News of the World shutters. So what of social media?

The News Of The World is being shuttered amid allegations of phone hacking. IS there anything to learn for enterprise social media types?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Less than a few hours ago, News International announced that it is shuttering The News Of The World after 168 years. From the BBC:

This Sunday's issue of the News of the World will be the last edition of the paper, News International chairman James Murdoch has said.

In the past few days, claims have been made that the paper authorised hacking into the mobile phones of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and the families of 7/7 bombing victims.

Mr Murdoch said proceeds from the last edition would go to good causes.

Downing Street said it had no role or involvement in the decision.

The News of the World is the UK's biggest selling newspaper and has been in circulation for 168 years.

No advertisements will run in this weekend's paper - instead any advertising space will be donated to charities and good causes.

News International has refused to comment on rumours that The Sun could now become a seven-day-a-week operation.

The last few days, the UK press has been going nuts over allegations that The News Of The World, a Murdoch gutter rag, hacked phones including those of celebrities and politicians. That was bad enough but it was the alleged hacking of a phone owned by a murdered schoolgirl that really got people's attention. I won't bother with the details but the subsequent murder trial became better known for the appalling treatment of family witnesses at the hands of aggressive attorneys than the case itself which was concerned with a particularly heinous crime.

Both The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph started running live news feeds talking about the hacking backlash and the inevitable withdrawal of brand leading advertising support which continued throughout the day.

This is a very rare and extreme case of bad behavior. Yet it is exactly the kind of issue that prompts social media activists to encourage brands into engaging with customers by using social media. Even so, I cannot help but think that if anything, social media is no more than an insurance policy with a poor payback.

With the possible exception of Jeff Jarvis' Dell Hell, the number of issues one can bring to mind where individuals have had a genuine impact on brands is approximately zero yet still we see so called social media gurus punting the line that engagement is everything. It isn't.

In the Dell case, you can trace Dell's eventual waking up to the fact that Jarvis had a very large barrel of ink with which to beat up the company and which caught national attention. Some of those who have well developed personal brands leap at the chance of appearing in the NYT or Wall Street Journal. They know that regardless of Silicon Valley popularity, those publications carry genuine weight.

In my own case, some vendors seem to think I am an 'influencer' and jump on me in back channels if I say something with which they vehemently disagree. But even given the so-called power of the CBS/ZDNet brand combined with the work I do that never appears in print, there is one thing of which I am sure: influence is ephemeral and vastly over-rated as a measure of what matters.

Does that mean there will never be a case where a brand gets caught behaving badly and destroyed in the process? Of course not. What matters far more is whether those who support those brands are prepared to say 'no' and withdraw financial support. Regardless of the firestorm surrounding The News Of The World, that withdrawal of advertising is, I suspect, what triggered the decision to shutter. That above everything is why I support the buyer companies who pay SAP/Oracle/Infor/Microsoft/IBM et al wage bill. Money talks. Everything else is entertainment.

But then I am equally aware that nothing I say matters more than the words of those who often silently protest at the egregious activities of vendors who burnish their public image while at the same time stabbing each other in the back during the sales cycle. Or, in Oracle's case, make outrageous statements while hiding behind Safe Harbor.

Big media matters - a lot and despite promises to the contrary, we have a long way to go before the words of the individual take on real power. A very long way. So can we put all those social media gurus to better use by encouraging real service of the kind that delights rather than fear mongering?

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