Wednesday, May 6

Changing The Guard: The New Guard?

When Bruce Spotleson, group publisher at Greenspun Media Group, was a guest speaker in my class last March, he said something that I found a little bit haunting. Looking out over the class of almost 20 students and working professionals, he said that as newspapers scale back, looking out for public interest would increasingly fall to public relations professionals.

While I'm still confident journalism will evolve before it's abandoned, social media does provide consumers and representatives an opportunity to have public conversations like never before, with the primary difference between online communication and front line communication being the size of the audience. However, the question I often ask is "are they ready?"

When I read Erica O’Grady's post and others like it, I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong, I think O’Grady is great. I read her often enough. My friend Geoff Livingston has written about a similar concept before, even co-writing a very funny bit with Beth Harte last year. The conversation is even older than that. And to some extent I agree with them. Emphasize "some."

"The King Is Dead. Long Live The King!"

A few years ago, well before communication professionals began to take social media seriously, back when the extent of social media (when it was almost always called new media, which seemed so silly to me) was a blog, we used to see other names along with Brian Solis' PR 2.0 and Chris Brogan's community and social media, Todd Defren's PR-Squared, and many, many others too.

And all those names, many of which have long stopped blogging and some of which have deleted their earliest work (we even tested a few in 2004), lent quite a bit to the formation of what is commonly called social media today. (Technically, my introduction to what wasn't called a "blog" then dates back to some early work with Nevada Power Company in 1993.) Some people might even remember Bulletin Board Systems and whatnot. A few might even remember Justin Hall.

So what's the point? Carpetbagging and opportunist are relative terms and we ought be careful how we use them. If for no other reason than to give a nod to the generosity of those true pioneers who were much more welcoming and always extremely gracious in allowing others to establish "rules" that they seemed so reluctant to create, we might consider that ALL OF US were once the carpet baggers and opportunists trampling into a turf once defined as a "personal online diary."

There is no entitlement in social media. There are no rules. People will do things differently, and never as so-called early adopters thought to do (which is virtually nobody who is popular today). Sure, there are plenty of hucksters attempting to stake a claim in social media nowadays (the point O’Grady, Harte, and Livingston all rightfully aim to make), but we can all remember that "huckster" status is best defined by what some people do and not when they started to do it, just because they might do it differently.

Looking at the continued evolution of social media any other way is simply repeating what helped push it along in the first place. Some people in social media wanted to tear down the old guard of establishment (considering media to be the gatekeepers of information). But, you know, I don't think any of those folks ever envisioned that they were doing so simply to replace the space with a "new guard." And if they did, then its safe to say history is destined to repeat. There is no empire that lasts forever.


EricaOGrady on 5/6/09, 5:18 PM said...

Very well said Rich. The point of my post was not to dictate how people use Social Media, but to remind people to be on their guard against the Snake Oil Salesmen.

People are being scammed. But this is nothing new. These type of people will always exist - in any industry.

I love the idea that Social Media is maturing. And I foresee that there will always be a changing of the Guard (I've seen the same thing happen in the Web Design World where we used to worship the Zeldman's and Holzschlag's, and now we worship a new younger crop of designers).

But I think if an industry does it right, that we will always pay homage to the Original Guard. In Social Media we see this with The Cluetrain Manifesto and people like Solis & Livingston. There is such a thing as an industry classic - and that never goes out of style.

Thanks for the post ;)

Rich on 5/7/09, 6:36 AM said...

Hey Erica,

Yeah, I get it. I liked your post. As you said, I also think every industry has its snake oil salesmen.

Sometimes though, one person's snake oil salesmen is another person's savior. The tricky part is knowing how to tell one from the other, and the only solution that seems to work is to measure effectiveness.

Livingston, in particular, will be around a long time to come. Not because he is a classic or original guard (because what I was pointing out is those that some think of as the original guard were not), but because he is extremely adaptive and fluid in his approach.

And I suppose that is another point. Perspective is a powerful thing. Depending on where we stand at any given moment, the world looks different. Much more difficult is to see the world through another person's vantage point. What I like about social media the most is that it dares us to do so.

How we work with movie fans is so different from discussing the psychology of communication. And that difference is largely a matter of understanding not what we see, but what they see. Cool stuff.

Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a great comment. Comments always make things fuller.

All my best,

Rich on 5/8/09, 1:37 PM said...

More Words:

TBWA has hired two new digital specialists for its executive ranks. — Adweek


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