Top 5 SM Trends That Should Die Before 2009

This was going to be another rant in the style of my ‘grinds my gears‘ post of a few weeks ago but then I thought, hey, everyone loves a top-five list, right? And isn’t that the New Year’s thing to do, really?

I already wrote the requisite post looking forward to 2009 after the last Social Media Breakfast so this time I’m taking a different take. Enough talk about what 2009 will bring, let’s focus on what is best left to the annals of history; what should we leave behind in 2008? And pour yourself a coffee, this bad boy is LONG.

Now, without further ado, the Top Five Four. I decided to truncate the list after I crossed 1,000 words. Number five wasn’t very convincing anyway.

4) Making interaction into a transaction – Or, worded less pretentiously, auto-responding new followers on Twitter. And stuff. The Twitter example is probably the best and most tangible example so I’ll focus on that, though the greater theme articulated in the fancy-schmancy wording above applies to more than just the microblogging platform, I think.

Lounge around the twittersphere (twitterverse? twitworld?) long enough and you’re bound to encounter this phenomenon. Find new and ostensibly interesting person. Follow them. Immediately receive a direct message like “Hey, thanks for the follow!” I actually followed someone once who immediately replied with a thank you and a link to a special offer for his Twitter friends, a free copy of his e-book!


Here’s the thing, folks. I followed you on Twitter. A service predicated on the personal nature of interaction. I followed you because you had interesting and original things to say. Most likely I followed you in the hopes of one day having a conversation.

And you come back at me with an automatically-generated, absolutely impersonal, completely meaningless auto reply?

Interestingly enough, Chris Brogan – a man far wiser than I – started discussing this on Twitter just last night based on this blog post and this blog post, which is going to make me look like I’m cribbing ideas. But I promise, this enraged me the first time I encountered it, I was just too lazy to blog about it until now.

It’s stupid and it defeats the purpose. Auto-replies work for email because it’s an inherently impersonal medium. It is, at its core, a transaction. Twitter and SM aren’t. Don’t treat them as such.

3) Popularity Contests – I admit, I was momentarily flattered when I was nominated as one of Canada’s most influential men in social media. And I’m sure the dozens of people who read this blog and follow me on Twitter were stoked for their boy. But, putting aside for a second the fact that I am going head-to-head with the likes of Mitch Joel, Joe Thornley, Bob LeDrew, Colin McKay, (should I go on?)… you know, people who other people pay to listen to… putting all of that aside for a second, this might be the most ludicrous idea for a poll I’ve ever heard of.

First, isn’t the glorious thing about social media the fact that it transcends traditional barriers and classifications? Why does it matter if a SM advocate is Canadian, or a man, or right-handed, or green eyed? And while I’m ranting (it is my blog, after all), who defines what an influential person is? How many followers someone has? Their blog’s technorati rank?

[Sharp readers are starting to notice a theme to this top five list].

It’s not about numbers, it’s how you use them. It’s not about transactions, it’s about the quality of interactions. I personally think Ryan Anderson is the most influential person on that list but that’s a completely subjective measure. Ryan introduced me to Twitter, Ryan dragged me to my first Third Tuesday and Ryan was the guest speaker who drew me to my first Social Media Breakfast. Perhaps coincidentally (perhaps not), Ryan was the only person on that list I knew in the real world before I knew him in the online world.

Does that mean Ryan is more influential than, say, Mitch Joel? Mitch Joel who writes regular columns in the CanWest papers (gasp! A MSM spy in our ranks!)? To me, yes. To others, no.

The Oscar adage holds true, it is an honour to be nominated. And it’s a great way to find new blogs to read. But let’s not pretend it’s anything more than a popularity contest. It is set up to glorify or reward people based on the same dated metrics we decry when the mainstream media use them. It runs counter to the democratization of ideas that we all profess to hold so dear.

2) Ego Services – Dave Fleet wrote a great post on this subject awhile back. He focused on the potential foibles associated with a service like Qwitter, which (more or less reliably) tells you when someone stops following you on Twitter so you can harass them to find out why. Another service, Twitterrank, caused a stir when some alleged it was an ego-driven phishing scam.

For me, though, the problem with ego services isn’t so much what can go wrong with them, it’s that they exist at all. Most of my rationale for this can be found under #3 on this list so I won’t waste time restating my case. And, in looking for the link to Dave Fleet’s post, I found that once again he beat me to the punch and made a great argument against yet another new potential service, Twitter Authority Rankings.

Who cares if someone has 1,000 followers, who cares if they have a Twitter Grade of 100, if they don’t have something interesting to say (from my perspective – like ‘influential,’ ‘interesting’ is a purely subjective measure) I won’t get anything out of following them.

1) The rise of the expert – Are you sitting down? Good. Because I’m going to shock you now. You are not a Social Media Expert. Neither am I. Neither is Chris Brogan or Shel Israel or any other incredibly intelligent person who devotes their life to writing, thinking and talking about social media (perhaps tellingly, I’ve never seen either of them call themselves a social media expert – just for the record).

It is impossible to be an expert in social media because social media is constantly changing. It is, at best, a loosely defined concept subject to an individual’s interpretation, and, at worst, a meaningless bit of jargon we apply to make ourselves sound smart. Want proof? Read Susan Murphy’s recent post examining the thriving social media network in Arborg, Manitoba.

Sure, you can be a Social Media Advocate. Or a Social Media Consultant. Even a Social Media Strategist. But applying the ‘expert’ label is basically one big red flag for me. Because it implies you understand it. It implies you know all you need to know.

At the risk of picking on poor Mitch Joel (I don’t know him personally but in our limited online interactions to date I get the feeling he can take it. If not, sorry Mitch!), he tweeted and blogged a few weeks ago that he’d just discovered TweetDeck.

One of Canada’s most influential men in social media, one of the few who has crossed over and written about digital marketing in mainstream publications, didn’t know TweetDeck? I’ve used TweetDeck for months!

Please understand, this is not a condemnation of Mitch Joel. If anyone I’ve talked about today deserves the ‘expert’ label, it’s Mitch (though to his credit, he’s never applied it to himself either). What it does, though, is illustrates just how impossible it is to ever learn all you need to know about SM.

Wow, longest post ever. As a reward to those who read (or skimmed) to the bottom, I steal from the ever-hilarious Hugh MacLeod and present one of his series of “Social Media Specialist” cartoons.


  1. Hi Joe,

    Love your writing style!

    Just did a full post on auto responding on Twitter. So, won’t go there! = )

    However, I am not sure sure about how you are defining “expert.” To me, it is a credible source. Chris Brogan, Shel Israel, and many others make the cut. They live and breathe it. They get it.

    But, why does one have to get it ALL. Like there is some full stop somewhere in order to be an expert? All fields are growing, and keeping up is an expert’s job. I am not sure there is an conclusive “all-knowing” sense that makes an expert. : )

  2. How is Twitter less impersonal than email? I’d love to see you compare and contrast the two from that perspective in a future post. Yes, it’s a test.

    I use an auto-DM for new followers. No links in it, or pointers to Facebook… just a simple thank you. Nobody’s un-followed me as a result yet. Getting an auto-DM is no more noxious to me than any tweet (direct or otherwise) that doesn’t excite me — I just read it and move on.

    Good post, anyway. I think 2009 will be the year that Twitter’s signal-to-noise ratio finally improves: people will stop arguing about what twitter is for and just start using it; “social media experts” will become the telemarketers whose calls we ignore.

  3. Great list Joe.

    I find inspiration here to write a post of my own on the qualities of a social media expert. Now I just need to find the time!

    But what I enjoy most is knowing that I met you through social media and it turns out in the early 1990s that your dad was a client at my first PR job. Social media has shrunk the world. And I find that a lot more interesting than I do reconnecting with old high school classmates via Facebook, the latter which I hardly find interesting at all to tell you the truth!

  4. LOVE this post–you are so right on with all four. The popularity thing in particular–both with regard to the ego services and the expert thing. If I went by the number of followers I have on Twitter or the number of people who read my blog, I’d have shut the studio down long ago Which would have been a shame since I’ve made some great connections and great friends via both, even though the numbers on paper may be sparse.

    What is a real shame is that I think many people do buy into the numbers thing and think that since they don’t have hundreds of followers that nobody cares about what they’re saying. I follow I think 85 people on Twitter, and over the past few months I’d say 3/4 of them have basically stopped tweeting–I’m sure because they thought nobody was listening and/or that they couldn’t compete with the “experts” who have thousands of followers. I really miss hearing from them and it really diminishes the value of Twitter for me, because what makes it fun and unique is hearing from all different kinds of people who are into all kinds of different stuff.

    And amen about the expert thing–even if you stay on top of this stuff 24/7 you’re still going to miss something.

  5. Wait … people pay to listen to me? It must be because I have green eyes *flutter*.

    And for the record, I don’t use Tweetdeck … I use three or four different platforms during the day, and it’s hard to depend on desktop applications.

    Social media is a big fire hose of inputs, and I can only dip a toe into the stream.

    The rest of the time, people pay me to actually … work.

    Oh, and I’ll always have my 2004 MarketingSherpa PR Blog of the Year award … *grin*

  6. Hi Joe,

    While I do know many of the men on the list of Canada’s social media influencers and I’m friends with them (Kris Krug, Tod Maffin, Darren Barefoot, Boris Mann, Jordan Behan, Joe Solomon, Dave Jones, Rob Cottingham just to name a few off the top of my head) I didn’t (don’t) know you nor had I read your blog ever before (before this post, and I think I got here through a trackback from Chris Brogan).

    That being said, this post is absolutely priceless. While what you said is has also been said by dozens of other social media people in Canada and elsewhere, the fact that you are summarizing it in one swift, strong, well worded post is absolutely beneficial to your readers (myself included).

    The point that I think I get the most benefit out of with this post is that NOBODY is a social media expert simply due to the fluid, ever-changing, complex nature of social media itself. Even though my professional endeavours don’t really apply to social media (I am an academic), I use it for fun. Twitter is my playground. So is my blog. But in 2008, I learned enough about social media that I’d feel safe throwing a pitch out there saying “hire me, I’m a social media consultant”.

    And really, am I? Nope. Not at all. I *understand* social media. I *play with* social media. I socialize and have created meaningful friendships with social media people (some of my good friends ARE really excellent social media consultants, including Rebecca Bollwitt, Kate Trgovac and Monica Hamburg, who are also nominated in the Canadian most influential women).

    But as someone put it, right now EVERYBODY wants to portray him/herself as a social media expert. And as I write this sentence, I realize that I’ve learned much more from this post than I thought I had at the beginning of writing my comment. This is just a testament to how fluid social media and Web 2.0 is.

    Thanks for this post Joe.

  7. About those auto messages when someone follows — I signed up for a site to be able to make surveys. The site also had the ability to auto reply with a message. Thank God it didn’t auto follow! To the best of my knowledge, I chose NOT to auto reply to new followers.

    The site, even though I had programmed it not to, by checking the correct boxes — to the best of my knowledge and memory, did not adhere to my preferences anyway, and I discovered the next day, to my horror, that the site had immediately began giving auto follow messages to my new followers. All I had wanted was the survey service. When I discovered what was going on, which wasn’t for awhile, as I was away from my computer for a half a day, I fixed the situation by unchecking some boxes. I hope to the good Lord it does not recheck the boxes as default again. If it ever does again, I will immediately cancel the service. So far, so good. I do know if the service is going awry now, b/c I check my DMs frequently now, and my emails.

    Why am I telling you this? So you’ll know it’s sometimes a mistake, not of the Tweeter. But I have learned that I must take on the responsibility of making sure nobody is auto followed with a message. Also, when I follow somebody, if their DM is open, I imeediately DM them with a special message letting them know why I have followed them!

    Thanks for a great post! It is very thoughtful. And you are right about the ego on Twitter also. There is too much of it. More humility and less “ego” and “expert” and “i have a larger following than you, so if you say one word wrong I am unfollowing you!” is in order!

    krissy 🙂

  8. Fabulous post! Yes, Twitter feels like milling about a huge convention hall with thousands of people from all walks of life. Everyone’s happy and smiling and most importantly…strategizing. I particularly dislike the auto messages that say “look forward to tweeting and sharing” and then the person doesn’t follow you back. How obnoxious!

    To each his own. I bother to look at people’s sites or blogs and then make a comment + a link as much as possible. Whether or not the gesture is returned (most times it isn’t), I will be who I am.

    There are people who instead of making a reply public, direct message you (when a public reply would be very nice). If they found your tweet so valuable or enjoyed it, why can’t they tweet about it publicly?

    Twitter is an enormous learning experience no matter how you feel about it. And a great way to learn how to say more with less!

  9. Nice post, Joe – well thought-out and interesting. I’m slowly mellowing on the ‘expert’ thing, although I’d never refer to myself as one – social media is indeed evolving rapidly and is very young as a discipline; however marketing and public relations are also evolving yet we think of marketing experts. Still, I do wince when I see it.

    I’m still yet to receive an auto-reply from someone I’ve followed. Bizarre.

  10. We all got married to the social media world before we moved in together, and now I think we’re all noticing little imperfections about it that we overlooked when we were dating.

    You’re spot on with these. I’ll forgive the auto-DM, thought it does annoy me a bit. I used to care a lot more about my numbers and influence ranking and all that sort of thing until I came to the radical conclusion that for me, it doesn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong – I love blogging, the twitter community and learning from all the people out there who are smarter than I am, but as a business owner, I need to look at ROI for myself, and stick to what brings me personal, professional and financial value – just like every other business that wants to get into social media.

    I’m flattered that you consider me that influential, by the way. I’m certainly nowhere near as influential as many of the people on that list, but the one missing piece of the contest is “influential” and “good at what you do” are two separate things. It happens that the people on that list are indeed good at what they do, but on influence in general, I don’t pick my plumber based on how many plumbing keynotes he gives, and you shouldn’t pick your marketing firm that way either.

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