In my Top Nine Things I’ve Learned at BlogWorld post, I wrote:
Many social media professionals talk as if social media is the future of media, then act exactly the opposite when camera crews show up.
I can’t forget the moment. Due to some deadlines, I excused myself from a session to get some work done while everyone else was attending a session or a keynote. I found myself at the cafe near the Convention Center, setup the mobile office, and started working. The TV on the wall was tuned to something I can’t recall, since i wasn’t paying attention to it.
Suddenly, a youngish gent walks in, instantly recognizable as a BlogWorld attendee: thick black plastic frame glasses, some witty geek-chic T-shirt (like, “I Twitter, therefore I am” or some such), jeans, and a backpack. He asks the cafe staff if he can change the channel to CNN — and they say yes. CNN comes on, and they’re doing a segment on BlogWorld. Ah ha! That’s why this guy was so interested.
Some nameless anchor who I couldn’t pick out at a lineup is interviewing a number of folks, including one of the founders of BlogWorld, and the talking heads are going on and on. And I found myself wondering… if a blogger had contacted the organizer of the Annual Conference of the American Society of Newspaper Editors... would one of them have dropped everything in the middle of the conference to get on a videochat with him?
Would any attendee at ASNE’s Annual Conference have stopped whatever he was doing to rush to a laptop because he had heard that The Bloggess was going to post an interview with the editor of some newspaper?
Actions speak louder than words. And this, frankly, is why I fear that social media might be hype after all.
Rhetoric vs. Evidence
The rhetoric around social media is that it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. Social media will change the relationship between companies and customers, blow journalism apart, and create a new society where everyone is a publisher and audience, everyone is a producer and consumer, and every connection is genuine, human, and authentic.
Part of me really believes that. Really. I’ve seen enough in my own life to believe that there is indeed something revolutionary in networked communications.
At the same time, I can’t get over the fact that the more recognized and more famous “social media gurus” are more recognized and more famous because of legacy media. Why, for example, does Chris Brogan tout the fact that “He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, The Montreal Gazette, Newsweek, and some other places”?
Social media is supposed to be a massive paradigm shift in the way companies market themselves and their products to consumers. If you don’t get with the program, your company will quickly become irrelevant to consumers who are all interconnected and networked and so on — so you need to hire a social media guru to put together a kickass social media marketing campaign for you!
And yet, evidence suggests something else altogether. Coca-Cola, with all of its sophistication, all of its money, and all of its marketing brilliance, is reduced to saying things like:
It’s about bringing incremental increases in brand love, purchase intent and actual purchase. But for some brands, like if it’s a new brand—we’re launching vitaminwater around the world—the brand strategy is building awareness and trial. What are you going to measure there? You’re going to measure awareness and brand recall. There’s not one pat answer of what we’re looking to measure because it depends on the brand and the business objectives.
And of course, it seems plenty obvious that Coca-Cola hasn’t exactly stopped spending money on legacy media in order to, you know, drive things like “true incremental volumes and true increases in sales”.
The only example I can think of where a major national company has bet big on social media (at least, online marketing) for marketing is Century 21 — a real estate company. And the jury is still out on whether that was a good move or not.
Given the shakiness of the claims of social media for transformative power, I would have thought that those who are most in the know, those who are most convinced that social media is the paradigm shift, would act as if they believed it themselves.
On the Other Hand…
There are, however, signs that maybe this social media thing is a big deal after all.
Exhibit 1: Sarah Palin. Now, you don’t have to like her, agree with her politics, or any such thing to notice that the woman is rewriting the rules of political media pretty much all by herself. Her endorsement of Doug Hoffman for NY-23 was published only on her Facebook page, and nowhere else. No press conference, no press release, no begging CNN or Fox News for time — just a direct to the public Note via Facebook.
But everyone is talking about the endorsement, and within political circles, everyone knows that Palin broke with the GOP in endorsing Hoffman.
Again, leave the politics to the side and look at what happened here from a media standpoint. Sarah Palin completely bypassed legacy media and all of its infrastructure and yet still got the news out to the world. She acted as if social media was the only channel that truly mattered.
Writing about her decision, blogger Melissa Clouthier made this point:
Palin has been sending a couple messages recently. First, she has, since stepping down as governor, started to communicate with the people not through the press but around the press. In other words, she’s speaking directly to the people through social media. She has had a couple well-timed and well-placed op-eds that have helped define policy arguments. However, most of the time she’s talked to the people via social media. (It should be noted that she’s been silent on Twiiter for some time — something I hope she’ll change soon.) This has had the benefit of letting the press know that she does not need them. Rather than go the Obama route and deny what is perceived as the one “enemy” to her aims, Sarah denies nearly everyone. And why not? The press trashed her with risible lies. Why give a dying breed ratings when she can reach the people herself? (Emphasis mine)
Shouldn’t the social media illuminati be behaving precisely as Palin does?
Exhibit 2: Real Estate Industry. One of the reasons why I and others believe that real estate is ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to social media is that we have actual success stories in real estate. Even as I pick at the nits, and want clearer data/evidence, fact is that we do have clear success stories of companies and individuals who have achieved real business success, real dollars, and real meaningful results from social media.
I would point to Altos Research as the poster child for a company that achieved success almost entirely through social media. But it is by no means alone. Individual realtors are seeing real results (even if they have trouble compiling the data for ROI measurements) from Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and Twitter. And they behave exactly as if the legacy media is dead and dying — print advertising has fallen through the floor, at least at the individual level, while investment in web, blogs, and social networks is through the roof.
Again, actions speak louder than words. Results trump rhetoric every single time.
I believe social media is more hope than hype. If only the leaders of our nascent little movement would show us the same by walking the walk, rather than talking the talk.