Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's not social media, it's social me.

Some days, my Twitter feed seems like nothing more than narcissism. And Facebook, MySpace, YouTube – even the names seem designed to inflate egos. As for blogs, the typical post can be conveniently summarized thus:

Me me me me. Me me me me. Me me, me me me me me me me me. Me me me – me me me me me. Me me me me. Me me me me. Me.

For all the talk, all the conversations, all the to and fro, is anyone really listening?

This all came to mind one night, working late. I happened to look at the Twitter feed of a self-professed Famous Social Media Guru, a man who actually claims “inventions” in the field and runs a successful business telling people that unless they engage with social media right this second their brand, their careers, and possibly the world will all come to a sticky end. His Twitter feed is a relentless stream of self-promotion, self-aggrandizement and unalloyed self-congratulation. He claims to follow over 2,500 people on Twitter, an impossible task and a transparent technique to amass as many of his own followers as possible. His heavily trafficked blog is an unaccompanied Variation On A Theme Of Me, with occasional intermissions in which he pays tribute to other Gurus in a virtuous cycle of ebullient backslapping. He's not alone; there's a whole boatload of these characters. It makes me grind my teeth and want to go to a distant Trappist Monastery with a vow of silence and not even a dial-up connection to the Internet.

And it isn't just egos that are getting over-inflated. Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that investors are bidding up Internet and social media startups to levels reminiscent of the last Dot-Com boom. As straight-up, lets-make-money businesses, you have to wonder about the prospects of these social media outfits. We are, to paraphrase Gartner Research and Charles Dickens, at the peak of inflated, bubble-bursting, Great Expectations.

But wait. Might we be throwing out the proverbial baby here?

Can social media make business sense? For sure. In my day job, we use it very effectively to communicate with key stakeholders, and we've made major public announcement over our blog, with great success. It gives us transparent access to our customers, partners and fellow workers, and we get direct, fast, and unvarnished feedback in a way that was impossible with other media.

Can we link social media to real business outcomes that matter – say increased profits, happier customers, or lower overhead? Anecdotally yes, but we've still a long way to go. And lets face it, anecdotes don't count. This is why I remain convinced that measurement is the problem to crack. Measure the right things, and the right result will follow. In the meantime, see you at the monastery.


Jacques said...

Great point, Ian. So many feeds I read where I keep thinking of Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing, or even "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

Too much noise.

Jacques said...

Oh, and by the way: I live about 10 minutes away from an old Trappist monastery. Let me know if you need directions!


Ian Bruce said...

Thanks Jacques for the comments. I'm also reminded of the famous Gertrude Stein quote -- there's no there there.

Anonymous said...

for me, i still dont have twitter, fb, in etc...
just did not resonate all the much ado about nothing...

like when I am sitting in a cafe.. enjoying myself.. and I keep overhearing the chitter/chatter...

interesting for first few sec...
then.. back to what i was enjoying.
but i will get twitter soon
as its faster/cheaper/greater reach than text

so for customer service operations, super.
so for your use-case internal awareness communication, super
so i will get twitter as a new communication medium, not a channel, not a source of intelligence.

Anonymous said...


twitter is equal to widgets on a companies web page.

widgets like "get satisfaction" or "user voice"... so user/consumer can give feedback/ask question in "their context / right there hwere they are"

versus.. .navigate to contact us link.. (out of context now) and give feedback.

for me... social media conversations.. miss this all together.