Anti Social Media?

An interesting question that I’ve been asked a few times:

“Is social media really social?”

With the proliferation of opinion on the Internet, there are bound to be polarising opionions but what worried the person asking the question was that there is so much negativity and trolling associated with the online and social media space. From forums to Digg to YouTube, you only need spend a few moments online to see the brazen insults and bad behaviour. It’s not like this is new. In fact it was promised, nay sold to us as part of the attraction, in the Cluetrain Manifesto. A few years ago Kathy Sierra ceased her blogging efforts and deprived the world of an absolute tonne of value. I wrote about it and flagged one of the protagonists’ passages from Cluetrain.

Perhaps I should’ve known better. In Cluetrain’s first chapter, Locke eulogises the glorious flame wars of the early net as great intellectual duels – like great Norse warriors who, instead of war hammers and mystical javelins, use words as their weapons. Words such as:

Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your code is so brain-damaged it won’t even compile. Read a book, moron.


Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your dog is so brain-damaged it won’t even hunt…

More recently we saw the Nestle Facebook page “moderation” debacle where a moderator, being flamed by trolls, is taken to task for sticking to his/her guns and interacting with the trolls as if they were both humans having a spirited debate over a drink in a pub.

An excerpt of the ensuing dialogue:

Paul Griffin: Hmm, this comment is a bit “Big Brotherish” isn’t it? I’ll have whatever I like as my logo pic thanks! And if it’s altered, it’s no longer your logo is it!

Nestle: @Paul Griffin – that’s a new understanding of intellectual property rights. We’ll muse on that. You can have what you like as your profile picture. But if it’s an altered version of any of our logos, we’ll remove it form this page.

Paul Griffin: Not sure you’re going to win friends in the social media space with this sort of dogmatic approach. I understand that you’re on your back-foot due to various issues not excluding Palm Oil but Social Media is about embracing your market, engaging and having a conversation rather than preaching! Read and rethink!

Nestle: Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it’s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus.

Darren Smith: Freedom of speech and expression

Nestle: you have freedom of speech and expression. Here, there are some rules we set. As in almost any other forum. It’s to keep things clear.

Paul Griffin: Your page, your rules, true, and you just lost a customer, won the battle and lost the war! Happy?

Nestle: Oh please .. it’s like we’re censoring everything to allow only positive comments.

The talking heads, the pundits, the self appointed experts will tell you that you need to talk to your consumers in a human tone, to join the conversation, to interact, to let the community decide. Then when this happens, they tell you that you can’t treat customers like that – even though I highly doubt Mr Griffin would ever be a customer of a brand he is so willing to flame.

Putting aside the strategic and mechanical debates to this – should Nestle be on Facebook, did they have moderation guidelines in place, how should the organization respond – it seems to me that the whole “join the conversation” thematic is tired, overused and completely irrelevant in terms of brand marketing. If it isn’t all of these things, it is at least a very once sided conversation to which only the cool kids are invited to and in which the non-cool kids are teased mercilessly.

The cool kids like Starbucks and Zappos get welcomed with open arms as pundits and experts cast their critical eyes over sub-par (in their minds) efforts from lesser brands.

  • How dare they include a URL in their TV spot
  • What right has this brand got being on Twitter?
  • Did you see how this marketing person reached out to influencers?

I could go on. The wonderful thing about social media is that it levels the playing field (somewhat). Brands and organizations can interact with their consumers and stakeholders as peers (brands with marketing/media dollars can interact with more of them!) and everyone can vote with their mouse and unfollow those who don’t add value to their lives. I think its time we accepted everyone can come to the party, not just the cool kids.


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