The 'Social Media' Conundrum

Summary:I'm fascinated by '30's depression era attempts to foster business innovation, not least because of the financial challenges that seem likely to dominate our coming years. Surprisingly I've found The Rotary International Club is in many ways a precursor to the looser social media movement which has been a feature of Web 2.

I'm fascinated by '30's depression era attempts to foster business innovation, not least because of the financial challenges that seem likely to dominate our coming years. Surprisingly I've found The Rotary International Club is in many ways a precursor to the looser social media movement which has been a feature of Web 2.0 thinking.

The 'Rotarian four Way Test' was developed by Rotary club member and entrepreneur Herbert J. Taylor during the Great Depression as a set of guidelines to help restore faltering businesses, and is still a hallmark of a movement originally set up in 1905.

The Rotary International ethos by which ventures are judged:

* Is it the truth? * Is it fair to all concerned? * Will it build goodwill and better friendships? * Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

There are many echoes of current social media messaging in the post 1929 wall street meltdown business climate which spawned this ethical set of values.

Brian Solis, a deep thinker around social media who regularly produces excellent blog posts and graphical depictions of the associated tech venture topography, runs FutureWorks, 'an award-winning PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley.'

The PR profession struggle to gain traction in successfully peddling influence is well known through marketing history, and the Rotary International principles above don't immediately resonate with the cocktail swigging PR person cliche.

Brian's latest post 'The State of Social Media 2008' is a good call for transparency and honesty (obviously it really helps if the products FutureWorks are pushing are reputable, ethical and have utility). There are echoes of the ''Rotarian four Way Test' in some of Brian's long post:

...There’s a bigger, more significant opportunity to make a true impact within an organization. It all starts with a deep commitment to the brand you’re representing, its culture and personality, overall potential, and the people who define the organization, otherwise, you’re pushing training workshops on how to use new social tools, which really doesn’t help you achieve your potential nor the true capabilities of you and your team.

While we all push transparency, we must also swallow the “red pill” to help us find truth and free us from complacency. Whether or not you’re a fan of The Matrix, the red pill symbolizes risk, doubt and questioning, while the “blue pill” represents normalcy, comfort, and routines. Basically, we’re committing to renewal, self-discovery and an openness to change and learn. It's finding comfort outside of our comfort zones.

It’s one thing to be genuine, but it’s altogether different to translate and effectively communicate what you epitomize to the various markets and what they’re seeking.

Being human is far easier than humanizing your story.

It’s a customer service mentality as opposed to one of customer empathy.

Feel it.

Live it.

Breathe it.

Be it.

Clearly as a marketer the goal of finding where the conversation is and joining in is a great one, context and relevance is king in the PR space if you are to be noticed in a good way. This craft is not new and successful practitioners such as FutureWorks are adept at this.

The challenge for the social media movement as it matures is the 'all things to all people' problem. Manipulating media with marketing messaging is an aspect of 'Social Media' but there is a dangerous blurring which extends this thinking to internal enterprise collaboration.

Fashionable books such as 'Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies ' promote the benefits of social media around successfully communicating marketing messaging to customers and partners, and various vendors are pitching in with step-by-step guides on how to implement social media strategies plus ROI tools to help them sell the business case for social media inside their prospect company.

The blur is in the crossover of this outbound marketing thinking to attempt to proscribe it to internal communities, which are a very different animal to fostering conversation with customers and partners around product. The internal mechanisms of corporations are typically rife with secrecy and rivalries as the workforce expands and contracts. IT departments rule the roost running user controls, workflow and support, audits, backup, security, reporting and email. The battle for innovation vs conformity inside businesses is a totally different world to getting marketing messaging out to communities.

While Brian Solis is doing a sterling job of helping define the marketing aspects of social media, the breathless 'discovery' of new web 2.0 tools by other social media mavens and propagation to their echo chamber on blogs and Twitter is what really seems to rub IT people up the wrong way.

Shadow IT is as stressful to IT departments as the shadow banking system has been to the world economy.

Naive proponents of social media as the solution to management handling of internal hierarchy and collaboration are doing the more positive aspects of the movement no good at all. Fashionable lightweight panaceas to difficult problems can give a bad name to other worthy 'shadow IT' enterprise 2.0 tools with genuine practical utility.

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

With extensive senior management practical experience in international enterprise collaboration, Oliver previously managed the Sony PlayStation 'WorldWide Studios' collaboration extranet, and has worked with the American Management Association, Sun, Docent/SumTotal Systems, Harvard Business School and McKinsey & Company on major initiativ... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.