O..M..G… They can’t be in our Social Media Club! Gosh!

A few weeks ago, I attended an event where Kara Swisher referred to the whole social media scene as the “social media self-reflecting echo chamber” and some of its stars as “assclowns.”

There was some uneasy chuckling at this — it was, after all, a panel called “Is Social Media Killing PR?”  But mostly people knew exactly what she meant.    There has been much, much sucking up and self-referencing going on lately.

I could have left it at that, until I read a post on an otherwise usually very thoughtful marketing/buzz blog.  It warned all you unsuspecting innocents out there how to tell if your Social Media Consultant is really a carpetbagger.

It carried a breezy video comment with a young pup smilingly declaiming that there are actually people who don’t know what the Cluetrain Manifesto is, and knowing what it is should be a test (I am actually quite fond of the Cluetrain Manifesto, in the nostalgic way some people might be of, say, Goodnight Moon or their first love; but some of my more acerbic peers refer to it as the Common Sense Manifesto).

You know, it was harmless.  Maybe they just were trying to be cute. He was contributing.  And yet the combined effect reminded me of an endless string of cliche movie scenes: the stepsisters make fun of Cinderella:

The Socs make fun of Ponyboy:

The Mean Girls… well, you get the idea.

Some of the insights were fine.  You should be wary of someone who doesn’t listen.  Or whose first suggestion is a Facebook group.

But as one Twitterer told me privately, “the tone [of that post] made me cringe.  It was so smug.”

Yah.  We’re smug — because we broke the code, and we got here first.  Or more first-ier, anyway.  We know things these noobs don’t know.   (insert comment calculated to suck up to Michael Arrington).

I have nothing against Michael Arrington.  He’s great at what he does.  In fact, leave him out of this.  It’s the whole wink-wink say-no-more, you can’t be in my club thing that has sprung up lately.

Sidebar-With-A-Point: You know who got me into Twitter?  @micah (Micah Baldwin) and the late @mochant (Marc Orchant).  Two incredibly different men; two very different approaches.  About a year ago, at deFrag.   Marc started telling me excitedly about Twitter after Gnomedex; it was a “breakthrough” for him.  Micah laid out his arguments for Twitter completely differently.  But clearly, simply.  Not once did he say, “you’re too old,” or, “you’re too new.”

Both guys were amazing that way.  Brilliant, kind, open — natural teachers who had been at the social media game for a while.  They were and are symbolic to me of what makes the open web succeed: you give people the information, explain why it’s useful, and see how they connect with it.

Micah could have given me, you know, that half-smile that kids reserve for people over 40 when they see them dance, when they’re embarrassed for them.

But instead he was just straight-up.  “No, Twitter’s really cool.  You should do it.  Here’s the value for me:….”   He laid it out, and he made sense.    I was on Twitter that afternoon.

Yeah, several months after he and others were on it.

Maybe it’s the economic downturn — in a recession, some people want to make just that much more sure that someone knows that we know what we’re doing and knew it FIRST before those  new people came in and started LIKING social media and trying to USE IT and making it all, you know, social and useful.

And yes, the blog post had a point — because there’s money to be made in brandishing phrases like “personal brand” and “social media consultant,”  it helps to have some insights.

But part of why I didn’t get on Twitter earlier was because of a guy who was in some ways the opposite of Micah and Marc.  A blogger/social media personality who trails little odorless puffs of hype behind him like the low-carbon Highlander Hybrid he started driving after he saw it on Project Runway.   He is smart, he gets ironically and mildly underexcited about everything, he blogs about everything, people love to say they know him, he claims to know everyone.

I suspected that for him Twitter was the solution to that old Eminem song:  “It feels so empty without me.”  That was how I saw it — microblogging a tech raven’s life as it flew from one shiny object to the next.  So since he was excited about Twitter two years ago, I felt forced to hate it, even though he didn’t know and wouldn’t care.

I was wrong about Twitter.  I avoided this cool thing, just because he was annoying.  (But haven’t you done that?   Maybe it was a book, like The Tipping Point or Tuesdays with Morrie, that you avoided just because people flocked to it in droves and formed well, Facebook Groups about it.   Or a movie that could not have possibly lived up to the hype.  Or even Ron Paul, or Barack Obama.

But you give in –  read the book or see the movie, or listen to Barack Obama talk.  You  concede that though the hype is annoying — well, there’s something there.)

The whole social media self-referencing echo chamber is getting annoying.  But there’s still something there of value for people that are willing to walk past the posted insults of the  Socs, or the whispered taunts of the Mean Girls, and make their own way towards the amazing resources to be found.

My husband works only tangentially with the tech world.  He’s starting to find the value in Twitter as a tool for conversations with customers he didn’t know he had — just the way the Cluetrain Manifesto would want him to — and he wouldn’t know how to find the manifesto if it bit him in the …a**clown.

So please let’s stop the code words, do our jobs, follow our curiousity and trust that it will sort itself out, for the most part without having to act like Closed Web Snobs.



Filed under Ethics, Tech and hype, Technology and PR, Web 2.0

18 responses to “O..M..G… They can’t be in our Social Media Club! Gosh!

  1. God, I wish I had met Marc.

    This post comes at an interesting time. I was asked what made me so good at SEO when I was a consultant. I said “I taught people the basics and what to do with them. I made myself wanted, not needed.”

    After all, isnt that why we try new things? To learn, experience and (hopefully) thrive?

    Oh, and forget the fish. I dont want to know how to catch them. I want to know how to catch them, clean them, cook them and sell them, so one day I can pay others to fish for me. But I want them to want to fish for me.

    I cant do that if I dont teach them why fishing is important in the first place.

    Code words, slang and terminology are both a way to include and exclude people. Social media doesnt work if you exclude. It just cant.

    Im glad you are on twitter. Im glad you are blogging. Im glad you are sharing.

    Oh, and I have never read the Cluetrain Manifesto (other than it had some connection to Amazon, I really have no clue about it.)

    • alittleclarity

      You? And Marc? Would have rocked it, had great (loooong) conversations. He would have appreciated Micah Chic and your pandora.fm channels.

      As far as you not reading the Cluetrain Manifesto — and you admitting it on this extremely popular, well-read blog — we are shocked. Shocked!

      You of all people don’t need to read it — you, quite particularly, have been there, done that, do that. Could explain why people want to fish for you.

      Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for all you do.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I understand some folks took what was supposed to be a silly riff of a post very seriously. And for that reason I’d have to say that we touched a big nerve. I wonder why that is?

    By the way, I don’t write a PR blog — focusing primarily on social media — but thanks for your judgement of “otherwise fine.”

    • alittleclarity

      Thanks, Geoff, for the thoughtful response. To be fair, I thought about not linking to your post because the post itself didn’t bother me half as much as the piling on that took place afterwards. In the comments, and around the Web, there was a collective Booyah!, so to speak.

      Why did it hit a nerve? I only have a couple of guesses. I do think there’s an element of defensiveness against carpetbaggers, and of picking up and protecting the Right Ways to Do This as one goes along. But geez, it’s all fairly new and really dynamic; in theory, the feedback helps us improve as time passes, so that someone coming along in a few months may take for granted a development that seemed hard-won, shiny and new a while back.

      Anyway, I have to thank you for the dialogue; and definitely apologize for both mis-labeling your work and your blog, and for the tone of “otherwise fine.” It sounded ridiculous. I do check in at BuzzBin now and then just to see what you’re saying, because it’s often smart and useful. In trying to hurry up my post and jump off of yours, it sounded needlessly dismissive. I have changed the post slightly to be more accurate.

  3. I spent enough of my life on the wrong side of cliques, that I remain allergic to them to this day.

    I do, however, have a bad taste in my mouth when there are people hanging up shingles and touting themselves as “experts” and “thought leaders” in a medium where they’ve been active for all of eight months.

    That’s not exclusion or snobbery on my part — it’s the cynicism that remains from my years as a journalist.

    Now, it’s time for me to go back into the echo chamber and light a few matches to dispel the odor from those puffs of hype.

    • alittleclarity

      Ike, I’ve been thinking about this — why it hits a nerve (as Geoff points out).

      Clearly communities need rules, experts, and ways to point out that some experts — and their expertise — are more valuable than others, even if we don’t like them. (And “thought leader” means… what? anymore)

      Nor is it that social media takes us into one big group hug. But I do think that ignorance rises or falls to its own level, and will be discovered. I actually had a client take part of their budget to a “social media agency” — only to come back, chastened, because the label couldn’t hide that this person had no idea what he was doing. Did I hate it? Yes. But I didn’t change too much of what I was doing, because… why?

      See you in the chamber (chamber, chamber….)

  4. This is something that has been on my mind a lot lately, and I have been talking about it in interviews as well as writing about it. The challenge really is that many folks are calling themselves social media experts because they are following 1,000 people on twitter and somehow managed to get 230 people to follow them.

    It’s not that they are open minded smart folks learning new skills, its that they believe having a twitter account and a blog is all it takes to be a consultant. Its that they bodaciously call themselves experts and thought leaders, while many of the smartest people I know won’t even consider themselves experts. Yes, it is a little bit of excessive humility on the part of some, but more then that, it is an understanding that we are all just apprentices, learning our way – applying what we have experienced before to new technologies, realizing we might fail at it, but failing to learn from it would be the real sin. Meanwhile such unfounded arrogance does actually harm the real professionals who have real experience.

    The reason I formed Social Media Club was to help stop this from happening again, as I saw it happen in the dotcom era of the late 90’s – this is the one thing we are unable to stop out right, but we can educate the buyer’s and this is what we will do. This is actually a big part of the reason I formed AdHocnium, to differentiate between the folks who just hung up a shingle – or rather to differentiate from the many folks responding to some ads I saw recently that said literally, “you too can be a top social media consultant, just finish this 2 hour online course and we will certify you” WTF? You can’t learn the proper perspective in 2 hours, nor in 2 years.

    Surely, if social media were only twitter and facebook and blogging, you could become technically proficient in a matter of days. But the reality is that social media is a lever for transforming the way we work, the way we interact with our market and the way we innovate. Cause and effect takes experience to understand… this is the real challenge most people have with the wave of inexperienced social media consultants, not the old timers complaints (though I watched those in the 90’s too with much chagrin).

    The real question is what is the solution to separate the good folks from the uninformed? I am working on a reptuational system to do this, but there needs to be other answers found for this and all other industries too – and the answer is not found merely in the ability to pay for a listing in Who’s Who in Social Media…

    • alittleclarity

      Wow, Chris — you saw an ad like that? I mean, it’s one thing to be able to draw Bambi, but …. that’s just freaky. The more I ponder this, the more I begin to think that it comes down to defining what expertise is; or rather, what expertise in a particular area should be able to accomplish. That might mean metrics, which seems a bit antithetical to the ad hoc world of social media, but we ought to be able to come up with something. Live by the sword, etc. I saw a post today where someone said, “Robert Scoble isn’t a social media guru, he’s a tech blogger and videographer who happens to have a huge following in social media channels.” It gave me pause, and then I realized it was true.

      If we decide not to confuse activity with results, what criteria do we use? I’ll be avidly watching to see what you (and we all) come up with.

      Thanks for reading this. I love reading your Tweets, BTW.

  5. Shannon Paul

    First, I really do love Goeff and Beth’s post about social media carpetbagging – I’m in the midwest and I see a lot of carpetbagging going on because businesses simply don’t have a solid BS meter when it comes to social media “experts”.

    However, no matter how lacking in skills or knowledge I believe someone to be, I never want to let their behavior make me mean and exclusionary in my behavior. We need voices on both sides of this issue to make sure we strike the right balance. Thanks for this!

    • alittleclarity

      Shannon, I did struggle with that before writing this. I agree — there should be some guidelines and some of those mentioned in the post were on the mark. More than the post itself, some of the comments afterwards struck me as not written for prospective clients so much as for people already in social media or on the fringes of same. So you’re completely right, others’ behavior shouldn’t make us mean or exclusionary in our behavior. It’s a tough line to walk — and by the way, yours is one of the voices I enjoy hearing. Thanks for writing!

  6. Would you please come talk to the soccer world? Or any of the thousands of organizations having to do with youth sports….

    Regardless of the business you are in, there are “mean girls” everywhere.

    Your blog post is “so fetch.” http://gerardmclean.com/thats-so-fetch.html Must be the week for “Mean Girls” analogies.

    • alittleclarity

      Rufus, I know exactly what you mean about youth sports. At one point I referreed youth soccer games, and honestly, I passed out more yellow cards to the parents… but some of the kids’ behavior made me want to despair as well. My friend Cris McBride coaches youth soccer, and his team by all accounts does well; but he makes it a point to have the team play their last game in tutus and Groucho Marx glasses/eyebrows — so they remember not to take it too seriously. That will of course change when they hit competitive leagues. Sigh.

      I wasn’t trying to be fetch; but now you mention it…

  7. Well said!

    The flow is changing so quickly that the in crowd can be replaced very easily. As our “tools” get easier to use the ways they get used is really going to expand and there are many places newbies can learn from.

  8. So odd that I stumble upon this post. You are so preachin’ to the choir, and then some. I am actually on a “Twitter vacation” right now (@damnredhead), prompted largely in part of my own immersion in the echo chamber, and realizing many of the things you pointed out here.

    I, too, tire of those who call themselves “experts” (see “Your mom is an expert” I wrote a couple months ago here), and lately I had grown tired of people who had been on Twitter for 3 or 4 months suddenly writing posts and even ebooks on “Twitter etiquette” as if they had some God-given right to tell people how to use the internet. I signed up for Twitter in April of 2007, long before most of the people in my little corner of the Twitterverse, but that doesn’t make me any more special than anybody else. IMHO, it just makes me a bigger nerd and needing more of a life. Does it matter that I was on Facebook when it was only for college students? Does it make any difference that I was “online journaling” in the late 1990s, before the term “blog” was coined? Of course not. All that shows is I’m getting old.

    In the echo chamber, I do see the cliquey-ness and I try to ignore it, but at the same time I wonder if anybody else is noticing the paradox that people are missing the entire point of social media. Last I checked, the ethos of social media is to bring people together, not separate them.

    I think that a very useful attribute of the echo chamber, however, is that it has kept me grounded. Most people I encounter in daily life don’t know much (if anything) about social media and look to me for guidance, and I try to be as best a consultant I can be; however at the same time I also know (and I point out to them) that ideas, practices, standards, etc. are constantly changing in this realm and if there is any guarantee it is that there is more that one doesn’t know than one does. I’ve been reading more and participating less in the past few weeks, including taking my Twitter hiatus (that was only a few days ago), just so that I don’t lose touch of reality and assess how much people in “the outside world” (mine, anyway) don’t know vs. how much I do. It’s easy to get jaded, and it’s hard to pull away, but I think this is a good thing for me.

    I also should point out that as I read this I laughed because sitting on my desk right next to me is my copy of Cluetrain Manifesto, that I just bought (used) on Amazon to re-read, since I only read it online a long time ago.

    • alittleclarity

      You make a good point that there is always more to know. I find that there are a few people who really do think differently about social media; and they help me have my own “aha!” moments. But they are not, necessarily, the ones about whom the echo chamber clusters, eagerly awaiting the next pronouncement.

      I think you’re smart to take breaks. Sometimes I take breaks by accident; but a planned one, really noticing the nuances, is perhaps even better. I shall try it! And now I’m off to read your blog! Thanks for writing.

  9. Oh crap, I just realized that I’m logged into my wordpress.com as “admin.” Sorry about that, this is Stacy Lukas, a.k.a. “that damn redhead.” (thatdamnredhead.net or stacylukas.com)

    Sorry about that!

  10. Pingback: Acts of Sedition, Contrition and Prosti..tition? Why we still need newspapers like the New York Times « Alittleclarity’s Weblog

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