Monday, September 17

Walking Planks: Social Media Pirates

I first heard about the dreaded black spot while reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a coming of age story about swashbuckling adventures, treasure maps, one-legged seamen with parrots, and the dreaded “Black Spot.”

Hey! That almost sounds like social media when I read Eric Eggerston’s beautifully summed take away of Paull Young’s post, entitled “Young PR’s - Know Your Place.

“Don’t needlessly or carelessly piss all over someone who may be in a position to help or harm your career. Public relations, marketing … the people involved all know each other, talk to each other and compare notes about up-and-comers. They also throw business the way of people they think they can trust. Flame them at your peril,” says Eggerston, who writes one of my favorite blogs.

Arg! If you mess up, we’ll give you the Black Spot and, much like Billy Bones from Treasure Island, you will suffer a social media stroke and your blog will die.

To be certain, there is ample wisdom to be taken away from these posts despite my play on the idea that sometimes social media practitioners sound more like threatening pirates. It is true that if you launch a personal blog, you are making yourself semi-public, if not public. As such, you subject yourself to consequences. Random flames may carry with them some unintended penalties. And sometimes, even the most minor disagreements become the bane of the social media world — blogdramas.

So who knows, perhaps there is some logic in saying that, as Mitch Joel says, the soap opera aspect of social media “is hurting our industry and our ability to convince clients that these channels are excellent for their Marketing and Communications' needs (which it is).”

But at the same time, I don’t blame young professionals like Chris Clarke for mimicking the social media world created before he got here. On more than one occasion, I’ve read seasoned bloggers say “be bold or go home.” Be bold, they mean, but be bold against those who haven’t earned the eye patch. You know, I’m not defending the post, but Clarke was hardly the only one to target Joseph Jaffe.

Of the two posts, which is harsher? And of the two, which seems to have caused more outrage? To me, it seems that maybe Clarke is being singled out because he hasn’t earned his eye patch. Although I can’t call myself a fan, Amanda Chapel seems to have been given at least that much. And, as I have said before, Chapel and others exist because the public relations world seems to need them. It certainly embraces them. So who is to blame a younger professional for capitalizing on similar traffic spike generating content?

Before we get carried away, let me point out that this post isn’t about Jaffe or Chapel or Clarke. Everybody else can write about that.

What this post is about is an idea. And the idea is this: whereas name calling and blatant flame posts don’t lend anything to a discussion (though it happens to drive traffic and garner attention from what I’ve seen), neither does positioning social media into high school-like niches where the price of admission is blind acceptance of equally bold statements being put forth by “experts,” as defined by crazy measures like page rank.

As much as we don’t need a new generation of flamers, neither do we need a pirate-like society where select groups might dole out “Black Spots” to those they don’t like. The way I see it, social handshakes and eye patches might work in the short term, but most will unravel long term. The more exclusionary they become, the more likely they will be swallowed up by some greater group that develops around them.

So let’s not be so serious as to pretend social media is a new world when what it really is for businesses is a powerful communication tool (more about that on Wednesday). While my partner likens it to looking at the world through a magnifying glass — with egos sometimes growing to gigantic propositions — the same rules that apply to social media are the same ones that are always applied to communication: the bolder the statement, the more likely you are to receive attention.

The only difference is that it used to be journalists were the ones to knock down the bolder goofball ideas. Today, it can be anyone with a keyboard. So just like a public relations professional would not blacklist The New York Times, Clarke doesn’t need to be blacklisted either. He only needs to be proven wrong. So, Jaffe, prove him wrong. What can be easier than that?

Ho hum. Looking beyond the confines of this social media boat that seems to sail nowadays, I might point out that today’s collective practitioners face bigger challenges than young bloggers. And if we are being honest, I suspect some “experts” today will be distant memories in two years, eye patches and all.

“Har, har, look there captain! On the horizon... It’s an armada of advertising professionals to the east and a fleet of corporate communication professionals to the west. Darn, it looks as if their boats are bigger too.“



Geoff_Livingston on 9/18/07, 7:13 PM said...

Throw that mudd, MFers! LOL. I just cursed, does that mean I am going to get flamed across the blogosphere tomorrow? Great article, Rich.

Rich on 9/19/07, 8:47 AM said...

Thanks Geoff. Very funny too.

My question is if we did have private conversations of about other bloggers, does that change the rules of transparency? Please discuss amongst yourselves.

And then tomorrow, we can all flame Geoff. j/k.


Rob Cottingham on 9/25/07, 10:51 AM said...

Rich, this is a well-reasoned and very thought-provoking post.

I wish I'd been even clearer in my comment on David's blog that I'm not advocating any kind of cult of reverence for the greybeards. I'm pushing the kind of age where that qualifies as special pleading.

New voices can and should challenge the outdated ideas, narrow perspectives and calcified practices of the old. But an atmosphere of mutual respect can keep those challenges from degenerating into ridicule, flame wars and verbal abuse.

It allows them to lead to conversation and even persuasion.

Yeah, train wrecks drive up traffic in the short term. But traffic isn't a goal in itself (unless you're mainly trying to hawk AdSense clicks). And whether you're trying to make a difference in the discussions and change people's minds or just make new contacts and find potential clients, collaborators or friends, offering something of value to the people flocking to your blog is a better bet than trying to top your latest rant.

(Unless, of course, you're really freakin' funny. Then all you have to worry about is the hit on your karma.)

Thanks again for the post - I'm glad to find your blog!

Rich on 9/25/07, 1:07 PM said...

Hi Rob,

Thank you so very much for taking the time to stop by and leave such a thoughtful comment and clarification.

It really demonstrates to me the beauty and power of the Internet in that we can share ideas and have discussions to fine tune our speaking points. In doing so, maybe make the future the very best it can be. Although cliche, the path is narrow.

It was not such much your post on its own as much as what could be done with it by others, those who really wish to reign in the Internet at the expense of others under the guise of doing something for the good of all. In many cases, it seemed to me your post produced unintended consequences, pleads of exactly that ... the call to monitor and help those who, um, is allowed in.

Your clarification is spot on! "New voices can and should challenge the outdated ideas, narrow perspectives and calcified practices of the old."

I too wish for an atmosphere of mutual respect, but I am uncertain that is the reality in every case. And thus, the burden of communication is on us.

Having been the subject of unfair criticisms by some bloggers (and sometimes rightly so), I have learned that the best guidance for engagement is how we (not them) react to the "flame." Isn't this what we all learned in working with aggressive reporters anyway? What is the difference?

The solution is neither an offensive or defensive. But working toward understanding their point of view, much in the same way you responded to this post.

In closing, I might add that it is refreshing to find someone who might agree that not all publicity is good publicity! :) You are welcome here anytime.

All my best,


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