Social media is not corporate media

Social media is not corporate media

Summary: Corporations are being pressured by legions of "experts" to exploit social media as a lucrative sales and marketing channel. This will destroy social media...


There's a gold rush going on as legions of self-proclaimed experts are working with corporations to help them monetize the potential riches in exploiting social media.

I look at the links and articles that social media "experts" are sharing all day long on Twitter, Facebook, etc, and it all boils down to this type of message: "Here are ways to turn social media into a lucrative corporate marketing/sales channel."

There are lots of services such as Klout, etc, that help corporations identify the people in social networks that should be targeted as part of online marketing programs. And there are hundreds of books written about how corporations can and should use social media to boost sales, profits, etc.

But social media is not corporate media. This is a very important distinction.

Social media is useful to businesses because it offers what Shel Israel and Robert Scoble call "naked conversations" you can listen-in to customers when previously you couldn't except through expensive market research focus groups.

But if corporations try to turn social media into a corporate sales or marketing channel then they risk losing the naked conversations, and the insight into customer behaviors -- it's no longer social media but some form of mutant corporate media.

I like the approach of the Altimeter Group, a business consulting firm founded by Charlene Li, which emphasizes listening. [Please see: Altimeter Group and the syndrome of the deaf corporation...]

Listening is a rare commodity in today's world where interruptions come every few seconds and distractions are just a click away.

Listening is important to conversations, yet most people wait to speak rather than listen to what's being said. (There are lessons here for businesses.)

Listening to social media also preserves the authenticity of what's being said. If people have to look over their shoulder to watch what they say or share, then it will be harder to be authentic. And if their social networks become swamped with corporate media then that will change the original nature of their communities -- their involvement will be lessened.

But there is a very strong push by the legions of self-styled social media experts to persuade corporations to turn social media into a corporate sales channel -- with the warning that if they don't do it their competitors will. And their competitors certainly will.

Which means social media as we know it will be changed as corporations rush to co-opt it to their agenda.

Yes, some corporations are using a light touch but the pressure is on to do more, far more involvement, more engagement, and to intercept conversations. This will damage the fundamental integrity of social media as we know it.

Corporations will try to engage too strongly, or in inappropriate ways; they will corrupt the very influencers that they covet through poorly thought-out marketing schemes; and social media will blend into a mutant form of corporate media.

Social media will survive but not in the same forms or in the same places that we find it today. People will react by moving their conversations into less visible corners of the Internet, into private groups/networks that offer a far higher quality of social interaction, more intimate, and more importantly -- sheltered from the ever vigilant and prying corporate eye.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • Agree. That monetization of trends also happends when

    large IT firms turn things like SOA, virtualization, cloud, etc into a lucrative corporate marketing/sales channel.
    • RE: Social media is not corporate media

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  • Spot on

    Tom you are spot on, this is to me a reason most companies today spend significant resources to build up their own channels, rather than join existing conversations
  • RE: Social media is not corporate media

    Right on Tom, listening is imperative and what we are finding on social media is that some companies are utilizing it like traditional media. Ex, let me hand over the social media strategy to the youngest person in the company and have them post 2 - 3 times a day, so wrong. I say, get a stakeholder involved to post and engage
    • RE: Social media is not corporate media

      @@ConvoCounts I'm confused by your suggestion. If a stakeholder was put in charge of the company's social media, wouldn't they also just be posting 2-3 times a day? The reason to have a corporate presence online is to reach as many followers as possible, so even though the medium allows for individual responses to each customer, it doesn't make any sense to do so. Engaging the customers individually means you can only reach a few at a time, which isn't an effective or time-efficient advertising strategy for any (every) company that wants to reach a wide audience. So, although Tom brings up good counterpoints in the article, I think the traditional corporate overuse of social media is sadly the most feasible option.
  • RE: Social media is not corporate media

    you have a good point, there is often a lack of listening in social media. However, it is not only on twitter and facebook. Both networks do not allow you to stop people from talking, however most of the time noone is really listening. In the case of Twitter there is also this perverted tendency to use the media a merely a communication protocol by tweeting a predefined text as an entry to a contests, sending promo codes, etc. I don;t think it's necessarily a bad thing but I do know for a fact that there is a lot more that marketing pros can do with Twitter than just use it as a very low cost advertising channel.
    What does amaze me however is the fact that there are still companies out there who have blogs not allowing for comments. Churning out dung is easy and I highly doubt that this is the best use of any employees time. Only the self proclaimed PR guru didn't really know how a company can use a blog as a client engagement platform. So that one ended up being a advertising and sales channel too ... and that's a damn shame if I may say so!
  • Agreed

    Pretty interesting stuff, Tom. I think you're right. It's no secret that the data, SEO and traditional media guys (and others) are coming into social thinking it's the same thing when it's something completely the converse. Way brand new. People are still wrapping their heads around it and it's going to take more time for folks to realize that the best way for them to get results, is to shut up, listen a bit, and get into people's lives.

    But then again, they'll say stuff like "well, what dollar return does engaging with a thousand people really get me?"

    *sigh* Do we have to keep explaining to these people that building trust points with your target market has always been business practical?

    So, their dollar results effect their stock prices, (for major corps) ok. Then that means, they have a bigger problem, and should consider reworking systems to align with the social revolution. It's easy for guys like us to see what's going on here, and to capitalize on it. If only it was as easy for everyone else. ;) Great post man.
    • penny wise, pound foolish

      The focus on the nickels and dimes... the specific value of everything in terms of dollars... has become a distraction from the value of the brand, and in many ways, actually reduces the real value.
  • Wheat from Chaff 2.0

    Biggest problem is what is real and what is staged- and if it matters. If organizations want to set or start a trend, all they have to do is plant threads that others will participate in and subsequently "turn the tide" of the discussion if they don't like where it's heading... and don't think for a minute that doesn't happen. It's been happening in YELP for a few years, which is why many readers and restaurant owners alike have a hard time with determining the value of the content. Competition can have their friends and family members bomb the reputation of another's business and praise their own and this can AND HAS gone back and forth for months on end.
    The same is true with other businesses in any sector- all it takes is a well orchestrated plan with numerous non-addresses submitting content and you become a "Beauty" or a "Beast" in a few simple steps.
    EVEN IF it doesn't go this far, comments submitted to on-line sources are either from people who had a REALLY wonderful or REALLY horrible experience, you don't hear from anyone who was marginally satisfied or displeased, so what is the real value of what you get? And lots of folks (believe it or not =) ) STILL aren't engaged when it comes to some of this social media stuff... I've spoken to a wide range of people in the 40+ age group who STILL don't trust it because of some of the horror stories that get published... and I've spoken to many 30- folks who use it fro their desired purposes and won't waste their time providing input to corporate "hacks". So unless you get solid demographics with the content/input provided, you have to determine HOW to go about determining what is wheat and what is chaff.
  • Good points but some caveats

    Tom -- good post. I can't disagree with anything you've said -- companies still think control, don't listen enough, and there sure are some smarmy, self-proclaimed experts out there who somehow get companies to pay them.

    All that said, in the b2b and b2g worlds I live in, projects need to demonstrate some kind of quantifiable ROI to get funded. Period. Naked conversations that don't lead to anything won't cut it. My engagements are always more quality than quantity plays, so that no doubt helps.

    If a client can publish truly interesting content on a regular basis (with my help of course), express an opinion, respond to comments and build an audience, there's nothing wrong with trying to appropriately monetize that audience.

    Some successful tactics my agency has employed include off-line events, registration required content and social media mapping that moves a prospect through the sales tunnel.
  • RE: Social media is not corporate media

    Nice, thoughtful article. Social media should not be manipulated for monetization goals; however, positive ROI can be organic if the rules of authentic engagement are followed. Listening should be the first step of any social media strategy. Social media channels are tools to build relationships and the focus should be on providing value to the community and not on some grandiose vision of directly driving sales. Zig Ziglar said it best, "You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." How do you know what they want if you don't listen?! Glad to see you quoted Charlene Li.