Social media hysteria…

Is it me or is the whole social media thing getting a little out of hand? It seems we Brits are especially good at hype and ‘bandwagon jumping’ onto the ‘next big thing’.

Whether it’s property development or ‘the Internet’ (web 1.0) we have a horrible habit of diving in as though our lives depended on It. And the smugness of those who get in early is palpable:

“So John, what yield are you getting?  Oh!  You mean you don’t have a rental portfolio?”

Says Bob, your regular Thursday night drinking buddy from the Kings Head, who last week couldn’t even spell portfolio but this week talks like he just picked up a PhD in the subject.

Cue a raft of self styled ‘experts’, ready to play on your insecurities, all claiming to know more about it than the next guy and banking on the fact they know more about it than you.

Well of course they know more than you – they don’t have a proper job like you and can afford to sit around all day catching up with all the other ‘experts’ and reading the latest reports. In the land of the blind there is this one eyed guy…

It seems to me that most organisations are struggling with social media because they are over complicating it.  They are seeing it as a marketing strategy in itself, rather than an extension of our natural inclination and ability to communicate.

Some time ago I was having a debate with Bill Boorman about social media guidelines for employees.  I countered that I don’t have a set of guidelines to help me converse on the phone so why do I need some to help me with social media.  Similarly, Tim Latham tweeted the other day asking why we need social media consultants now when we didn’t need ‘telephone consultants’ back when the phone was introduced in the 1800’s.  There is a valid point here and the comparison with the phone is a good one.

Social media, like the phone, is a framework, a network, an enabler of conversations, communities or movements and no more.  Sure, it’s likely to have a major impact.  But fundamentally, that’s what it is.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no harm in educating yourself to what’s happening in the market and there are some good educators out there that can share their learnings.  But remember the old joke about consultants borrowing your watch and telling you the time?  Social Media is no different.

If you find yourself wanting to know more I’d have a couple of recommendations for you.

Dive in and use social media yourself – Search out and connect with other companies that are using it and Learn from those that are also learning.  An hour on Google with a cup of coffee will give you plenty of leads.

Take a look around your office – If you work in a medium to large organisation you are likely to have a good cross section of employees, including some who are in their late teens or early twenties. Go over and talk to them.  Get them to remove their earphones for a minute and ask THEM about social media. Get them to show you their Facebook page and other tools they use to interact.  I guarantee that 60 minutes dialogue with them will give you real insight.  Oh, and don’t forget any ‘oldies’, like me, who may be using social media ‘cos we do you know!

I’m not saying that this is all you have to do, it isn’t.  Navigating the waters can be a real challenge and sometimes its good to do the journey with someone else at the helm with you.  But you could save yourself a lot of time and money, simply because its all so accessible, by doing some of the groundwork yourself.

OK, that’ll be £10k please!  But don’t worry, ill give you a discount on the workshops….

Like I said, there are some good ones out there who will do a great job of educating you but don’t abdicate or outsource the responsibility for getting into the conversations otherwise you will find that, once they are gone, the only real difference you will be able to see is the reduction in ready cash having spent it all on the experts.

Ultimately, we are in danger of becoming so obsessed with social media as an end in itself that we may ultimately miss out on the obvious and very beneficial outcomes of being in the conversation.


  1. Agree with some of what Gareth has to say here, but…..
    I think the point that this post misses is that in a tele conversation it is typically 1:1 sometimes more if it’s a tele conference and therefore managing the impact of that conversation is more in your control than a conversation that has the capacity to reach millions – yes, millions.. of people. Therefore, I do believe it responsible for employers to not police, but educate their employees in how they externalise communication that has an impact and creates an impression of that employer or brand.

    Yes, companies and brands only exist through individuals creating and building them, but if they do it properly, the brands will exist long after the individual is six feet under. To educate and encourage a workforce to embrace new forms of communication does not need to mean paying external consultants huge amounts, but it should form part of a consistent tone of voice and set of behaviours from anyone who is representing that employer or brand. After all, we would not necessarily advocate the freedom for all employees to have authority to **** about with the company website or latest TV campaign, so I don’t see why many other customer touch points should be any different.


    1. Thanks for your responses Andy and Elizabeth. This post was really about the proliferation of so-called ‘social media experts’ particularly on twitter who, clearly, are not experts. My point was to be wary if these guys because they will cost you dear.

      I’m not trying to draw a comparison between the phone and social media directly, more the differential in impact from it’s predecessor. The printing press reached and connected exponentially more people than it’s predecessor, the scribe. It changed the dynamics and undermined control. The phone did the same reaching an exponentially more people and once again pushing the boundaries of communication and control. Social media is just repeating the trend and it’s just as big a step change as the phone was to the printing press, proportionately. Every iteration of the communications framework has a significant impact, irrespective of the numbers involved.

      The fundamental thing that makes all the difference this time round is that as the communication infrastructures have grown and evolved, the world has not grown with it. In fact it’s what has made the world a ‘smaller’ place. And now, with social media we have achieved instant global reach – with instant being the operative word.

      And with that perhaps comes the point where we enter a new paradigm where we don’t have control. Perhaps it no longer makes sense to have a pr to manage your brand message because you just can’t control it anymore. Perhaps we are entering an era where traditional forms of marketing are becoming redundant, faster than we can grasp new ones. It seems these traditional forms of communications and marketing management are not able to cope without looking ‘controlling’ or lacking in authenticity.

      Like I have said in earlier posts. You can’t manage your brand on social media. Social media enables customers and employees to manage it for you. It’s out of our control now to a large extent and our only option, longer term, is to be in the conversation and learn how to influence it from the inside.


  2. While I think some of what you say Gareth is quite right ( and I particulalry enjoy the advice of “Dive in and use social media yourself”), I also think that you are being over simplistic.

    Yes you can do much of it yourself…..if you know where to look. Yes, you can try all the new tools, platforms and channels, but what is wrong with taking advice?

    People can (if they wanted) self teach themselves how to drive a car, but the majority choose not to, because they seek the proven experience and advice of an instructor.

    The same can be said of social media and social recruiting. Either they haven’t got the time, knowledge or even the inclination to want to spend the time self teaching and self-learning.

    >>> Can I just say this is not leading to a pitch for a workshop !! LOL <<<<<

    Elizabeth is correct, people outsource many parts of the work, and it seems that social recruiting/social media seems to be an area that businesses are (currently) happy to do that.


  3. Gareth

    Did you eat a Grumpy pill this week? Maybe Twickenham got to you 🙂

    You are wrong on a number of counts and as Andy says, over simplifying it all. You do have a set of guidelines for using the phone. If not, you could tell clients they are a bunch of tossers but you don’t for obvious reasons. Of course it is common sense but so is social media. I don’t however agree that companies are over complicating it. This whole online world is changing so quickly who knows what will happen next. Even the likes of Chris Brogan was “attacked” by declaring a sponsored post amount.

    You sound like you are jumping on the “beat up an expert” bandwagon yourself just to drive traffic – well, it worked. There are always cowboys in any industry and as soon as the housing sector picks up we’ll get loads of new property developers after a quick buck. The key is with anything, make sure you know what you want to achieve and pick someone who has delivered success for other clients. Be it learning to drive, run a marathon or write a blog – evidence of success should be the defining factor and not the number of friends, followers or posts.

    Best get my horse, I’ve a few workshops to run!!



  4. Hi All and thanks for the comments. Of course, i have over simplified this – its a blog post not a thesis. But the point is many try to over complicate it. And I did not say not to use anyone – read the post properly fella’s! – but was warning against the proliferation of pretenders out there who are touting themselves as experts when they are clearly not.

    And i dont have a set of guidelines for the phone, Peter. How i converse is already inbuilt in me, whether its the phone, on paper or online. Its part of my moral compass that is already formed. If I have a normal conversation on the phone one minute im not going to talk complete b*ll*cks online the next am i? (Although you probably think i do!) So lets stop pretending online conversations have never happened before or that rational human beings turn into lunatics once at the keyboard as some ‘social media experts’ would have us believe.

    And Andy, exploring conversations is not the same as learning how to drive! Stop bigging it up!


  5. Gareth

    I have to disagree. We all have social guidelines to how we behave in life (nothing to do with online). Where did you get your “inbuilt” standards or moral compass? Maybe Vodafone would ask why a supposedly rationale person does such a stupid thing on Twitter this week? It would appear on occasions people online do turn in crzy people because they can.

    I do however agree that there are a load of “experts” out there who have little or no evidence to back up what they say and should be avoided but just jumping in feet first well, that’s why mountain rescue exists for walkers with the same attitude. Maybe the social media rescue team can be formed very soon to save people from your gung ho attitude (only joking on this BTW).

    See you next week?? Love the attitude on this one 🙂


    P.S. Have you seen Andy’s driving!?


  6. Gareth,

    So glad you have missed the point and are still prattling on about the driving analogy I mentioned!

    To learn,you need to be taught – whether self taught or trained by someone else. Somepeople will choose your route, others will choose to be taught by the likes of Peter at his ‘cookery’ workshops! Nothing wrong with either, really,is there?

    Just for reference Peter and I can crash our cars with the best of them!

    Looking forward to next week’s track banter already 🙂



  7. Gareth

    Whilst I kind of agree with my learned friend Andy, he clearly has not been taught grammar or typing; his driving skills are also lacking. He was refused entry to my cookery classes as he ate the ingredients on the basis of “Why cook them first? They all end up in the same place – just eat everyone.”



  8. Yes, on this occasion i have to agree with Peter. Its not looking good for you Andy! My mum was my moral compass by the way, god bless her!

    And the Vodafone thing, yes now that was a training issue, agreed. But a training issue on how to use tweetdeck or whatever they use. They obviously use the tools to manage personal accounts as well as the vodafone account and did that awful thing of pressing the enter key without checking!

    Bill Boorman does this a lot but passes it off by saying that his account password has been hacked! 😉

    Im currently writing another post – social media hysteria 2 – which is a follow up and will obviously be very witty, insightful and will silence my critics!

    I don’t think i have ever looked forward more to an event that #Tru! Oh the power of social media!


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