Friday, April 25

Wagging The Dog: Social Media Lessons


Next Friday, May 2, I will be teaching Social Media For Communication Strategy class for the Division of Educational Outreach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) public relations certificate program.

In addition to providing an overview of various technologies — blogs, news aggregators, social networks, digital media, presence applications — I’ll spend some considerable time emphasizing real-life case studies, how to manage messages in the new media environment, and how to custom develop a blog and social media presence from the ground up. More importantly, I’m hoping those who attend take away one important fact about social media.

The long tail of social media need not wag the company dog.

You might know what I mean. Almost daily, someone immersed in social media writes about how companies just need to unfasten their safety belts and ride the social media wave in some sort of customer-driven free for all.

Yet, if companies simply succumb to the wisdom of the masses, adjusting entire communication plans based upon feedback from select customers and others within the same sphere, then their message is likely to spin further away from its center and not toward it.

Delivering only what people want is best left to politics, where these notions appear with reckless abandon, and voters are sometimes left to scratch their heads in wonderment when their elected officials seem to bear no resemblance to the candidates. In fact, it’s this very kind of thinking that served as a precursor to the struggles that this country faced in the wake of winning independence, with John Adams yielding principle by signing the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Even in social media, such thinking leads to erroneous ideas like “no criticism” controls. Those eventually erode.

Lead with core values and the tail will follow.

While such ideas come with the best intentions, they are almost as cliché as drinking the Kool-Aid. Of course, far be it from me to suggest we all need to put our anti-masses Charles Bukowski hats on either (though the man had a point about catering to the crowds). That’s just another extreme of the opposite color.

The only truth I have been able to discern is that most companies will never face blog dramas or social media stompfests that leave people bruised or banned. Those are best left to professionals who are trying to carve out a niche in the social media leadership scene and/or educators who are less sensitive to intellectual criticism because they know that open debate is simply a method to find the truth.

On the contrary, most companies will not likely become embroiled in the same colorful conversations that seem to spring up from time to time in social media. Sure, a few might aspire to, but only a relatively small fraction. All that means is that proven communication methods are largely the same.

So, as for those battle cries that online worlds need to be populated by customer input … well, I suppose that might work for some. Yet, more and more, it seems to me that if social media is all customer-driven content all the time, then we are merely supplanting one-way communication — corporate speak — with another one-way communication — customer speak. That’s not engagement.

Ergo, corporate speak and customer speak are the extreme ends of a much more robust bell curve, leaving companies with many more options then they have been led to believe. Of course, presenting this might make me seem a little less skilled at “telling” people how to do social media. But I have found it works very well in teaching people how to determine what might work best for them, their companies, and their clients.

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3 comments:

Pete on 4/27/08, 1:34 AM said...

Social media has already been hi-jacked by the greedy 'IM' crowd. It's getting to the point where we're all looking over our shoulder and actually 'reducing' contact information for fear of it's abuse.

I think 'intelligent' mainstream companies normally to the side of the 'IM' curtain will refuse to join in the mayhem that's obvious today.

A great idea gone bad.

Pete.

terocious on 4/28/08, 5:40 AM said...

Hi Rich,

It seems to me that social media should be used creativley to enhance communication and not be charged with becoming an electronic pony express between company and client.

New Media offer everyone the same oppurtunities to go forward with an eye toward sculpting a personal meaning within the medium.

How many will truly use this freedom is a very good question but I am fairly certain that many who feel they have failed will regard this as failure of the medium and not the message.

Good Luck with the class!

-b

Rich on 4/29/08, 8:42 AM said...

@Pete I have to hope that any early abuses of social media have about as much impact as some used car advertisements on television. It's the not the medium, but the messengers.

@B I always love your outlook on social media because you're right that it provides a communication opportunity that few businesses have ever enjoyed. Much like life, we all create our own experienced online. For me, it's a matter of looking for the truth that sometimes gets buried under the bull.

Thanks so much for the well wishes. I'm really looking forward to it.

Best,
Rich

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