a lot of Sham-Wow! going on right now. I think that some very dedicated early adopters have been making bold almost utopian assumptions of how this will all play out. It takes more than posturing and diehard belief in the tools.

  2. Great post. Sadly, much of what you state here is true. But once you get beyond the BS, there is a real measurable link between SM strategies and hard black-on-white R.O.I. for businesses looking for real results. Sadly, most self proclaimed “social media experts” don't know how what they're talking about. This might help reframe the conversation a bit:

    http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/2009/05/18
    http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/2009/05/19
    http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/2009/05/20

  3. Thanks, Patrick. I've sat through two social media presentations over the past couple of weeks, and both were given by clueless “experts” who pulled together some generic info from Google and made vague pronouncements about “the future of marketing”. And these Twitter “boot camps” that are springing up absolutely blow my mind. It's the old PT Barnum line: “There is a sucker born every minute!”

    I'm tempted to become a social media guru myself! Ugh.

  4. Thanks, Olivier. I've been following your new series of posts and I've especially enjoyed your calling out of the Social Media Success Summit on Twitter yesterday and today. You're exactly right that it's the kind of thing that gives social media a bad name, and that some prominent and respected “gurus” are associated with it is even worse. Be interesting to see if/how the organizers and speakers respond.

  5. So far, there hasn't been a response. I kind of doubt that I will get one. The organizer doesn't have a leg to stand on, and the SM “guru” crowd is too busy lobbying for a seat at the table to actually call foul. Shame on them for selling out to this kind of shameless crap.

    What also concerns me a great deal is how easily the “follower” crowd is jumping on this slimy bandwagon of mediocrity without flinching. Just blindly running off the cliff of common sense like sheep. It's very disappointing.

  6. So far, there hasn't been a response. I kind of doubt that I will get one. The organizer doesn't have a leg to stand on, and the SM “guru” crowd is too busy lobbying for a seat at the table to actually call foul. Shame on them for selling out to this kind of shameless crap.

    What also concerns me a great deal is how easily the “follower” crowd is jumping on this slimy bandwagon of mediocrity without flinching. Just blindly running off the cliff of common sense like sheep. It's very disappointing.

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