Is Corporate Social Media Poisoning the Well? - Social Media Explorer
Is Corporate Social Media Poisoning the Well?
Is Corporate Social Media Poisoning the Well?

Kat French
Kat French

Geoff Livingston’s controversial “Social Media Is Dead” post has had me thinking a lot lately about the future of social media and my personal place there.

Unlike a lot of social media professionals, I’m not taking offense at the thrust of Geoff’s post, which as I understand it was not about whether or not social media is going to continue to be a communications channel.  It was about whether or not it was still in the “lifecycle of adoption” phase that’s his vocational sweet spot.

I really think the infographic sort of said it all: he likes to be in the space between innovator and early adopter, and social media has (in his opinion) moved on to the late adopter/laggard stage.

What I’ve been wrestling with lately is, if indeed corporate adoption and participation in social media is reaching the late adopter/laggard stage, is that even a good thing?

I know.  Blasphemy in the halls of Social Media Explorer.  Not to mention crass hypocrisy because I make my living doing corporate social media.  So I suppose I should cough up an explanation PDQ, right?

Here’s the deal, in brief:

Corporations + Social Media = Government + Religion.

More blasphemy!  And adding politics and religion to the discussion!  The comments should be really fun on this post…

Okay, assuming that statement doesn’t get me kicked off Jason’s blog permanently, let me explain that a little better.

The original ethos of social media is similar to the original ethos of most religions; counter-cultural movements with an ethos of honesty, reform, generosity, and looking out for the interests of the  small and powerless (“the least of these”) against powerful and often corrupt institutions.

What happens when those institutions and movements merge?  Historically, the intent and hope is that the movement will reform the institution.

Unfortunately, the usual result is that the institution corrupts the movement.

When it comes to corporate misuse of social media as a communications medium, we don’t have to argue whether or not it’s going to happen. We already have plenty of examples of how it already has happened.

So where does that leave a person who has been drinking the social media movement Kool-Aid for a few years and also earns a living doing corporate social media work?

Pretty much right where I want to be, as it turns out.

It’s not just Geoff who’s ready to move on to greener pastures now that the new and shiny has worn off social media.  Take a quick look around and see how few really big-name social media bloggers are still calling themselves “social media [whatever].”

I respect that.  I’m a huge believer in working from your strengths, and if your vocational bliss is firmly planted on the front end of the adoption bell curve, that’s where you ought to be.

(c) Sony Pictures
"Poof! I'm outta here, boys!" (c) Sony Pictures

Here’s the challenge, though, gang.

The corporate social media genie, she has exited the bottle, never more to grace its groovy 60’s interiors.

Companies have entered the social media space because as a bottom-line, businesses go where the foot traffic is, and in 2009, the foot traffic on the social web is too big to ignore.

If companies are going to participate in the social web (and they are), odds are pretty good that they are going to do it badly (at least at first).  The wheel of probability pulls hard toward “they’re going to poison the well” moreso than “they’re going to allow social media to transform their business.”

Additionally, I would propose that the companies and organizations that reside in that fat tail of the adoption curve (late adopters and laggards) are disproportionately more likely to abuse social media than to embrace its ethos.

That means working with them to ensure that they see the long-term benefits of a sustainable, authentic engagement in social media, instead of trying to strip-mine the social web for some perceived fast-fix for their increasingly ineffective traditional advertising is going to be tough work.  It requires patience and perseverance and a high tolerance for frustration.  Not to mention a tremendous amount of integrity, because so many of them have already been burned by social media hucksters.

To go back to our religious metaphor, this work is not evangelism.  It’s more like pastoral work–“a long obedience in the same direction,” to quote Eugene Peterson–pointing our clients to the right path and helping deal with the fallout when they (inevitably) stray.

The biggest struggle is to actually keep steering against the current, and not to simply give up and just do whatever the client asks whether it’s a good idea or not.

(And Geoff, in the event you read this, to answer the question we talked about offline last week, my biggest mistakes in this work have been the times I’ve done exactly that–provided a client with exactly what they asked for, despite knowing it wasn’t what was best.)

This work is not for everybody.  It can be exhausting, and eventual burnout is almost guaranteed.  Honestly, moving to the greener pastures of the innovators on the bleeding edge seems pretty darn appealing, since presumably they at least cut you some slack for your mistakes because you’re boldly going where no one has gone before.

But this is where I am, and I seem to be well-suited to it.  If preventing or even slowing corporate social media participation from poisoning the well is a possibility, then it’s necessary and valuable work.  Even if social media is entering the realm of “so what?”, I’m sticking around.

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About the Author

Kat French
Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.

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