In Defense of Social Media

by Shannon Paul on August 30, 2009

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I admit it: I’ve shrugged off the idea that I have a personal brand, I’ve decried being labeled a “social media specialist” and my mood has seemed to dictate my level of involvement with any of this much more than any drive to achieve professional success.

In some ways I feel badly about this.

The truth is I’ve become jaded in some ways about the whole subject of social media and I’m hoping by writing this I can shake a bit of that off.

Social Media Is Very Important

Social media participation is still one of the most important things for businesses to be learning right now.

Social media isn’t dead and it isn’t dying. The idea that harnessing the power of word of mouth through people, technology and good content is still downright revolutionary and I’m proud of the fact that I get to work in an industry with so many fantastic people leading this revolution.

Some may dismiss this as the position of the “gurus”, but let me tell you I have never worked at integrating social media into an industry where participatory communication isn’t anything other than absolutely revolutionary. Almost every detail of integration is something that needs to be patiently explained in ways that continue to surprise me. This doesn’t mean others are dumb – only that my ability to articulate things that come natural to me needs to increase.

If my point of view on the subject doesn’t convince you – check out this really great study from Razorfish titled Fluent: The Razorfish Social Influence Marketing Report.

Take Me to the Echo Chamber, Please!

Echo chambers exist in every industry. If you read sports journalists every day and don’t think that’s an echo chamber of sorts, you’re sadly mistaken. Most sports journalists care more about asking questions that will impress the coach and the players more than any random fan. The tech industry? Oh please. The same can also be said about automotive news, fashion news, music, finance and the list goes on.

I love talking with like-minded people when I can because it helps push my ideas further and provide a little validation that the rest of the world doesn’t seem interested in providing quite yet. This is why echo chambers exist.

On the occasions I can engage one of my peers on a particular subject, it helps me grow. I’m sorry, but it gets boring feeling like an outsider all the time and it gets even more boring feeling like the smartest person in the room with respect to some of these ideas.

Echo chambers exist for a reason and they’re not some separate part of the universe that is totally out of touch with your much harsher reality. The nuances might differ between industries and between peer groups, but it’s all real and it’s nothing new.

What’s the ROI on THAT?

Social media engagement leaves a trail that most traditional media engagement still doesn’t provide: links. Most traditional media still exists in a vacuum that does not link to sources it cites. Calculating the ROI on that sort of engagement is next to impossible and full of all kinds of arbitrary math that rely on art more than science.

Social media engagement on the other hand leaves a digital trail and things like links and traffic can be measured and quantified in a lot of different ways.

The only problem is that the effect will always be larger than what can be captured. For instance, it someone sees a mention on a blog or social network and chooses to search for the company name in a browser rather than click the link directly – that will not be captured. Or, if someone reads something online and speaks to a friend at a party and that friend decides to Google the company name later on – that won’t be captured either. However, we always know that our effect is at least as large as what we’re measuring. Granted, this can become more complicated with different types of business models, but I think you catch my drift.

The stories we empower others to tell for us have a much greater impact than littering the web with a lot of one-way advertisements or begging for coverage in publications that refuse to provide a link as a point of reference for its readers…

The good news is that many mainstream publications are finally getting this. This great piece on Daddy Bloggers in the New York Times is one such exception.

When the news industry finally catches up to blogs in this respect, won’t all media be social anyway???

Enough with the RockStar Stuff

One of the thing that makes Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker‘s SOBCon conference so great is Liz’ insistence that either everyone in attendance is a rockstar or nobody is a rockstar. I know we like to prop each other up and I love that about the social media community. But, the truth is we’re all learning.

Sometimes I think when we say someone’s a social media rockstar, we’re somehow saying that what they do is a result of anything other than hard work and determination – and that’s wrong.

This isn’t easy. The good ones try to make it look easy, but it’s not. It’s work – very difficult work that means your personal life and professional life are forever fused in ways that almost never make rational sense, but still never really sound impressive to your family (at least not mine).

Say it Loud, Say it Proud

I love the promise of social media, or participatory media, and what that means for the empowerment of individuals and the evolution of business.

Is it okay if I admit I love this before I get back to work? :-)

Photo by Denis Collette…!!!
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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

August 30, 2009 Imran Anwar 1


You make very good points. Part of the reason there may be some “jading” occurring even in those of us who should be most consistently promoting social media is a combination of:

- self-styled gurus
- so-called experts on a subject with total ONE entry on their professional blog on the topic that a high schooler could have written better
- the vile spammers coming on scene
- the not so vile but still annoying “get more followers” idiotic posters
- the human weakness of wanting to be listed on top of this or that grading service (re: rock stars … which, ironically, but unrelated, is the name of an iPhone app we just sent to the iTunes Store!)
- the craze to have follower #s without any real connection
- the supposedly popular folks who do nothing but auto-tweet feel good quotes with hardly any direct communications

Slowly but surely, I have started un-following such “popular” but utterly meaningless presences in my online life.

As these currently visible but irrelevant factors fall by the wayside, we can expect social media to take off in the real sense towards it’s true potential.



August 30, 2009 Shannon Paul 2

I feel where this fatigue comes from and a huge part of me wants to do whatever it takes to distance myself from that crowd, but the other part of me says, simply: Welcome to the Internet. I know lots of people who went through all of this stuff the first time around and in so many ways it’s nothing new and just as important as the first go-round. Part of why we’re good at this stuff is because it’s utterly crazy to most people.

We navigate this world of hucksters and tricksters with grace, no? That’s actually valuable!

Not everyone can do what we do and that’s okay. We can’t do what they do either. As one of my coworkers always says, “the body needs all its parts”. You and I might have been some weird muscle that couldn’t flex appropriately until the world caught up. Don’t get down about it… Get Ripped! :D


August 30, 2009 Stacy Lukas 3

This reads like a confession at a support group, and for all intents and purposes, it is.

“Hi, Shannon! You’re among friends.”


August 31, 2009 Shannon Paul 4

Hey thanks, Stacy. :-)


August 31, 2009 Gerard McLean 5

The novelty of social media has worn off, but the average CPG brand, publisher, agency, sports team, trade association .. whatever .. company that would benefit greatly from social media is just catching onto it. But folks are now looking for the “next thing.” (Shameless plug, but short post with more explanation.

I remember trying to convince folks that this “new Web stuff will be big” way back in 1995. I remember people charging hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a simple Web site. I now feel the weight of being in a business where WordPress themes dominate and “that is so easy it will only take a minute” and “you are going to charge me HOW MUCH???” is the value of what we do. The tools have gotten better, but the fact remains that Web design and development is hard work that requires skill and craftsmanship. At least if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Social media is in that funny place where it is no longer new, no longer really valuable, not as widely used as it needs to be, but the “gurus and experts” are already in the process of commoditizing it. In two years, being a social mediaist will have no market value as it will be perceived as something cheap and easy; something a cave man can do.

That is why the smart folks are figuring out how to get out of the business (but stay in it), especially those of us who have been through the first dotcom devaluation. Nobody wants to be the last guy holding an inventory of buggy whips.


August 31, 2009 Shannon Paul 6

I disagree that social media isn’t really new or valuable. It’s still new to most businesses and it’s value is only beginning to surface – there’s a lot of ground left to cover.


August 31, 2009 Lindsey Thomas 7


This is a great post. I also feel jaded at times by social media, and reading this helps me realize I’m not alone. Stacy’s comment is exactly right!

I’ve had the Razorfish study printed and on my desk for weeks, so this has given me a reason to read it – now.


August 31, 2009 Shannon Paul 8

Good because I think Razorfish did a great job on that study and focused on a lot finding meaning in the data. I hope you find it useful, too. :-)


August 31, 2009 frank 9

I love how you made the ROI sound so simple. We all know that the ROI discussion is a tough and ongoing one that people have been trying to figure out for a while now.

It can be tricky to show the results, but when you really think about how it can help you improve your web (i.e. Google) reputation via gaining inbound links it all makes sense.

Be a person or organization that’s putting out content that is link worthy and over time you will see how social media can help you.

Selling that to the execs is tough without being able to show “real” results. Web traffic better or conversions better go up. More sales better get made. Customer services call times better decrease.

At the end of the day I love the fact that social media is still new to pretty much everyone. That makes it exciting and worth figuring out because those that do it now will be ahead of the curve.


August 31, 2009 Shannon Paul 10


Thanks for that. Sometimes ROI calculation is just that simple. Other times it’s not. I think it’s always better to tie the value to business goals rather than abstract concepts of “reach” and “talkability” factors when possible.

At our company it’s been very interesting to see the development between SEO and social media – I work with a really great SEO manager and we’ve been able to pinpoint how blog mentions result in our products ranking for new keywords in an organic sense (and the traffic that resulted from this).

I think other things like better opt-in opportunities and better “asks” of visitors to the site are up to other people on the team… to use a volleyball metaphor – social media sets the ball, but you need others there to spike it over the net. Social media won’t save a bad product, but it will fill the funnel with all kinds of great stuff. :-)


August 31, 2009 Jim Kukral 11

We still have rockstars though, like it or not. In any medium there are going to be those that go out and “do things better” than others. Those are rockstars, like you Shannon. :)

I agree with your premise though that we don’t need them anymore. We don’t, but we still have them, and will continue to have them.


August 31, 2009 Shannon Paul 12

Thanks for the kind words – I would say very much the same about you, btw. I think you’re right insofar as we will always have rockstars in any industry – those that soar above the rest.

I just resist the implication that people are rockstars because of some sort of berth of talent, or worse: social connection without qualification, rather than hard work. Bringing something totally new to an organization and bridging community relationships with corporate relationships is a difficult balancing act. That’s all.

Sheesh – I thought I was done ranting :-)


August 31, 2009 Liz 13

A very heartfelt post. Personally, I hate labels like “guru” and ESPECIALLY “rockstar” because they are usually used to flatter someone else and they seem very phony.

I worked in the music biz for 10 years and, believe me, social media folks aren’t anything like rockstars unless they are more promiscuous than they appear to be! Rockstars are fun people (at times), but are not always reliable…and professionalism is the bedrock of having authority & credibility that shows others you know what you’re talking about.

So, if your ambition is to make an impact in your field &, hopefully, the world, you don’t want to be a rockstar (reveling in your ego & accomplishments), you want to be a collaborator, you want to find smart people to work with & make a difference. Rockstars are about being the center of attention…social media should be about wide-spread participation of ordinary people & social change, whether small or large. My 2 cents.


August 31, 2009 Shannon Paul 14

I appreciate your 2 cents. :-)

Authority and credibility are the things we’re all struggling for in this business. Sometimes I think I get too hung up on semantics and I know everyone says these things with the best intentions, but at the end of the day I just want to do good work.


August 31, 2009 DaveMurr 15

“participatory communication isn’t anything other than absolutely revolutionary”

True words Shannon.

From someone who is somewhat new to this space, it can be frustrating to hear “social media is dead”. Perhaps it may be dead to some, but for those of us who are still very much interested in learning, this is far from the truth.

When a hobby becomes your job, it’s time for a new hobby, and keeping a distance when I’m off the clock has helped me keep a fresh perspective. I also try to use what I’ve learned to help build the community around me, all for the greater good. This has helped with a sense of purpose and drive. Which in turn invites opportunity to grow.

Thank you for sharing your perspectives. Like you said, the impression is that it is easy. It’s anything but.


August 31, 2009 Chris stocker 16

I agree with Jim that there will always be rockstars but from my short time being involved in social media the rockstars here love to share and give help which gives us all the opportunity to get to that level. In some way we are all rockstars to someone else.


September 3, 2009 Kåre Garnes 17

“never really sound impressive to your family (at least not mine).”

that is too funny! And true!

Every industry have pioneers, who work hard and boldly gowhere no man has gone. And with social media, this exploration sometimes turns into a popularity contest and we create “rock stars”. I think it’s in the nature of the industry.

Fortunately there is also a thing called “rock legends” and the legend status is reserved only to those who bring / continue to bring real value.


September 3, 2009 Rob Trojarian 18

What I find off-putting about the whole “social media” movement is that it seems to be trying to turn a tool into an industry. Self-labeled “experts” are trying to make the world believe that what they’re doing is new and unknown. They are passing themselves off as frontiersmen in a landscape that has already been well surveyed.

Social media (channels) are just a new tool for good old fashioned marketing an PR. Could good old fashioned marketing and PR use a make-over? Sure, but it doesn’t require the establishment of some fake new industry.


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