Wednesday, August 19

Confusing Companies: Social Media

Perhaps it's because social media "feels" so old that it's easy to forget it is in a state of infancy. It's new enough that even the people who are still attempting to shape it accidently drive it in two different directions at the same time.

The conversations creep into play often enough, and sometimes lead to some healthy debates and disagreements. They are almost always the result of someone asking the wrong question.

Five Favorite Social Media Contradictions

1. Who Should Own Social Media: PR or Advertising?

This was one of my favorite debates. It's still fresh and a few social media proponents are trying to flush it out. What makes it amusing is that the question is loaded. It dares communicators to pick one or the other. And yet, I keep asking myself how anyone can make a case for ownership while telling companies to give up control.

Nobody can own it. It requires thinking beyond silos.

2. Should employees promote the company online?

While the concept is well intended, it creates a contradiction. Considering most employees join social networks for personal reasons, they don't want to promote their employers (unless they feel like it). I don't blame them. Not everyone signed on to work as a public relations specialist or, worse, a message broadcaster despite the fact that their individual online endeavors impact public relations (which is why Dominos fired two employees for a YouTube video).

This debate was settled before social media. Let employees speak for themselves; spokespeople for the company.

3. Dive In or Develop A Plan?

You may as well ask "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" On one hand, less experienced public relations firms are advising their clients to dive in and try it. On the other, those clients are damaging their brands by adopting some very bad habits that tend to push people away. In one extreme case, we've been tracking a public relations firm that is creating accounts for its clients, connecting them all together, and then having their clients push market to each other. (No, I'm not making this up.)

Individual participation does not equal a community development experience. Find a guide.

4. Be Yourself or Be Edited?

In all honesty, this discussion is nothing more than the repackaged "Should a CEO blog? question" In sum, the question is whether or not executives need editing and vetting before someone pushes "post." And, if that answer is "yes, they do," then how much is too much before someone might classify it as ghostwriting?

Like so much of social media, most answers without specifics can be summed up in two words: "It depends."

5. Outsource or In-house?

All too often, companies are placing inexperienced communicators in charge of their social media programs. Considering social media requires more engagement and leaves a longer lasting imprint on the consumers they touch, it might not be a very good idea. So the bottom line becomes more the same — there are too many variables to hazard a guess. Not every company will come up with the same conclusion. And most companies don't even know how to arrive at an answer.

Case in point: I know several companies that are attempting to go the in-house route. Some are doing an excellent job. Some are doing okay, but could use some out-of-house boosts. And some are damaging their reputations. The difference between the degrees is not always apparent, except for the analogy I'm leaving with clients after any social media presentation.

You can buy a violin almost anywhere. It doesn't mean people will want to hear you, even if you practice every day.

"I really did play the violin when I was 13," Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog, told me recently. "You're right. Nobody wanted to hear me."

Five Fun Posts About Social Media Experts

8 Questions to Ask Your "Social Media Expert" by Dave Fleet

What I Want a Social Media Expert to Know by Chris Brogan

10 Questions to Evaluate a Social Media 'Expert' by Ian Lurie

Is Your Social Media Really An Expert? by Peter Shankman

You're Not A Social Media Expert, You Idiot by Joel Mackey


Barry on 8/20/09, 8:21 AM said...

Hi Rich,

One of my favorite things about social media is that what works for the next blog might not work for yours. The finding your voice aspect of it all may lead us into dangerous territory at times but it may also help us to connect to our customers on a much deeper level building community and job satisfaction.

Most of all I love the feeling of discovery as I get by with a little help from friends like you and follow my nose.


Rich on 8/21/09, 8:40 AM said...


Exactly right on all counts.

I think the best path to take in understanding social media comes down to a combination of looking at various best practices and seeing which ones might fit as well as what our "noses" might tell us. (I've learned a thing from you too, my friend.)

Even then, it seems to me that some people may have some natural talent and others may not.

If everyone could learn it from some systematic approach, then every blog would have one zillion subscribers. Since they do not, there is much to be said about the situational status of everything online and off.

All my best,


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