My co-worker (not me) has apparently been receiving solicitations like this from Ragan Communications:
>>> On 3/5/2009 at 4:46 PM, wrote: Dear Derek‚ Are you on Twitter by any chance? I am writing to ask if you’d follow me. I know: It sounds a bit cultish. But hey‚ I gotta walk the talk‚ don’t I? I promise not to pester you with boring tweets. This link (http://twitter.com/mark347) will take you to my page. Just hit “follow” under my picture. I hope all is well with you‚ Mark P.S. Are you coming to our Corporate Communicators Conference in Chicago this May? Is anyone else from Grand Rapids Community College? P.P.S. As always‚ I’m looking for story ideas for Ragan.com. Let me know if you guys have made any breakthroughs in your comms department‚ OK? Just hit “reply” to this message to get by the usual gatekeepers. Remove yourself from this mailing list. ( http://www.ragan.com/savicom_unsub ) This has been sent to you by: Ragan Communications 111 E. Wacker Dr., Suite 500 Chicago, Il 60601 Contact us at 800.878.5331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a number of problems with this email aside from the fact that it’s addressed to the wrong person; (1) The author wrongly assumes that I know who he is (and further, that I actually believe him when he says he hopes things are well with me). (2) “Grand Rapids Community College” is clearly not a corporation – so why would its employees be attending a “Corporate Communicators Conference?” (3) Somehow I just don’t buy that they’re interested in any “breakthroughs” from my “comms department,” or that I’m going to get special access to them by replying to the email. (4) I checked out the Twitter feed and it’s full of boring promotional tweets (and even more boring sub-tweets from followers).
This is an unfortunate example of how profoundly misunderstood social media is by the traditional mass media communications machine. The ‘establishment’ (for lack of a better word) continues to think that social media is just another channel to pump the same messages through. It’s not, and as the faux pas above illustrate – not only is the message rendered ineffective – it actually stands to do damage to the organization by revealing it as disingenuous. It’s like watching a pocket calculator try to pass the Turing test.
I’m no rocket surgeon, but I think that rather than wasting time with bulk email Mark should be working on his craft and producing a Twitter feed, podcast or blog worth reading to influence opinion leaders and early adopters. If he’s good, I’ll hear about it and subscribe on my own. That new paradigm is what frustrates organizations stuck in the past (the GOP is a primary example of this right now): they actually have to produce a worthwhile product that meets the needs of a segment of the public that has money to spend on it. They can’t count on slick marketing campaigns anymore because it’s no longer affordable to patch together large enough audience with enough repetition for that approach to work on.
PRSA just published a piece in PR Tactics which gets some things right, but still reinforces some of the mistaken perceptions about “using” social media (mostly as a result of trying to explain it to those who still don’t grasp it and can only think about in outmoded terms).
The bottom line is that one doesn’t “incorporate” social media – one must live it. Any level of sincerity and transparency less than that is doomed to fail because those using social media are so adept at sniffing out inauthenticity.
If an organization is not willing to fundamentally re-think every aspect of its operations in response to social media – it shouldn’t participate. But that’s okay; not every brand is congruent with approach demanded by social media and for the forseeable future there’s still place for those organizations to continue operating. If they want to have a future though, they should at least be closely watching discussions about themselves in social media and evolving the capacity to transform themselves.