NYT Article On Social Media Offers Platitudes, Generic Advice And False Expectations

Either due to lack of experience producing real business results or naivety as to what they’re talking about, many consultants and media professionals set the wrong expectation with social media marketing.

In a previous life as an account manager for social media and SEO programs I did a lot of expectations management. It’s a good thing when you are both realistic and honest here and gain trust with companies to work over 12 or 24 month timeframes on programs. This allows you to  produce real business results as opposed to 3 or 6 months where you really can’t achieve hockey-stick growth. The secret of the web is simple: patience.

SEO and social media are both long term commitments. There is little short term value to either of these tactics and it shows a lack of understanding of a marketer to say otherwise. Which is why it’s always irksome to see articles in MSM (or even other blogs) shouting platitudes about how social media is an instant marketing or career panacea. It isn’t. All these articles do is create more work on our parts as marketers and business leaders to reset expectations and get team members more comfortable.

A recent story in the New York Times is the latest example sharing social media marketing and career advice that I don’t think really helps anyone. I’m going to pull a bunch of quotes out of the story – not out of context because the story is really just bits & pieces of quotes from “experts:”

…If your company is about to release a new product or service, for example, social media can spread the word and increase your reach exponentially, David Nour says.

Readers here already see why these articles are bad. This is exactly the wrong viewpoint on social media from a previous generation marketing mindset. Activating an audience doesn’t just happen when you have a new product, it happens slowly over time. But you need to put in the work first. As we have said time and time again, you need to build your community before you need them – you don’t use social media purely when you are about to release a new product or service. That’s TV-industrial complex thinking.

Q. Does that mean it’s O.K. to start tweeting and blogging immediately?

A. No. If you are going to speak publicly on behalf of your company, you first need to discuss it with your boss. Many companies don’t have formal social media policies yet, so talk to human resources or the legal department about what you plan to do, says Douglas Karr.

Typical advice, take it if you want to be stuck in the same spot forever and slowly climb the corporate ladder. Do you see an opportunity for your company to engage in social marketing that would impact the business? You could ask for permission, but that’s not the mark of a leader. Do you want to be a change agent or do you always want to be viewed as a peon?

If you are ready to make change and be the Jack Bauer of your company stop asking for permission to execute: go off protocol and do it. Most companies and people are afraid of change so you’ll get a lot farther if you drag them forward (remember if you piss them off, it may actually be a good thing). I’ve found that once you’ve started momentum behind any project others will have a much harder time stopping you vs. if you ask permission it’s easier for someone else to say no.

In any marketing or PR forgiveness, not permission is the rule to follow. We’re not doctors, no one is going to get hurt. Lead or don’t. Karr continues:

“Let’s say your company releases a new product and you want to tell people about it,” he says. “The marketing department can give you a link people can use to find out more about the product, and it enables them to track who is responding.”

More earth shattering insights here. That the marketing department can give you a link to the product. Wow, thanks New York Times for running such informative quotes – 1999 called, they want their hyperlink back.

Also good luck spewing product or release links into social channels, report back to us how well that works out.

Never disclose proprietary or confidential information belonging to the company or its clients, says Sara A. Begley, a partner in the employment practice at the law firm Reed Smith in Philadelphia who advises clients about social media use in the workplace.

Captain obvious is upset that someone else is doing his job. Seriously, how is this useful to anyone? This isn’t social media-specific advice, this is something I might tell my 10 year old kid (if I had a kid). In other news, you shouldn’t email competitors a copy of all your company’s P&L spreadsheets.

Don’t comment on blogs anonymously. If you are discovered and your identity revealed, you risk an embarrassing response from those who believe that your company is having employees post positive comments on blogs, says Mr. Bernoff of Forrester. Identifying yourself as an employee allows those comments to be evaluated properly.

Come on Josh, no anonymous commenting? Ever? Don’t rule out any something just because some consider it taboo. As a strategist you should be open to all possibilities – the tactic could make sense somewhere. Heck, you could anonymously comment to purposely be found out and create controversy or even create novelty accounts for this purpose (do you even use web forums?). Also, real web culture (not business culture) involves anonymous commenting. And if your business wants to connect with real people that could involve using the web in similar ways. Some communities even embrace anonymous commenting.

This article was from the New York Times career coach so, clearly trying to help nurture a bunch of rules followers. Exactly the wrong type of talent your company should cultivate if you want to actually do something interesting in social media.

Do you want drones or team members capable of independent, critical thinking and able to quickly make decisions on their own? Maybe a previous generation of companies would have sought out drones to never question the rules and follow a process, but that’s not what will emerge as the in-demand talent of tomorrow.

Also go back and read the whole article – I don’t think The Onion could do a better job writing generic talking point about social media in a parody story. Just saying.