Monday, September 3

Staking Claims: Social Media Borg

The most humorous aspect of staking claims in social media recently came to me from a post made by Jeremy Langhans at It was a sum up of a Pete Cashmore quip about Facebook.

“In light of recent controversies over who exactly invented Facebook, I think now is the time to come clean: I did. Not Mark Zuckerberg, not the ConnectU folks and certainly not the latest claimant to the idea: Aaron Greenspan … I was considering a way to include high school or college photographs in a printed book, and came up with a concept I called Faces Book.”

I saw it again at Geoff Livingston’s Now Is Gone blog as Steven E. Streight attempted to set our discussion — when flogs might work and when they might not — straight. The statements rang loudly, perhaps with a hint of seriousness.

“The core values of blogging, as set by the early bloggers from 1992 to 2004, include Transparency, Authenticity, Passion, Integrity … CEOs and others can have pro writers polish up their blog posts, or suggest topics, even write a few sample posts to get them going … The peer to peer recommendation system of the Trust Web will fall apart when fake blogs, phony Twitter accounts, and PayPerPost type blog whoring invade our realm.”

In other words, sorry but that ground was covered. Please refer to the social media rulebook that it is littered about the Internet in random posts and discussions and cite the appropriate sources.

WARNING. New discussion is futile. You must assimilate.

And yet again by Shel Holtz when he shared his bad pitch experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty awful pitch from the Washington D.C.-based Adfero Group. It began “I wanted to let you know about an innovative new PR tactic that the readers of the “Shel Holz” blog might find interesting.” (Their misspelling, not mine.)

But then, even Holtz digresses a bit into borg speak while discussing what the Adfero Group calls a new PR tactic: “Funny. That sounds just like the social media press release format I’ve been touting for, what, a year? The same concept that has a home on the web and a working group. It was introduced by SHIFT Communications well over a year ago in response to an appeal by journalist Tom Foremski.”

Yeah, I remember that. I called it a buffet template, meaning no offense to Todd Defren. As I pointed out then, at least Defren had the good sense to do something when everyone else was dragging their respective professional heels. But back then, credit was less important than building upon the social media framework so more people would take it seriously. But now that we have established social media as viable communication tool, and some newcomers are starting to make their own paths, times have changed. Didn’t you get the memo?

WARNING. New tactics are futile. You must assimilate.

Humility. That is one term that the early adapters forget to include in the core values drafted in 1992 to 2004. As professional communicators or others shaping social media, we might remember that much of our early work will go unnoticed by the greater body of people who will eventually employ it in some fashion.

What do I mean? Well, as much as Holtz seemed to chastise the Adfero Group for not knowing the history of social media before making wild claims (and they were wild), nowhere on Holtz’s blog will you find any reference to Jorn Barger or Brian Redman, who were among the earliest bloggers.

For that matter, maybe I should lay some early claim too. I had a daily news update in the 1990s to augment a bi-monthly print and online publication. Does that count too? Technically speaking, minus comments, it was a blog. Or maybe my regular forum postings on AOL before that, as AOL was one of the first social networks (despite everyone claiming social networks are somehow new). No, I'm not that presumptuous. Besides, I have better ideas to hang my hat on.

Funny. There always seems to be predecessors to the predecessors and we all might be well served to remember that. In fact, sometimes similar ideas come from different places with the originator having no knowledge of what the others might be doing. Sometimes they are borrowed upon and made better. Sometimes borrowers give credit. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes they don't even know to do it.

Usually, but not always, the only reason early concepts are stolen away is because the original idea didn’t stick well enough to hold. But that’s the price of progress. I’m so sorry, but nobody really owns social media or the concepts that are being tried and tested here. Much like some caveman’s family isn’t getting paid royalties for the invention and application of the wheel.

To be clear, I’m not against Zuckerberg, Greenspan, Streight, or Holtz reminding us that little pieces of this and that were developed by others first. That’s admirable.

What I am less comfortable with is beating down new ideas and discussions for want of territorial superiority and forced assimilation. When the collective starts doing that, maybe it's time to remember that there is a whole big world out there beyond the insulated cube one can create online. Or, in other words, social media experts invited the world to participate; don't be disappointed if they accept the invitation as explorers and not as loyal subjects.



Geoff_Livingston on 9/3/07, 1:12 PM said...

There is a bizarre socialist/Marxist aspect to all of this that just miffs me. I, too, published enewsletters in the mid-90s. I am just wondering why all of the anger?

It's definitely a reaction to businesses coming online with social media. But isn't this what we want? Conversation with companies? So if so, why are we attacking them instead of helping them. More coming on this, my man.

Rich on 9/3/07, 1:58 PM said...

Thanks for the response Geoff,

I'm glad to read this conversation is worth exploration. My gut tells me that the aggressiveness might be the result of increased competition within social media, which ironically, is the direct result of all of us promoting social media and blogs as a viable communication tools.

I hope it gets better before it gets worse. You see, it stands to reason that as social media becomes more mainstream, some social experts today will not be able to maintain their status as leaders within social media tomorrow. (Some, on the other hand, will maintain their rank and position, not based on Technatori, but based on the ideas they put forth.) Without question, as more people enter social media, others will challenge them, disagree with them, and maybe even find better ways to do the same thing ... perhaps even on the foundation that was laid down by others before them.

So the existing establishment, if there is one, will be faced with choices. Maybe they will declare blogs dead, hoping to be a moving target that claims whatever is new is "the thing to use" so they can remain on the "cutting edge." Maybe they will declare that they have already answered all the questions and thus there is no room for improvement or dissent. Maybe they will quietly fade away much like Jorn Barger or AOL, never quite being recognized for their contributions. Or maybe. just maybe, they will just be forgotten entirely just the Emmy winners of 10 years ago.

Isn't that the American way? We reinvent everything all the time, hopefully with better outcomes than the original (though not always).

You know, I agree that Holtz was well within his right to point out a bad pitch and perhaps bemuse over the fact that they obviously had never read his blog. But this ownership concept over social media, well, it has to go.

The simple truth is, it seems to me, at least within the context of the Adfero Group massacre, is that their only crime (other than a ill-advised pitch) was ignorance. Aren't we all from time to time? I know I am. So what? We make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. And sometimes we call others on their mistakes so they can learn from them and move on. But to gloat about never receiving another pitch? Or to brag about who was where when whatever was discussed? That doesn't serve much purpose. Or to fight over who thought about Facebook? We can do better than that.


Geoff_Livingston on 9/3/07, 2:33 PM said...

Agreed. Shel's review of the A&P social media legal actions was downright hostile.

There is no room for human error, which of course means an absence of humility from those that hold judgment. I think there's a shake out coming for a lot of these so called experts.

They talk twice as much as they listen, which is the wrong kind of inverted ratio.

Kim on 9/3/07, 4:17 PM said...

I think the purpose of social media or anything worthwhile is to take what's already been done and then expand and build upon it or add a new (or maybe not so new) twist. Someone has to be the first to do something, and someone else will come along and improve upon that, and so on. Maybe some people will feel threatened, but that's just part of evolving.

Anonymous said...


The idea of humility melded with a historical perspective drives us to accept that most ideas are not new, except to those of us who to whom those ideas suddenly occur. I agree with Kim and Geoff: build on the foundation started by others and leave the egos and anger in the closet.

The medium is about sharing and spreading communications; not about getting credit, which reminds me more of when I taught 4th graders than of the smart people communicating in cyberspace.

steven edward streight on 9/4/07, 7:34 AM said...

It's not "conversation" of any type that we want. We want genuine two-way communication between us and the company.

When the company seeks to be deceptive or opportunistic, casting transparency and real passion aside, with the aim to Get Rich Quick, we can smell it.

We smell the mammonist stench that poisons the blogospheric atmosphere, full of shills paid to attack or praise a target, full of rancid gloom of exploition strategies.

I experiment and advocate creativity, but also ability to spot deception and greed disguised as "innovation" and "beyond mere abitrary rules" and other con artist nonsense.

Rich on 9/4/07, 8:24 AM said...


Very right. It's not about staking claim. For many of us, it is about the opportunity to have conversation and build upon ideas.

I cannot count the number of times that I have had an idea, put it up, and walked away with a greater sense of the subject thanks to people like you, Geoff, Kim, or even Steven, making it better, richer, or lending something in addition too. What other forum is there that can achieve this without having to consider or time and space?

In essence, that is the part of the purpose of this blog. What originally started as another means to communicate and educate public relations students became our company's presence on the Web and a means to encourage clients to consider employing social media as a communication tool as well, which brings me to Steven's point.


I understand and appreciate that no one wants to see the art of deception played out everyday on the Internet. But why does every blog have to be about conversation. Really, I think it depends on the company.

Not all blogs or social media tactics will be the same for every company. Some might present information as an online publication. Others might write advertorials (let's hope they disclose). And yet others will do exactly what you said: engage in genuine two-way communication.

Do you think there is a simpler remedy than enforcing rules of engagement that not everyone had a stake in developing?

If you don't care for a blog ... I imagine the simplest remedy is not to read it. And if the blog is exploitive. fraudulent, or makes the industry look bad (eg. a bad pitch), call them out on it so others might not make the same mistake. In fact, looking back, I think it was a call out that made PayPerPost strengthen their disclosure policy.

What's wrong with that?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the exposure :-)

Rich on 9/4/07, 3:00 PM said...

Hey Jeremy,

No problem. Thanks for the great find.

Best, Rich


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