Social Media Hysteria revisited…

Seems like I touched a raw nerve with my last post so I thought id follow it up to expand on some of my thinking.

First of all, lets get things into perspective.  Social Media is just that.  Media.  Text on a page, data over wire/fibre.  It refers to frameworks and tools.  In its most recent incarnation it’s a raft of new and not-so-new software in the guise of applications and sites, some of it good, some of it bad.  That’s it.  It’s an enabling set of technologies just like the telephone.  No more.

What travels across the social media framework is the important bit – the conversations. And that’s all they are.  Opinion fuelled sometimes yes.  But conversations nonetheless.  And these conversations, despite what the ‘experts’ would have you believe, have been going on since the dawn of time.

That’s not to say that what the social media framework enables isn’t significant or new, because it is.  It has amplified the conversations and multiplied the sense of connectedness.  And this has huge implications.  Its a major leap forward in opportunity.  But, just like the late 90’s with ‘the internet’, we have become largely obsessed with the framework instead of the important bit – which is the content, output or opportunity that it enables.  We talk about ‘social media’ more than we do ‘conversation’ or ‘community’.  And this is where the problem lies.

I saw a post recently – Top 5 reasons brands fear social media.  If we re-wrote that literally it could read:  Top 5 reasons brands fear wide area networks or fibre optic cable.  Is it me or does that sound pretty dumb.? Of course it does.  So what the headline is really saying is:

Top 5 reasons brands fear a set of new tools that allow customers/employees to talk openly and publicly to each other about the brand/company’.

Much better because it actually articulates the real issue here – the inability of an organisation to deal with open and honest feedback from customers and employees.  This is not a new phenomenon.  All social media does is amplify the conversations to an extent that as a brand/organisation you cannot ignore or control it.  And that, as far as I can see, is actually a GOOD thing.

Now, having established that these are conversations, which are not new, is it really appropriate then to suggest, as Ayelet Noff does in the above post, that you should not “start doing social media on your own with­out hav­ing a social media guru at your side?”  Sorry, but i just don’t buy it.

These are issues of engagement, authenticity, value, response, reputation, communication, branding. Issues that organisations have faced before.  And there are already plenty of people out there with real, proven experience of working in these areas who are much better placed to help than some self styled ‘Social Media Expert’.

Sure, the tools in some cases are new.  And I’m not denying that it can be useful to have someone update you on the landscape, what’s out there and how the tools are being used.  But please lets not allow allow a group of pretenders to scare us into not making a move without their say so.

Of course there are pitfalls, and mistakes will be made.  But the impact of what might happen if we dare to step in and engage ourselves has been blown out of all proportion.  Enough is enough.  I stand by what i said in my last post – learn from those who are also learning.   Not only are you are likely to get a more objective view, you will probably save yourself a lot of money.


  1. Hi Gareth, I’m not sure I can really add anything to this, and particularly to the comments on your last post, but I’ll have a try.

    Social media may just be media, but it’s certainly of a different sort ie platform vs channel and emergent etc. The best way I can think of to describe this is that my experience of blogging etc, and particularly tweeting, is very different to yours, because we both follow other people.

    Our experience of fibre optic cable is fundamentally the same. Our experience of social media is not.

    It’s this thing about not being able to control the experience that I think is at the heart of many organisation’s fear about social media.

    And can social media experts help organisations understand, manage and work through these fears? – yes they can (assuming they really are experts I suppose). But I agree with you (I think) that the best way for someone in an organisation to understand the experience and the validity of their fears is to do social media them self – either starting in a low risk area in the organisation – or as an individual.


  2. Just catching up with these posts Gareth and I’m inclined to agree with you. Yes things can get complicated, yes there are dangers and yes there are people who can genuinely help. However from what I’m seeing a company’s success in social media has to come from within. I think you and Mervyn are great practical illustrations of that within your business.

    Also lets not forget there is no social media university or accreditation, anyone calling themselves an “expert” will only be so because they experimented with the tools themselves at some point. Perhaps the large amount of “social media experts” indicates that isn’t very difficult to master the techniques! Yes of course there are dangers but don’t we also always say the biggest danger is not to participate.

    I think the key to all of this is actually nothing to do with “experts” it’s more to do with the culture of the company and it’s willingness to experiment and be “social”. If those two things aren’t in place no consultant in the world can manufacture them. If they are there then an outside influence could do a lot to help but ultimate it’s down to company itself to ensure success


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