Social Media: If you don’t love it, leave it

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. If you come here regularly, you know that.

On one hand, I’m in awe of SM’s power to connect people and communities, and I’m excited about its growing role in public relations. On the other hand, I’m put off by the self-centeredness of so many in this space, and the self-righteousness of some of its “thought leaders.”

First a confession. When I re-entered Twitter in 10/08, I lurked for a while under the pseudonym “PR Preacher.” I didn’t want the pressure of being “on” from Day One, and I fully expected to stay a few weeks and leave — just as I had in the spring of ’07. This time, though, I found value in Twitter and opted to stay, but under my own name.

As @prpreacher, I followed “the usual suspects” in PR and social media circles, but I didn’t say much. My first tweet expressed the skepticism I was feeling about Twitter. I saved this visual for posterity:


One social media leader I followed at the time came back with this rejoinder. I won’t mention the name, but it’s one you’d recognize:

@PRpreacher Read this (tiny URL). Then if your attitude and style don’t change, do all a favor & leave Twitterville.”

The URL took me to a blog post from the writer — a post offering tips for new users of Twitter. Useful information, to be sure. But it didn’t change my attitude or my style, and I didn’t leave Twitterville.

Maybe I do have an attitude problem. My wife thinks I do. But my contrary nature is what fuels my critical thinking cells. I’m not mean spirited, but I stick to my guns when I think I’m right, and I enjoy a heated debate, online or off. It’s how we learn and how we grow.

I don’t belong on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, and being there won’t help my students. I can’t be objective about the interactive digital world if I’m little more than a cheerleader for the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Why bring this up now? I had a similar experience on Facebook yesterday — at least I think I did. I’m thankful only my 307 “friendz” could see it, and I’m fairly certain only a handful of them noticed.

In Facebook’s new “What’s on your mind?” box, I said I liked the new Facebook format. It’s  “like Twitter,” I said, “but with people you like. Just like on Twitter, you get to comment on whatever crap happens to float by — the flotsam and jetsam of social media.”

OK. Referring to my Twitter stream as “crap” was asking for trouble, I suppose, but the comments that followed all supported my view. Facebook friendz tend to do that. Then, about 10 minutes later, another of my friendz — one I don’t know well — suggested (in a separate update) that people who complain about social media should “do the rest of us a favor” and “delete your twitter and facebook accounts.” This person could be considered a leader in social media, at least in the region.

So once again, a social media guru suggests I pack my bags and get outta town. Maybe the comment wasn’t aimed at me, but given the timing, well….

My bad? Maybe so. In both of the incidents I reference here, I said something designed to get a response. And it worked. I’m not upset nor am I offended. But I am worried — worried that those with leadership positions in the social media space are so unwilling to discuss alternative views and engage those who disagree with them.

What ever happened to objectivity?

Anyway, I hope those who think me out of line will somehow reconsider and allow me to stay in this conversational Garden of Eden. I never meant to offend you. I simply ask — and continue to ask — critical questions important to my field. For example:

  • How will social media affect my clients’ ability to connect with their stakeholders?
  • What new skills and understanding of social media will future PR professionals need to survive?
  • What changes in communication strategy are SM bringing to the practice of public relations?
  • Are the “new influencers” we read about really as influential as some think — and how do we know?
  • How much of the PR’s social media frenzy is “real” and how much is a product of our digital echo chamber?

If you have the answers to my questions, please chime in. I’m open to your evidence. Once we begin to validate social media in PR strategy (beyond anecdotes), our clients will begin to use it, and we all will benefit. But the bosses aren’t gonna do it just because we said so. And who can blame them?

I worry, too, that social media will devolve into a place where users seek out like-minded people and ignore the rest. I worry it will become a place we go for group hugs and affirmation. That isn’t healthy, not for us or for our clients. (Posts like this one only add to my skepticism.)

We’re all entitled to our opinions, and this is where I express mine. Good news is, you don’t have to read it. Bad news is, I ain’t goin’ away.

16 Responses to Social Media: If you don’t love it, leave it

  1. Reading this makes me very thankful to have adopted your objective view of SM’s impact on PR (and the rest of the business world). It’s posts like this that help pierce a hole in the echo chamber and open the conversation up to practicality.

    I’ve done my share of rah-rahing for SM, and still maintain that it’s influence will increase throughout the course of my professional career, but until its ROI can be effectively tracked it will remain to be just a hobby of mine.

    I’m excited to follow the comments here to see what answers are offered to your questions.

  2. Sally Hodge says:

    Can I chime in even if I don’t have the answers to your questions?

    Social media — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, yadda, yadda — is NOT the end all and be all. It comprises another strategy for PR folks and marketers to add to their trusty toolboxes. Those who use it to the exclusion of other approaches are not doing their clients any favors. I’ve done traditional outreach and I’ve done SM, and found the best results come from a combination of both.

    I don’t have a lot of patience for those that won’t even try SM, but I also think we don’t need SM Nazis out there saying, “If you don’t love it, get out!” That’s not very social now, is it?

  3. Breeze says:

    I share your skepticism, Bill— not only about SM, but about people of the love-it-or-leave-it mindset. Particularly when they are seen (perhaps undeservedly?) to be leaders of one stripe or another.

    True leaders, as I see it, not only have good ideas, they listen for good ideas.

    And not just from their cadre of cronies.

  4. Ann VerWiebe says:

    I’m with Sally – I think SM is here to stay, but they won’t replace more traditional strategies, just enhance them. People like SM for the same reason they like hanging out at the neighborhood bar or writing letters to the editor. They want to connect and have ongoing conversations about the world around them. So-called Thought Leaders should remember that good SM is an open discussion and that everyone isn’t going to be %100 happy %100 of the time.

  5. Stuart Bruce says:

    Just ignore the social media evangalists. IMHO too many of them actually hamper corporations/organisations embracing social media by over-hyping what it can do and making it so ‘special’ instead of just accepting it’s part of the mix that you’ve got to accept – for some people it’s a big part for others a small part.

  6. “I worry, too, that social media will devolve into a place where users seek out like-minded people and ignore the rest. I worry it will become a place we go for group hugs and affirmation. That isn’t healthy, not for us or for our clients.”

    Bill, this is one of my over-arching concerns not just for social media, but for the evolution of media in general. As the number of newspapers dwindles, and the number of professional journalists with it, people will turn more and more to the web and blogs for their news. But the majority of blogs are *opinion* sites, and people seek out or naturally gravitate to blogs that bolster already-held opinions. They are rarely, if ever, challenged with contrary viewpoints.

    In both spaces, social media/news and information, it does not bode well for critical thinking if people are simply finding places where their own opinions are regurgitated back at them. In fact, I think it further damages discourse because there is no veil of civility online–people say what they think in the most direct manner possible, without any thought to, well, manners. As a poli sci grad, I shudder to think of what this means for an informed citizenry.

    I find this pattern troubling, and would be very distressed if questioning voices like yours simply packed up and went home. (Virtually.)


  7. Bill Sledzik says:

    “As a poli sci grad, I shudder to think of what this means for an informed citizenry.”

    As one who makes a living as part of a journalism school, I have the same concerns. We don’t need “newspapers,” but we — and the republic — need “news.” And we need people who are paid to gather it, sort it, and check it for accuracy. We need professionals who can ask the right questions to get at the truth.

    I will say that the PR echo chamber does get the better of me at times. I think twice before visiting certain blogs to disagree. Disagreement gets the least bit heated and it’s called “personal attack.” I have better things to do.

  8. marketingsociologist says:

    People in communications are misusing the acronym ROI. It means return on investment, plain and simple. So, if your time is worth $100 or $200 per hour, are you getting $600 to $1,000 back for that hour on Twitter?

    I love YouTube, I love MySpace. I do Friendfeed and Twitter. PR practitioners promising “news” coverage are not looking at the diminishing returns of newspapers closing and radio and television laying off. Social media is the future. Even on tonight’s Nightly Business Report, the publisher of New York Times pretty much said investigative reporting – the thing keeping newspapers alive – is dead. It is alive on the blog-o-sphere (not TMZ or Huffington Post, but it’s there).

    Two years ago I lost 10 clients for advocating they have a YouTube and MySpace presence. They went running to the agencies offering “news” coverage – and they never got it. Clients don’t want to hear the creative, or future.

    I recently posted this question on Linkedin, Have you made 5-figures or more income from Twitter? It was prompted from reading Dean Hunt’s question, “Do you think Twitter is a waste of time, or a great social media tool?”

    The answers I got were, Dell made five-figures, I know someone who knows someone who owns a dog that made 5-figures. Yet no one said they had made 5-figures from twittering.

    So where is the – and when will there be – ROI for Twitter?

    The bigger challenge marketers have not addressed, is how do you create image for organizations in this day-and-age?

    Richard Kelleher, M.B.A.

  9. Bill,

    This week I sat down with some Corp. Comm students from my old post graduate program and made a revelation: A year ago this month, when I was first forced into the SM space via Gary Schlee’s blog project, I hated it. I hated it with everything in me and so, in an act of rebellion ( I, too, have been told I have a bad attitude, and I know it) I went out of my way to poke fun at the space on every one of my early posts. And then, sometime between graduating and the completion of my internship, something happened; I began to find value, meet some great folks, develop the niche that every young pro is desperately seeking.

    My biggest criticism of Twitter, FB, the blogosphere, when I first started: the pompous attitudes of the so-called guru’s, who, in the dive-bar dim that they’ve mistaken for a spotlight, think their opinions actually matter outside their followers. For every great contact I’ve made on here, there’s been an equal or majority amount of jerks that parallel.

    So why do we, the critical, stay? There is something extraordinary about the group of people I’ve connected with here, Bill, and they’ve all encountered situations like you have above (the “like or get out” comment).

    At the end of the day, the credibility of an influencer is only as much as the people who choose to follow them.

  10. Danny Brown says:

    Hey there Bill,

    Kudos to you for not naming names – I don’t know if I’d have been so lenient.

    The “thing” (if there is such a “thing”) with Twitter, social media, Facebook, etc, is that you use it exactly as you see fit.

    Business connecting? Check. Professional advice? Check. Hanging with friends shooting sh*t? Check.

    Who wrote the “rulebook” for how an open source approach is run? Because if you show me that person, I’ll show you a liar.

    As for these “social media gurus” that said that to you – I’d suggest they aren’t anywhere near the kind of status they’d like to think they are. If they were, they’d be trying to help understand what it is you (or anyone else) doesn’t like and offer proper suggestions, tips or alternatives.

    To these “gurus” I’d say – how about YOU do everyone a favour and take your small-minded attitude back to the Stone Age where it belongs?

  11. Interesting thread, Bill. I am a social media dilettante. I do LinkedIn, and that’s it. No Facebook (my profile is unupdated and was a reaction to an intern’s provocation that I had to have one), no Twitter, FriendFeed, or any of the other Mashable gadgets. I send e-mails, comment on blogs (and will launch my own blog sometime in April), But that’s likely to be it.

    Frankly, as I start my independent consultancy, I think I’ll get much more business from calling people and listening to what they say than from spouting 140-characters to the universe.

    The main value of any social media, to me, is to offer some kind of demonstration of my writing and analytical skills in a low-pressure environment. If someone happens to recognize my name from my participation here on your blog when I call them, I’ll consider that successful soft ROI. Despite my membership in the Institute for PR’s Commission on Measurement and Evaluation, I’m not 100% sure that we can calculate financial ROI on Twitter if there’s no “click to buy” feature among those 140 characters.

    It all seems to get back to the concept of measurable objectives prior to choosing tactics. I think they call that “Strategy.”

  12. Jeff Davis says:

    While some of the high profile love-it-or-leave-it types congregate at conferences and write books to validate their expertise (kind of funny to see them rely on such a traditional communications tool) many of us toiling away in the PR trenches are left with clients who are intrigued yet confused by social media. They want to know how to integrate SM with traditional PR, which is the way to go. It’s not rocket science, and thanks in part to the hype, companies are keeping a lot of us less visible practitioners quite busy – and off the book-writing/conference circuit – these days. Anyway, I commend you for withholding the dude’s name, but a quick Google search for “do all a favor & leave Twitterville” led me straight to the FriendFeed exchange with @PRPreacher. Eye-opening. Thank you.

  13. PennySue says:

    We can pick and choose our social media sites, which ones can benefit you and ones that cannot. Being involved in a new Social Media Site, we want to reach out to help people, give them the resources available to help them reach their success. Working in a medical field I know there is the need for making resources available to help people in all walks of life. If you choose the wrong one for your needs, then you can opt out and try another one.

  14. Greg Smith says:

    Go, Bill. My thoughts exactly. Who says these people influence anything or anyone? Answer: they do. But I strongly doubt it. They’re just bleating to a minority audience. More power to newspapers, public broadcasting and outlets that actually have a culture of reasoned debate.

  15. Chuck Hemann says:

    Bill – a fascinating post, as usual, and I wholeheartedly agree with Danny’s post. The social media “savants,” whoever they are, don’t add value to the conversations by ridiculing those that are skeptical of SM’s value. Rather, they add value by helping you identify ways in which the tools could be helpful, or possibly identifying a more appropriate tool to use. As you point out, the only way we get better is being critical and asking “why?” The only way we’ll know how to properly utilize these tools for clients will be to learn from others, not tear them down for wondering whether or not they are the holy grail as some might think.

    One other comment on the ROI points made above…I, like Sean, am skeptical of the financial ROI of these tools. The reality, however, is that VERY few (maybe Dell, GE and Ford?) are at a point where measuring actual financial impact is even remotely necessary. In fact, it’s probably a waste of time as most brands are just now starting to embrace social technologies in any meaningful way. No, my counsel to clients would be, depending on your goals and objectives, to think about things like page views, comment count, number of followers or number of fans (if it’s a Facebook page). If you are at a point where the social media tools are turning into an extension of your customer service efforts, then maybe that is the time to start determining whether or not your efforts are leading to higher customer satisfaction scores, which could ultimately lead to more sales, etc…

  16. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks to all for chiming in, and sorry I was so late approving the last 5 comments. Been off the grid doing the mountain man thing for a few days. I’m happy to report a healthy population of whitetails survived an unusually rough winter.

    And Jeff, I knew if anyone really dug in they’d find a name associated with the “get out of Twitterville” comment. Secrets are pretty tough to keep in this world.

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