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Is the social web about merit or is it morphing into the same old?

Spinning Web 2.0

As I browse my RSS feeds and listen in on conversations on Twitter I am seeing a theme emerge where what appears to be rewarded is the same old school connections, packaged in a new media ribbon. The social web was supposed to break down the gates and allow new voices (and genders or colours) to emerge based solely on merit, but if you look closely at conference line ups, those participating on certain blogs, and who gets responses to which conversations it is easy to see where this promise is failing. The same voices are dominant no matter what they are discussing and rarely are they seriously challenged by those outside their close knit circle lest one fall out of favour with the “in club”.

People clamor to be invited to the hip new launch and, as evidenced by the recent New York Times piece: Spinning the Web, it’s not necessarily about the value of a product but who your connections are and how big of a party you can throw, what clubs you belong to, how many names you can drop, or how many times you can send someone a gift to remain top-of-mind. Having been around the Web 1.0 bubble where money and good times were thrown around without regard to business model I fear for where this is all heading. Also having worked at an ad agency where it was forbidden to “buy your clients affection” I know business can be done without constantly throwing money around. There is nothing inherently classy about trying to secure business by attempting to purchase it vs. earning it based on your ideas. Of course people like getting the special treatment, it makes them feel good, and important. Although this is human nature, it’s nothing to be proud of in the grand scheme of things.

The beauty of the social sphere for me is precisely to find and cultivate genuine relationships with people who aren’t trying to buy their way in, but are sharing their ideas and their unique perspectives. I want to hear from people who disagree with me, regardless of how many (or who) follow me on Twitter and what my perceived influence is. Of course I like hearing from people who agree with me as well, but no one should feel they *have* to agree with me or host lavish parties to earn my respect. In fact there is no quicker way to lose my respect than to contribute nothing of substance or continuous empty platitudes.

How about you? What is the value of the social web to you? Is it about fame and fortune or bringing new perspectives into your life?

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Should internal brand advocates truly be themselves online?

Recently there’s been a heated exchange between RichardatDell and Amanda Chapel on Twitter regarding the lines between personal and professional when representing a company in the social media space. Without getting into the, ahem, personality conflicts between them and taking sides, I do think it’s an interesting and relevant subject to explore.

Where is the line between a “community evangelist’s” personal opinions and the company they represent? Does it matter in our new digitally connected world? I’d like to say no, but I tend to land on the Amanda Chapel side of the fence that it does.

Every interaction a corporate employee has reflects on the company while they’re “on the clock”. That’s standard thinking and it goes from the person in the call centre to the CEO. Why has social media changed that reality? Do brand advocates or community managers need to be “the brand” 24/7? Can they really do justice to what the company stakeholders want (profits & positive awareness) by being “real” and airing their own personal thoughts and opinions (and prejudices and biases) whenever the mood strikes?

When I’m interacting with someone who is clearly online in their capacity with the company (i.e. X@DELL), everything I read and every interaction I have with them reflects back on the company brand. Not to say that I don’t want to interact with a real person and that I begrudge them having a personality and a life, but when they are acting as agents of their brand, whatever they do reflects back on the brand/ company itself. That’s part of how human beings see things and it is something that we, as business people, need to recognize as we navigate this brave new frontier of constant connectedness.

We’re all human and we all have bad days of course, but they are paid employees, not organic consumer advocates and they, by necessity, have an agenda to promote a positive image of the brand, otherwise they would just be a regular Jane and post as themselves without the brand standing behind them. In reality, I could really despise company X’s evangelist because of their personal politics, or ego, or what have you, and that would reflect back on the company itself for no good reason other than they’re out there on the intertubes.

(And to clarify again, this isn’t meant to pass judgement on RichardatDell, but his interactions with Amanda Chapel, a fictional character, have spurred my thinking)

My thoughts on how to mitigate this are still evolving, but I think it does no one a service to ignore human nature and the pitfalls of being a high profile company representative who is “always on” and mixes the truly personal with their professional capacity.

What do you think?

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What’s so ’social’ about product pitches?

Or when did social media become all about online PR?

As things have evolved these last two+ years in the digital social space one thing is becoming increasingly clear: there is far too much focus on blogger relations (aka product pitches direct to consumer) and focusing on alleged “influencers”. The echo chamber has been filled with arguments about how to best “reach out to bloggers” (which means how to best get them to write about your product at the end of the day) and the alleged “social media” press releases. I’m going to throw my wet blanket onto this because frankly I see it doing a real disservice to the potential of the space and leading companies down a path that skirts the outsides of the promise of what Web 2.0 communication tools can really bring to marketing communications.

Let me say this at the start: Web 2.0 is not about YOU. No really, it’s not.

That may sound dogmatic and counter-intuitive, but allow me to explain… It never was about you to begin with, it’s always been about filling a need for the people buying (or looking to buy) your products or services and providing them with *information* where they are seeking it, listening to their feedback, and interacting when *they* want to… not spin or hype. It’s about facilitating their interactions, not yours. It’s not about shiny new toys, or 80 million different channels to push your message out.

Most average folks really don’t care, or have the time, to have a “relationship” with a brand. The majority don’t have blogs where they want to review products. Most people aren’t paid to do so as the plethora of social media consultants are. If we step outside of the echo chamber of PR bloggers, social media evangelists, and tech start-ups, the majority of people just want the product they bought to work as advertised, to be able to find out real information about it, to be able to provide feedback when they feel the need, and a real person (who is empowered to do more than say “thems the rules”) to interact with them painlessly when they do – online or offline. Oh, and the ability to find out quickly what their peers are saying about it – with biases clearly spelt out.

For a company, web 2.0 tools have the potential to expand the reach of their messaging if approached strategically and with fundamental marketing principles in play. They can be used to facilitate content distribution & development; intelligence gathering to inform your marketing and product development; customer service (online & offline); search engine optimization; internal communications; usability and user experiences; expanding the brand essence, etc.

Where does “please send me links to your press release via email” come into play?

Let’s be realistic and clear — Social Media Press Releases are micro-sites for a product or announcement. This isn’t “game changing”, it’s just borrowing from what interactive advertising was doing 7 years ago and adding RSS and API feeds and using it as a landing page to direct bloggers and journalists to. That’s hardly something that deserves the amount of air-time it’s been getting if we are being honest (and doing more than patting each other on the back within the echo chamber). And it’s something that companies are spending a ton of money on for a highly niche audience, which may or may not be the right strategy for their brand.

Where’s the “pull” in product pitches?

/end rant (for now).

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