Thursday, March 29

Using The Force: Social Media

"It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together." — Obi-Wan Kenobi

I'm fully prepared to take a little flack for drawing an analogy between social media and the Force from Star Wars, but the comparison can be as startling as it is humorous. Like the Force, social media has various manifestations with the light side focused on elegance and beauty and the dark side aligned with fear, hatred, aggression, and malevolence.

One side doesn't impose any restrictions on the use of this binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power. While the other, well, it includes a moral compass. No wonder businesses are reluctant to use what I recently called a 5-in-1 tool because some people are bent on making social media more mysterious than it is with terms like "social computing," "message salience," and "first source analytics."

This thinking serves as a precursor to tomorrow's post on the shell game being played with social media when I'll try to sound more like Qui-Gon Jinn than Yoda who might say "social media is everywhere, and everywhere is social media." Ha! Today, I'm more inclined to address a few heroes and villains in the new world of social media.

There's a smart post from Dina Metha in India pinpointing a very real Sith-minded threat against what I would say might be the least likely blogger to deserve it, Kathy Sierra. This is pretty serious stuff despite my resolve to remain light in this post. What else can you do?

Death threats against people in the public eye or with a public opinion predate blogs by a few million years. Ask any celebrity or politician on the planet and you'll find most of them have more than their fair share of nasties tucked in between the fan mail. It's not right, but it's certainly the price of being a public figure. My sympathies to Sierra; I am hopeful they catch the perpetrators. Indeed, a death threat is NOT protected speech.

In a seemingly unrelated-yet-related story, stands Julie Roehm, who is hoping social media begins to buy into the idea that the evil empire is Wal-Mart. She told the Associated Press in a statement and anyone else who will print it that "...Wal-Mart is insinuating things about my personal life and pretending I violated some code of ethics with advertisers, all to distract from the reality that it didn't want my form of progressive marketing." And then goes on to say: "When you patch together pieces of messages sent at different times, you can create pretty much any story you want."

I'm sorry. For all of Wal-Mart's overspun and supposed "public relations" woes (which is baloney, considering the public seems to shop there with a clear conscience ... giving rise to the notion that Wal-Mart has media relations challenges, not public relations challenges), it's hard to misconstrue "kissy face" e-mails. I write e-mails to people all the time, and don't recall ever needing to mention how I like to look at their face when I'm kissing it, in context or not.

The tie-in here is how some folks like Roehm attempt to manipulate mainstream and social media. Sorry Ms. Roehm, the ethics debacles are your own and I have yet to see any progressive marketing. (Clarification: I have nothing against Ms. Roehm, but I disagree with the concept that you can sue your employer for your own bad behavior.) Still, it's working. Ho hum. Some bloggers are beginning to feel sympathetic toward her (Google: Julie Roehm sympathetic and you'll see). Given many of her supposed professional decisions were obviously for personal gain, how can we really separate the two?

And finally, in what almost became its own post entitled "A Tale Of Two Idols," some folks seem confused as to why Antonella Barba and Alaina Alexander can create such different online images by doing virtually the same thing. In what some might call the school of new social media ethics, it's pretty easy to understand.

Barba, who doesn't sing well (but wants to be a singer without selling sex), presented herself as a good girl but secretly enjoyed bad girl behavior. While Alexander, who can sing pretty well (but is happy to sex it up), presented herself as a borderline bad girl (who burps) who decided to go for it without any remorse on MySpace. The difference is miles apart, but both hoped to sway public opinion by employing traditional and social media directly and indirectly for their own gain. Given the two outcomes, it proves once again that publicity without strategy is fraught with disaster.

The lesson for today, before tomorrow's more business-minded post, is simple enough. Social media (and the publicity that comes with it) is not all that dissimilar from the Force. The big picture is that the social media world, or blogosphere if you prefer, is a collective that binds people together, and is ripe with Sith, Jedi, and everybody in between. There will be those who use it to create wonderful things and those who abuse it for their own agenda, even if that agenda is nothing more than to fulfill their own source of self-loathing by sending death threats.

Really, it's not any different from any community with its heros and villains. It just "feels" different because the community is newer, bigger than ever, and the people, by in large, seem less reluctant to interact with anyone they meet in passing. For those who use the Force for good, you need to know that it takes some resolve, courage (preferably fearlessness), and skill to swim in these waters because the better you swim, the more likely someone will come along to try and sink you.

No wonder executives are unsure of social media. It seems crazy, unless you accept that most often, like anywhere, you create your own experience in the blogosphere just as Roehm, Barba, and Alexander created their own experiences. (I'm excluding Sierra here because I just don't get it beyond the idea the death threats are merely random acts of violence.)

You see, business blogs or any other blog ideas I shared a few days ago do not need to be controversial to be effective. They simply need to be strategic. Oh, and you might want to look for social media Jedi, avoid the social media Sith, and use the Force for good. Just don't fear it because, well, you know, "… fear leads to anger... anger leads to hatred ... hate leads to suffering."

May the Force be with you. Ha!

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1 comments:

Rich on 3/29/07, 12:07 PM said...

Famous First Words:

Michelle Malkin presents another view on her blog that reminds us that while it might be right to sympathize with any bloggers who receive such threats, Web censorship is not the answer, self-imposed or not, is not the answer.

As I said, we all create our own experiences, even if the outcomes are less than what we desire.

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