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.