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 Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://blogs.dix-eaton.com/measurementpr-spectives/ Chuck Hemann

    Kat – a fantastic post, thanks. I read this post and Geoff's, and frankly I'm not sure what to think. Most companies realize social media could be an effective channel for them, though in many cases that's as far as they've gotten in their social media evolution. But to your good point they also see it as a way to replace a traditional advertising campaign that wasn't working, and we know that won't work. So if companies realize that social media can be effective, but haven't formerly engaged, does that mean social media has advanced past the infancy stage? I don't know.

    From an individual standpoint, I would agree that social media has advanced past the novelty stages. Most of us are here, and have been here for a little while now. We see the value. There's very little new thinking out there (this post and Geoff's aside). It can be nauseating at times.

    Thanks again for the quality post. I enjoyed reading it.

    • KatFrench

      Chuck – I think that the bell curve isn't defined so much by the numbers of companies adopting technologies, as by their general attitude towards new technologies. With that in mind, I think the late adopters and laggards end is much “fatter” than the innovators/early adopters end.

      So I think to your point, they are struggling to figure out how to apply it because they're not generally predisposed to believing that new technologies HAVE value.

      But the thing about social media is that it's not just technology–it's technology that is closely tied with a set of ideals and principles: authenticity, transparency, a platform for everybody, etc. The businesses and organizations in that fat tail of the curve will most likely want to apply the technologies without considering the ideals and principles that tech was created to support and enable.

      It's like trying to figure out a telephone if you're a monk who's taken a vow of silence.

  • http://blogs.dix-eaton.com/measurementpr-spectives/ Chuck Hemann

    Kat – a fantastic post, thanks. I read this post and Geoff's, and frankly I'm not sure what to think. Most companies realize social media could be an effective channel for them, though in many cases that's as far as they've gotten in their social media evolution. But to your good point they also see it as a way to replace a traditional advertising campaign that wasn't working, and we know that won't work. So if companies realize that social media can be effective, but haven't formerly engaged, does that mean social media has advanced past the infancy stage? I don't know.

    From an individual standpoint, I would agree that social media has advanced past the novelty stages. Most of us are here, and have been here for a little while now. We see the value. There's very little new thinking out there (this post and Geoff's aside). It can be nauseating at times.

    Thanks again for the quality post. I enjoyed reading it.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny

    It's like any business tool. You look at it, analyze it, then tear it apart and make it work for you and your clients/consumers and how they need it to work for them.

    It's about time more people had views like you and Geoff – I hate to use the term since it's one of my pet peeves, but the “echo chamber” is now really deafening. The honeymoon period is over (if there ever was one) and has been for a long time. Or should have been.

    No-one ever succeeded by standing still and nodding sagely. Well, except maybe the nodding dogs in the back of cars…

    • KatFrench

      I know you're right about businesses effectively “parting out” social tools and building a Frankenstein system that works for them.

      But then I remember how well that worked out for Frankenstein. Which gives me pause.

      • http://dannybrown.me Danny

        I think the thing with Frankenstein is the poor guy lacked any guidance – he never knew what he was all about or where he should fit in.

        Look after the tools (or the monster) properly and the monster should reciprocate in kind. ;-)

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny

    It's like any business tool. You look at it, analyze it, then tear it apart and make it work for you and your clients/consumers and how they need it to work for them.

    It's about time more people had views like you and Geoff – I hate to use the term since it's one of my pet peeves, but the “echo chamber” is now really deafening. The honeymoon period is over (if there ever was one) and has been for a long time. Or should have been.

    No-one ever succeeded by standing still and nodding sagely. Well, except maybe the nodding dogs in the back of cars…

  • http://www.mikespoints.com/ Mike Driehorst

    To answer your question, Kat, yes, corporations (and even individuals) are poisoning the social media well. But, that's a good thing.

    Already, there are enough supposed professionals in public relations, advertising and other traditional marketing communications who are giving others a very bad name with poor practices.

    And, the same definitely is being and will be done in social media. That's just a sign of mass adoption (but we're still not there yet; not even close).

    While that paints quality professionals with a broad negative brush, it does allow room for differentiation in the marketplace — as well as more education on the part of those quality professionals.

    So, welcome everyone in and, as you pointed out, keep “steering” them in the proper direction. Most will arrive there, and a lot won't.
    Take care,
    -Mike

    • KatFrench

      You make a good point about “professionals” in existing fields who poison their own industries. But I'd disagree that we're not even close to mass adoption. :)

      Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.mikespoints.com/ Mike Driehorst

    To answer your question, Kat, yes, corporations (and even individuals) are poisoning the social media well. But, that's a good thing.

    Already, there are enough supposed professionals in public relations, advertising and other traditional marketing communications who are giving others a very bad name with poor practices.

    And, the same definitely is being and will be done in social media. That's just a sign of mass adoption (but we're still not there yet; not even close).

    While that paints quality professionals with a broad negative brush, it does allow room for differentiation in the marketplace — as well as more education on the part of those quality professionals.

    So, welcome everyone in and, as you pointed out, keep “steering” them in the proper direction. Most will arrive there, and a lot won't.
    Take care,
    -Mike

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-S-Lima/577462704 Joseph S. Lima

    Hi Kat,
    I have yet to read Geoff's post but I think get the gist. There is the “ideal” of social media up till now vs the “reality” of today, which involves companies throwing up a FB group and declaring success. Reminds me of the early days of ecommerce, the excitement and buzz coming and going, and then the real work began. Perhaps we are in the same transition phase with respect to social media. I am looking forward to the evolving nature of the social web and finding the next shiny thing that has not been discovered.

    Thanks for the post!

    • KatFrench

      So it boils down to growing pains and the innate awkwardness of the maturation process?

      What would be a sign to you that social media had left it's teen years behind and truly become a mature media form?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-S-Lima/577462704 Joseph S. Lima

    Hi Kat,
    I have yet to read Geoff's post but I think get the gist. There is the “ideal” of social media up till now vs the “reality” of today, which involves companies throwing up a FB group and declaring success. Reminds me of the early days of ecommerce, the excitement and buzz coming and going, and then the real work began. Perhaps we are in the same transition phase with respect to social media. I am looking forward to the evolving nature of the social web and finding the next shiny thing that has not been discovered.

    Thanks for the post!

  • KatFrench

    Chuck – I think that the bell curve isn't defined so much by the numbers of companies adopting technologies, as by their general attitude towards new technologies. With that in mind, I think the late adopters and laggards end is much “fatter” than the innovators/early adopters end.

    So I think to your point, they are struggling to figure out how to apply it because they're not generally predisposed to believing that new technologies HAVE value.

    But the thing about social media is that it's not just technology–it's technology that is closely tied with a set of ideals and principles: authenticity, transparency, a platform for everybody, etc. The businesses and organizations in that fat tail of the curve will most likely want to apply the technologies without considering the ideals and principles that tech was created to support and enable.

    It's like trying to figure out a telephone if you're a monk who's taken a vow of silence.

  • KatFrench

    I know you're right about businesses effectively “parting out” social tools and building a Frankenstein system that works for them.

    But then I remember how well that worked out for Frankenstein. Which gives me pause.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny

    I think the thing with Frankenstein is the poor guy lacked any guidance – he never knew what he was all about or where he should fit in.

    Look after the tools (or the monster) properly and the monster should reciprocate in kind. ;-)

  • KatFrench

    You make a good point about “professionals” in existing fields who poison their own industries. But I'd disagree that we're not even close to mass adoption. :)

    Thanks for the comment.

  • KatFrench

    So it boils down to growing pains and the innate awkwardness of the maturation process?

    What would be a sign to you that social media had left it's teen years behind and truly become a mature media form?

  • http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/blog Geoff Livingston

    Kat: I think you are spot on. Almost every organization I talk to is doing some form of social media, albeit not well. Thus my chart. As to the rest, I've decided to listen from here on out and see where everyone else is at. Thanks for your support!

    • KatFrench

      Thanks, Geoff. I'm still a little puzzled at the response your original post got–it seemed clear enough to me. Methinks much scanning and kneejerk responses ensued.

      From my perspective the “doing some form of social media, but not well” is a wide-open opportunity. They've already gotten over the BIG hump of any participation at all and whether or not there's potential value. It's sometimes a lot of hard work righting the ship. Sort of like changing the tires on a moving vehicle. But you can't say it's not a challenge! ;-)

  • http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/blog Geoff Livingston

    Kat: I think you are spot on. Almost every organization I talk to is doing some form of social media, albeit not well. Thus my chart. As to the rest, I've decided to listen from here on out and see where everyone else is at. Thanks for your support!

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    Foot traffic, eyeballs and marketing expertise are all pushing corporations into the social space. I'm surprised that innovators and those like them are pushing off into another more vague space. To me it seems that much of this is still extremely infantile in terms of actual results and case studies.

    I don't think we've jumped the shark…yet.

    • KatFrench

      LOL… you know, even if Fonzie is in scuba gear, and social media isn't “new and shiny and cool” anymore… I'll probably stick around. Ultimately, I like stories and people and the web. So social media is my banana split of awesome.

      In fact, this may be the first time I've ever liked ANYTHING before and at the peak of it's popularity–as opposed to way after it's gone “mainstream.”

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    Foot traffic, eyeballs and marketing expertise are all pushing corporations into the social space. I'm surprised that innovators and those like them are pushing off into another more vague space. To me it seems that much of this is still extremely infantile in terms of actual results and case studies.

    I don't think we've jumped the shark…yet.

  • KatFrench

    Thanks, Geoff. I'm still a little puzzled at the response your original post got–it seemed clear enough to me. Methinks much scanning and kneejerk responses ensued.

    From my perspective the “doing some form of social media, but not well” is a wide-open opportunity. They've already gotten over the BIG hump of any participation at all and whether or not there's potential value. It's sometimes a lot of hard work righting the ship. Sort of like changing the tires on a moving vehicle. But you can't say it's not a challenge! ;-)

  • KatFrench

    LOL… you know, even if Fonzie is in scuba gear, and social media isn't “new and shiny and cool” anymore… I'll probably stick around. Ultimately, I like stories and people and the web. So social media is my banana split of awesome.

    In fact, this may be the first time I've ever liked ANYTHING before and at the peak of it's popularity–as opposed to way after it's gone “mainstream.”

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Kat, you know I love you, but count me in the ranks of people who think this “Social Media is Dead” argument is the stupidest, most selfish thing in the world.

    With all due respect to Geoff, who has certainly paid his dues, it feels disingenuous to call on the world to join us in social media land, only to declare social media dead and bail out as soon as the world gets there.

    I get it. Being an early adopter is cool. We (EAs) revel in being rebels, and we band together. And as soon as everyone else wants to join our club, we quit?

    Chicken shit.

    Whatever happened to having the courage of your convictions? If you want to run off in search of the next great thing, fine, but don’t tell those who followed you to the Promised Land that the Promised Land is a barren desert.

    And, I’m sorry, but the adoption of social media in Corporate America is a bad thing? WTF? If this powerful medium is, in fact, the agent of change we all profess it is, don’t we WANT it to seep into Corporate America? Don’t we WANT it to be an agent for progress?

    Maybe we’re just afraid to do the REAL heavy lifting. The hard work isn’t screaming into the wind hoping old school businesses give you a 30-second audience. The hard work is showing the perseverence to guide them in adopting the changes we’ve called for.

    Yes, you’re right: The institutional mores and cultures are more likely to change the new media movement than vice versa. So? We bail and go look for a newer “ooh shiny” so we don’t have to fight for what we believe in?

    As for those “forerunners” who are taking “Social Media This” and “Social Media That” out of their titles…fine. Go make up a new title. Titles don’t matter anyway, right?

    I’m sorry for being so combative about this, but it just seems the “Social Media is Dead” cries aren’t the hopeful chants of innovators, but the tired surrenders of world-weary idealists disappointed that the future didn’t look exactly as they designed it.

  • http://hightalk.net/ George Snell

    Glad you are sticking around, Kat. Lots of food for thought, but I have to disagree with most of what you're saying. There's no right or wrong way to participate in social media. And what exactly is the ethos of social media? Was there a vote to adopt one that I missed ;-) I outline more of my thoughts here and would love to get your reaction: http://bit.ly/ASUPq

    Keep up the good work!

  • http://hightalk.net/ George Snell

    Glad you are sticking around, Kat. Lots of food for thought, but I have to disagree with most of what you're saying. There's no right or wrong way to participate in social media. And what exactly is the ethos of social media? Was there a vote to adopt one that I missed ;-) I outline more of my thoughts here and would love to get your reaction: http://bit.ly/ASUPq

    Keep up the good work!

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  • MPad1

    Social media are different from other media but also similar in that they are media — vehicles for communicating messages and conversing about them. The key is understanding the media and effectively using it. Some more at: http://domusinc.blogspot.com/2009/06/agencies-a….

  • MPad1

    Social media are different from other media but also similar in that they are media — vehicles for communicating messages and conversing about them. The key is understanding the media and effectively using it. Some more at: http://domusinc.blogspot.com/2009/06/agencies-a….

  • http://www.facebooklicious.com/services/facebook-game-developer Facebook Game Developer

    Social Media never dead because it has a lot potential for webmaster and social media peoples. It really helps and leave great impact for any website anytime. Quite informative post. Thanks

  • http://www.facebooklicious.com/services/facebook-game-developer Facebook Game Developer

    Social Media never dead because it has a lot potential for webmaster and social media peoples. It really helps and leave great impact for any website anytime. Quite informative post. Thanks

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  • http://vender-casa.atspace.com/ Logon suunnittelu

    very interesting point.. Hmmm..

  • http://vender-casa.atspace.com/ Logon suunnittelu

    very interesting point.. Hmmm..

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