Social Media Week: The Perversion of Social Media

The 5th Annual Social Media Week concludes today in New York and around the world.  This should be a celebration of the power and the breadth of all that we call social media but instead, the marketers have taken over.  It really should have been called New Ways of Selling You Something Week.  Not that there weren’t sessions reflecting the breadth and beauty of social media — there largely were — but if social media is about connecting people to people and people to information, the dominant thread was connecting people to products.  Selling them something.  How can we divine their intention? How we can we measure how much of their intention we’ve captured?  The marketers have moved in.

We’ve seen this loss of innocence before.  The early Internet was a people’s playground.  Remember a world before there were banner ads, where search engines, well, helped you search instead of were vehicles to compile a huge dossier on your preferences, locations and intentions.  I’m not here to suggest that the way the Internet has evolved is a bad thing.  Quite the contrary.  It’s a rather amazing place and it’s hard to remember how we lived without it.  Clearly this is in large measure because of the economic potential that was realized through marketers.  Their economic windfall has enabled us to continue to have this open playground.

Thus, my fault is not with the marketers, not even with the Social Media Week organizers who are actually sincere and profoundly well-motivated.  Rather, I see this as a call to arms.  A time to declare the emperor has no clothes.  Social media is not just about looking for selling cues and divining that next insightful piece of information about a customer or a series of customers.  In many ways, I actually view that as a fool’s chase.  It’s the old story about people in a dark room trying to figure out what’s there by touching it.


Sometimes the best approach is the simplest one:  why don’t you just ask it?  That doesn’t work so well when it comes to elephants but it works much better when it comes to humans.  You perhaps know that I’ve been enamored for a long time of VRM, Vendor Relationship Management, the concept  that we’ll flip CRM on its head and put users at the center of the marketing relationship.  It’s perhaps no coincidence that VRM was first espoused by Doc Searls, the creator of the Cluetrain Mainfesto, that first generation Internet call to arms that was so powerful…before the marketers moved in.  So I think this focus by Social Media Week, and social media in general, on selling is just a short-term perversion of the concept by marketers.  They’ll derive value, sure, but the real impact will be much more transformational than helping them sell and the monetization of social media.

More than this, too.  Social media isn’t just about commerce, whether buying or selling.  It is, and will only be more so, transformational in the way we work and play.  The way we connect with each other as people, not as commercial entities.  The way we create, find and share information.

Yes, this was all there at Social Media Week if you looked. There was a discussion with Rachel Haot, the passionate Chief Digital Officer of New York City, who has the support of a visionary Mayor and herself has the passion to enhance and maybe even change the relationship a city has with its citizens.  There was a discussion with Dale Dougherty, the founder of Make Magazine and, one could argue, the champion of a “maker revolution” that threatens to change the way we, well, make things.

I would, if I could, eliminate all those marketing sessions from Social Media Week.  There are plenty of venues for that kind of information. The marketers will always find their outlet.  Let us not forget that social media is not (just) about selling or buying.  It’s not just about measuring and monetizing.  It’s not just about more big data. (You know how I feel about that one.) At one point during the week, I observed on Twitter how almost ironically Social Media Week had become very unsocial. I was in a room full of people and they were all heads down, staring at their small screens and tweeting.

Is this what social media has become??  I don’t think so.  As has always been the case with technological advances, we go through some ebbs and flows when it comes to adoption and disruption.  We often first enhance existing processes and approaches with the new capabilities.  Only then do we realize there are new and better and different, and disruptive, approaches to what we’re trying to do.  We’ll get there.  There is not a shred of doubt in my mind.  But the state of social media today, as demonstrated by this Social Media Week, isn’t there yet. I appreciate what you marketers are trying to do.  I really do. But I hope this is the beginning of the end for your perversion of Social Media Week, and social media.  Social media is so much more than selling and buying.  Change is coming.  And your time of defining the landscape is coming to an end.


Pardon My Disruption, Episode 3

Pardon My Disruption, Snowbound Edition

I have been working with the Stamford Innovation Center to produce a monthly show I call “Pardon My Disruption.” I am a big fan of the ESPN show “Pardon the Interruption” in which two literate sportscasters (no, not an oxymoron but clearly a small universe) banter about and debate the news issues of the day.  If you’ve never seen an episode of PTI, you can watch it here.  It’s a great format and if you’re interested in sponsoring this for technology in a big way, get in touch with me.  I’m really going to see if I can get this done.  Until then, I’m taking this tentative first step with the Center’s Marketing Director, Peter Propp.  We generally do this live the second Friday of every month at the Innovation Center but with Nemo hitting the region last Friday, we did the session remotely (using Google+ Hangouts).  You can enjoy the show at the link which opens this post.

Our subjects this time included:

  • Dell goes private
  • IBM Connect trip report
  • The New York Times gets hacked: Cybersecurity

Meetup is one of the best kept secrets of social media.  Some of you may remember the blockbuster 1988 business book Megatrends by John Naisbitt.  That was one of the very first business books that captivated me and to this day, I remember Naisbitt promulgating a “high tech/high touch” philosophy.  (This wasn’t the dominant theme of the book but is one of the points that sticks with me to this day.) Remember, at this time, technology was nowhere as prevalent in our lives as it is today.  At this point, Windows was still a new product, the Mac was still in its infancy and the leading PC manufacturers were Compaq and IBM.  Anyhow, Naisbitt’s point was that the more technology invaded our human lives, the more we would have need for a human touch to counter the impersonal nature of computer interactions.  Even as we move more interactions to social platforms, email and other technology-based platforms, it would be folly to forget Naisbitt’s forecast.  Tweetups — where Twitter users actually get together in a physical location — and Meetup are two of the more obvious manifestations of this phenomenon and bring with them a power that’s not present in virtual-only communities. We’ve seen this with getting Pardon My Disruption off the ground.  We tweet about, we Facebook and LinkedIn it, but the largest driver of traffic to the physical event is Meetup.  If you haven’t looked at Meetup, you should.  Some of my best meetings of a month are Meetup groups (New York Tech Meetup, New York Enterprise Tech Meetup) and I find a fair number of social activities there as well (e.g., the Bucket List Bunch).  The New York Tech Meetup is a powerful force in the New York tech community and gathers over 700 people to an NYU auditorium every month.  Getting tickets to it is akin to getting tickets to a Springsteen concert on Ticketmaster; you have to keep clicking refresh on your browser and get tickets in the first 10 minutes they’re available or basically they’re sold out.  A powerful platform to bring people together physically.  How quaint in this virtual world.


I’ve often chided Google for being a one-trick pony…but it’s a damn good trick.  Dell (nee PCs Limited) came up with a great trick 30 years ago — build PCs to order.  In the intervening years, even slow-moving behemoths like HP have caught up with that trick and it’s now an industry standard.  Meanwhile, Dell has tried to change the story, moving upstream into servers, networking and services.  But it has been a slow slog. In today’s next quarter obsessed world, it’s hard to make radical surgery on a company.  And make no mistake about it, Dell needs radical surgery.  Going private doesn’t solve their problems, by a long stretch.  Even as a public company, Dell has, charitably, underperformed in its efforts to remake itself.  You just have to scratch your head and wonder how so many tech stalwarts managed to miss the mobile and cloud revolutions. And Microsoft’s involvement in the Dell financing only complicates matters or, more troublingly, sends the message that Dell’s “reinvention” won’t be so different from today’s Dell. And this deal leaves Michael Dell firmly in charge and one has to wonder if he’s the man to lead the reinvention.  Dell has largely been off my radar screen for a decade.  We’ll see if this move leads to a more disruptive Dell or just incremental, and insufficient, changes.

IBM Connect

I’ve posted recently about IBM Connect and the remake of IBM so I won’t say much here.  The only thing I’ll add here is a few thoughts about the impact of its Smarter initiatives internally.  While suggesting that the external market may not be precisely aligned with the way IBM is selling its collaborative solutions, there’s no ignoring the fact that the Smarter message has served to focus and align the company internally.  It’s almost nauseating  how universal IBM people talk about Smarter this or that.  It permeates all levels and functions of the organization.  One of the challenges of large companies in a fast-moving world is getting all facets of an organization focused on a consistent and aggregated message.  IBM’s ability to get the disparate business units aligned around consistent messaging and even more, deep product integration is a truly remarkable accomplishment.  If customers start to align with IBM’s messaging, IBM is unassailable. No one can deliver what IBM is delivering.  It’s a big if, but as a long-time IBM watcher, a fascinating story to watch unfold.


As much of a technology lover as I am, in my rare dark moments, I have grave concerns about the fragility of the systems we’re building.  Quite simply, no one really understands how they all work and so that leaves us vulnerable in some deeply troubling ways. From what can only be called state-sponsored cyberwarfare down to more mundane financial theft, we live in fragile and troubling times.  The solution is not simple, complicated by the disgusting politicization of this issue in Washington. I won’t turn this into a political screed but instead in the webcast, we focused on what we as individuals can do.  Bottom line:  you need better password practices.  It used to be that we didn’t want to write our passwords down because the biggest risk was someone sitting down at our computer and stealing things.  Now the biggest risk comes from someone who steals your password over the Internet.  For those of us who can’t be bothered to have different passwords for different sites, once they’ve got your password, they can harvest it in myriad ways.  So, do what I’ve done.  Get a password manager — I use Dashlane — and make sure you have strong passwords and different ones for every site.  And if you’re concerned about the security of the password vault, and it’s a legitimate concern, write your passwords down…or get used to the “reset password” function of your web sites.


See you March 8 at the Innovation Center.

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