How abuse of the English language paved the way for snake-oil salesmen masquerading as social media consultants

Alternate title: The importance of subject-verb agreement

Alternate alternate title: The importance of over-the-top rhetoric in headlines in driving traffic to your posts

Social media is going to change the world

Social media is mainstream

Social media is a fad

Social media is perfect for your business

Social media is not going away

Social media is going to ruin your business

Defining social media and proclaiming where they are going next is an obsession of many of us who reside in our happy little fishbowl. Lord knows I’ve based more than one post on it here at 42 Points. But do you see what I did there, in the second part of that first link? I said where “they” are going. Not where “it’s” going.

Now, I’ve been known to nitpick grammar issues in the past and I’ll admit it can be a bit pedantic to do so. Sure, I’d like to punch everyone who “takes a decision” or “impacts something” in the spleen but, at the end of the day, are they hurting anyone? Well, maybe the guy impacting something is, I suppose it would depend on what he is impacting.

But I digress.

Social media “isn’t” anything. Social media are something. They are tools. Some of them are outrageously cool. Some are less so. But they are different. MySpace is nothing like Digg. Sure, they share some characteristics but they are fundamentally different tools with different uses, different audiences and different applications to businesses and organizations.

By treating social media as some monolithic singular entity that must be sold to clients and bosses, we’ve gone and made our job infinitely more difficult. We’ve set up this false dichotomy between social and traditional media, as though they are distinct and mutually exclusive. And, in doing so, we’ve paved the way for bullshit ‘social media consultants,’ who preach the virtues of social media – often to the exclusion of all other media; who scare their clients with statistics and case studies showing increased participation in online channels; who act as though “getting into social media” is an objective in and of itself.

It’s bullshit and it brings with it plenty of other sketchy conclusions that will be fodder for future posts (chief among them being the accepted-as-gospel fact that all one has to is find where your audience is, as though they’ll be receptive to your pitch in every forum).

At my current gig, I successfully pitched, piloted and introduced (to varying degrees) podcasts, a discussion forum and a member-generated content campaign. Did I successfully sell social media to the decision makers here? No, I successfully sold podcasts, a discussion forum and a member-generated content campaign. Just like I’ve successfully sold media pitches and other ‘traditional’ initiatives.

The idea that social media “is” some new frontier only serves to reinforce this illusion that it takes some big sell to get an organization into social channels. And, in so doing, it creates demand for social media consultants, some of who are brilliant but many of whom are schucksters.  I wouldn’t hire a social media consultant any more than I’d hire a press release consultant or a fact sheet consultant. I’d hire someone who understood the variety of tools available to me (be they social or otherwise) and how they might help me reach my strategic objectives.

The sooner we stop talking about what social media “is,’ the sooner we can move beyond this bullshit breakdown between social and traditional tools and the sooner we can overcome the fear and aprehension we’ve been so instrumental in creating in the first place.


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