Categories: Media issues / PR issues

1 September 2009


There’s no social media revolution

Neville Hobson, arguably Britain’s leading social media blogger, has replied to my charge that social media do not change the rules of business. He says: This is no fad, this is a revolution. Let’s take a closer look at his arguments.

Addressing Neville’s argument
I don’t think it’s a revolution, and even if it was it wouldn’t be all good or all bad. But before I say what I think it is really about, let’s begin by looking at how Neville Hobson defines what he’s addressing.

“…this isn’t really about arguing over tools and channels. It’s about fundamental shifts in behaviours that I believe are having a powerful effect on many organizations and how they conduct their business.”

“For instance, take a look at companies like General Motors and their experiences with blogs and other social media around the world; and Dell Computers’ IdeaStorm as well as the $3 million revenue Dell earned via Twitter. These are legitimate examples that illustrate how those firms’ embrace of new forms of communicating, connecting and engaging with their customers have directly influenced the way they conduct their business.”

I fear his examples illustrate the weakness of his point. General Motors is a bankrupt government-owned modern-day failure. While GM’s flirtation with selling new cars on under-performing eBay opens a new channel, GM has been keen to downplay its significance, arguing it does little to sidestep dealers. Moreover, if you follow the link Neville provides, you read:

“Driving Conversations is a blog for GM leadership in Europe—mostly led by Carl-Peter Forster—to discuss products, issues and corporate performance from a personal perspective. “

But that’s a misleading claim from GM at best; dishonest at worst. Here, the “personal perspective” is a clever way to express the corporate perspective, or Forster would soon be out of a job. Consider this example: Whole Foods CEO John Mackay created a storm when he voiced an opinion critical of Barack Obama’s health-care policy that ran contrary to his company’s brand and reputational image. 

As for Dell using Twitter to sell, a $3 million revenue stream in a company turning over $41 billion per year is hardly a sign of an emerging commercial or social revolution: it represents 0.0073% of its business.

Dell, by the way, has had to ditch using the internet as an exclusive direct channel and adopt – the once derided – multi channel distribution, sales and marketing model favoured by the likes of HP. As the FT said last year as Dell started selling its kit at Wal-Mart: 

“The company has been struggling to right itself for more than two years after its belated response to fierce competition and changes in customer buying habits [in Dell’s case away from the internet] led sales and profits to slip.”

Meanwhile, Twitter might have many millions of users, but it has no business model or revenue of note. It is in fact not a business at all. 

Toward the end of his explanation of “social media’s fundamental shifts in behaviours”, Neville calls up some evidence from others;

“Here’s a pretty good way to illustrate what’s happening now and what shifts in behaviours herald for many organizations and their old-world business rulebooks in the very near future, in  this video produced by  Erik Qualman to promote his book Socialnomics: How Social Media has changed the way we live and do business, and posted on YouTube last month.”

Addressing Erik Qualman’s argument
The video kicks off by welcoming us to the revolution. It then describes how the adoption of the internet and later social media platforms outpaced any communication channels that went before such as telephones, radio and TV.

That’s all true (except the revolution bit). But so what? Let me now rebut a few of the video’s major claims that follow.

Claim: Word of mouth is the new black. Evidence: 25% of search results for the world’s largest brands are linked to user-generated content. 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands. It asks, do you like what they are saying about your brand? For instance, 75% of consumers trust peer recommendations, only 14% trust advertising.
Rebuttal: This is the big one. This is the one that companies do grasp and rightly seek help to manage. However we should take the denigration of advertising with a pinch of salt, just as we should any denigration of PR; both remain critical to corporate success. Moreover, there’s nothing new about word of mouth, it has been around since we learned to talk. It just that it has gone from being grounded to being virtual. Apple – no fan of social media in marketing and corporate practice  – shows how an interactive relationship with its customers based on a fan base still works today, just as it always did so long as companies deliver on their promises. 

Claim: Successful companies in social media behave more like Dale Carnegie than David Ogilvy. Successful companies in social media act more like party planners, aggregators, and content providers than traditional advertisers.
Rebuttal: Dale Carnegie and David Ogilvy sales techniques remain the major push-pull double act in town. Brands still need to be marketed driven, promoted, built and managed. Apple, for instance, has not been blinded by its own innovative technology or by the concepts of planners, aggregators and facilitators to ditch old-fashioned command and control management and marketing techniques. 

Today, the spontaneity of the crowd is as “manipulable” as ever. Indeed, with the advent of social media, brands have more reasons than ever not to stand by and leave their fate in the hands of others. But on the other hand, brands have always had little control over their markets, customers and society’s chatter (remember New Coke?). Marketing remains as risky as ever. 

Claim: If Facebook was a country it would be the world’s fourth largest
Rebuttal: If Facebook was country it would be bankrupt and facing a revolution, not leading one. The New York Times speculated last week about whether Facebook was “doomed to someday become an online ghost town, run by zombie users who never update their pages and packs of marketers picking at the corpses of social circles they once hoped to exploit?”

Claim: We no longer search for news; the news finds us
Rebuttal: The news still gets filtered and produced by gatekeepers and then its distribution finds us or or we find it. News production is still a profession, a business, the product of which we’ve been getting for free on the internet and soon will have (rightly) to pay for. Put another way, Rupert Murdoch is about to call the bluff of those who believe dead tree press is dead by making people online pay to read his output.

User generated content cannot – repeat not – compete with professional news production, even if it can complement, supplement, spread, sometimes source news and most definitely interact with its originators via online networking. 

Addressing one or two other views
However, Tom Murphy, a leading PR working for Microsoft in the USA, sees things differently:

To argue that social media will not have any effect on the way we do business is like arguing that we should have four different bathrooms for four different levels of workers each with a different quality of toilet paper. And make sure that we eat in four different canteens because that’s the way we’ve done business for the last four hundred years. (I was in a factory just like that in Coventry in 1981. It was a wonder it still existed at all. I am pretty sure it didn’t last very much longer.) Business like society will change because of social media. 

Murphy makes a valid observation about culture’s impact on the world of work. But my argument is that while innovations from the spinning jenny to modern-day computer systems continually change the business landscape, business basics remain pretty fixed in terms of its essence, as the likes of discovered during Web 1.0. 

Meanwhile, social media management guru Shel Holtz recognizes that despite utopian dreams of social media champions of flat, open models, the real work of real businesses requires structures. But he says that I don’t appreciate the full scope of what social media can do to improve how businesses function. For instance:

‘The ability for people in the oil and gas unit to have relevant and useful conversations with the people in marketing, for all of them to talk directly to the customer, and for the customer to have a voice in the organization alters the way businesses make decisions. It makes them nimble.”

Yet telephones, email and normal social interaction have long made it possible for everybody in an organisation to relate directly to customers. What’s stopped them doing so was commonsense. The last thing a salesperson needs is a PR or backroom technical person interfering with his or her pitch. That’s a recipe for chaos.

My own view
Social media is all very interesting but it may not change business and politics as much as people think. It may not change organisations as much as the internet did in the first place. The internet changed things by altering (a) information storage and (b) communications (within companies and between them, and between companies and the outside worlds they deal with). Obviously the net made customers both easier and harder to deal with. Roughly speaking, it made it easier to be nice to your friends and easier for your enemies to be nasty to you.

The internet also, of course, helped customers (voters) share information about you, and that was probably good all round provided you were up for the criticism.

Social media intensifies some of these trends. But it increases the likelihood of febrile and misinformed reactions. Febrile, because viral; misinformed because gossipy. Viral because peer-to-peer; gossipy because conversational. The trouble is, of course, that while social media doesn’t have to be lazy, stupid or ignorant it doesn’t encourage the diligent, intelligent or well-argued.

The issue for business (and politics) is how to join this conversation without becoming prey to its worst features, and how to respond to the viral world’s occasional attacks. So, social media is neither good nor bad, useful or problematic.

Social media is just there and everyone has to wrestle with it as best they may. Even when it seems to be working for you, you have to remember that you may be lured into bad or trivial behaviour by its charms. So you may dumb down your messages and then find you’re accused of dumbing down – and you hoped you were being alert to the zeitgeist. 

Now it’s over to Neville who, in the tradition of polite debate, gets the right to close this session because I opened it.

32 responses to “There’s no social media revolution”

  1. Sean Williams says:

    Paul, this is brilliant on a lot of levels, and not only because I have lately been investigating social media skeptics. The popularity of a means of communication is not the only agent of its value. The social media breathless fans (many of whom have a vested business interest in its ascendancy) may be leading us over a cliff if we don’t step back long enough to see what real value the tools can bring to business. I wrote recently about my own use of social media and have wondered whether it brings value to my nascent business. I am surely entertained by it, but will I pay for Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Not sure. Thanks for a thoughtful piece.
    Sean Williams @commammo

  2. Stephen Byrne says:

    This a great analysis, Paul. Social media, unlike other forms of digital media, lacks any significant ROI measurements. Even the latest analysis from WetPaint/Altimeter which links to the Business Week top 100 brands can’t prove the connection between social media campaigns and brand success. I”ve analysed this work and draw some interesting arguments on the bottom line value of these kinds of engagements.

    Stephen Byrne
    Director, Strategy

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  4. Chris Bailey says:

    Paul, this is one of the most cogent criticisms of social media I’ve seen. And while I’m one of those who work my craft in the world of social media, I’m not always comfortable with some of the things I see, For me this is perhaps the best quote from this piece:

    “Social media intensifies some of these trends. But it increases the likelihood of febrile and misinformed reactions. Febrile, because viral; misinformed because gossipy. Viral because peer-to-peer; gossipy because conversational. The trouble is, of course, that while social media doesn’t have to be lazy, stupid or ignorant it doesn’t encourage the diligent, intelligent or well-argued.”

    I wrote a blogpost on similar themes today ( where I question the lack of intelligent and critical thought in social media channels. It’s as if we’re suffering from the tyranny of the instantaneous.

    Well done post.

    Chris Bailey @chris_bailey

  5. Andy Hunter says:

    Paul, well done.

    The fervor over social enterprise and social media is reaching some interesting heights. For marketers it’s a major disruptor, but by no means a panacea or overriding-immediate game changer in my opinion. In fact it’s tremendously difficult to manage, execute and derive ROI from. I’m a fan and proponent of social enterprise and social marketing, but like many bright shiny business objects of past history (dr, crm, lead generation, purpose-branding, branded content and cgm, database-driven etc etc) it’s surely not an all encompassing, prescriptive solution. I suppose its our nature to drift towards the new, the solution we are intrigued/interested in, and things we understand based on our business culture and system of thinking. Some of us simply are drawn to the technological advanced. It’s pretty clear to me that the truth is somewhere in between the hype and reality.. and that holistic business solutions that start with understanding people first (whether customers or employees) are what will really make impact to any enterprise.

  6. Jack says:

    Well I wont pay to read “professional” news journalism.

    If you ask me, reading most “news” papers today is a sign of ignorance not intelligence.

    Let’s see how Rupert’s plan works out for him…

  7. Jack says:

    Yes word of mouth has always existed.

    But guess what?

    The corporations (up until now) have always had such OVERWHELMING control of all media channels (minds?) that word of mouth was marginalised to a SLOW and LOCALIZED mechanism.

    Now word of mouth is FAST and GLOBAL.

    The game has changed. It’s not so easy to force feed the masses with your shit anymore. You might have to go back to coming up with good products before good PR campaigns. Heaven forbid.

  8. Dan Chapman says:

    Social Media is not a game changer because it sells anything effectively, it is a game changer because it allows us the opportunity to discover more about a company and the products they make than what their PR dept. says about them. It is a game changer because it puts more resonsibility on companies to make quality products and fewer quality pitches. I am really glad that these new channels allow people with a limited budget and a quality product to participate in the market place, and I am not bothered that it is not making places like Dell more money than maybe they had hoped.

    I enjoyed finding your article through Twitter.

  9. […] More here: There's no social media revolution | 21st-century PR issues › Paul … […]

  10. Jason says:

    SMM scale remains a major gating issue for marketers.

    Real client: “We have 2,329 ‘friends’? Who fucking cars? We can pull that many people together in a weekend event”

  11. […] “There’s no social media revolution” by Paul Seaman for direct […]

  12. Simon says:

    I found the opening line quite amusing, “Neville Hobson, arguably Britain’s leading social media blogger” .

    Really at the end of the day Social Media is just another way for people to connect just as the phone did before. It’s still not going to be the only way for companies to connect with there users, but as an added line of communication.

    Great article, as there is to much hype surrounding social media, and sadly a lot of seminar’s with a lot of talk about it but not much substance!

  13. richardatdell says:

    Hi Paul,

    Some interesting perspectives offered on both sides of the debate and thanks for the thoughtful commentary.

    I want to clarify a factual matter in which you note, ” Meanwhile, regardless of any deal with Dell, Twitter might have many millions of users, but it has no business model ..” To suggest Dell has some sort of “deal” with Twitter is misguided.

    You are correct that the revenue Dell generates on Twitter is small compared to the overall company revenue. However, the revenue is growing exponentially, as are the number of people around the world following various Dell offers. I think it is indicative of: a) the desire of customers to connect with brands/find offerings in these new “online channels” b) the opprtunities available to business to monetize and do business in social media

    You note that Dell ditched the Internet as an exclusive direct channel and adopted a multi channel distribution sales and marketing. I think the better way look at this is that we added ways for our customers to do business with us (retail, VARs, extending our capabilities on the web, etc) as customers want choices and expanded access and availability to Dell products. The Web continues to be important to our business (not ditched) and applied to our own multi-channel endeavours. Our Web-based activities are also expanding in importance as the Web is no longer simply a “channel for sales and distribution” but also a viable and meaningful way to further Dell’s direct connections with customers (including retailers and VARS), all over the world — and it’s efficient, being done right from our desk tops. Simon makes a good point in saying social media is “another way for people to connect just as the phone did before.”

    In addition to the points Neville made, I can also tell you that our 3+ years experience in social media has proven to be valuable and measurable beyond Twitter revenue. We have experienced benefits in relation to our brand/corporate reputation; furthered our direct customer relationships and insights; it has provided us with an early warning system for things like driver updates; and Ideastorm has delivered product innovation/changes that customers want; as well as a host of other business advantages.

    In many respects whether all of this is a fundamental change or an incremental business opportunity is irrelevant. The fact is that social media represents new challenges and opportunities for business to either take advantage of, or watch it pass by.

  14. Paul Seaman says:

    Richard, thanks for clarifying Dell’s relationship to Twitter. I have deleted that mention. I shall come back to your other points at another time.

  15. […] debate – time for some social and historical context In a very well argued piece There’s no social media revolution, Paul Seaman takes a welcome critical view of the hype surrounding social media in the enterprise. […]

  16. Norman Lewis says:

    Great post and a much needed critical view of the hype surrounding social media. You make some key points but I think you are one-sided in your arguments. Yes, its definitely the case that social media like any other technology does not alter the realities of the business world. (I very much like your points about the chaos that would ensue in a company if everyone could relate to sales, customers etc). This is based upon the naive hippie prejudice that enterprises can become democracies run in the interests of employees empowered to act like free agents.

    However, I think you are underestimating how the social context within which this phenomenon is taking place. I have written a short piece on this (provoked by your post) to address this. My key point is that the adoption of social media has more to do with the crisis of authority and legitimacy within the business world and more broadly across society, than anything inherently revolutionary in the technology itself. Please check it out: I would like to have your comments:

  17. Jim Schwab says:

    Very good comments here, as a senior marketer in the Social Media space I’ll add my 2 cents…

    1) as consumer adoption increases to be representative of the general population in any given country SM will reflect the general issues of that general population; gossip, intelligence and stupidity all included. We’re probably there in the US.
    2) SM is an accelerator as the “internet” was, it magnifies just about everything, info sharing, the long tale, business decisions, media creation, product launches successes and failures
    3) SM is just another channel (a VERY important one) for marketers to add to their marketing mix, in terms of any of the following depending on the product and company; product promotion, consumer research, crisis mgt, new product development research, commerce

    One thing is certain, companies need to listen to consumers in this channel or they’ll be left behind!!
    Social Media Monitoring: Why You Must & Its Value

  18. Steve Dodd says:

    Fascinating argument folks! But, the fact that it rages on via a social media channel in and of itself is a good indication that Social Media is real and has value.
    Most of what is being discussed as “negative” is due to the hype engine and misleading info being broadcast to artificially increase its value. The response from Dell that clarified their position and value is a great example of this issue. Once you get beneath the hype, there is real value here.
    As an example, all that is discussed here is one aspect of Social Media (which is why I personally hate that name) being marketing / sales. As Jim Schwab mentioned above, there is so much more value being derived in other areas as well (customer service, crisis management, brand monitoring, fraud detection, product development, competitive intelligence etc.).
    There is absolutely tangible ROI in all cases (including marketing / sales) if users understand how to effectively measure results. But, it must be measured at the specific application level and leveraged accordingly. That ROI may be a direct tangible financial return or information to help improve other processes. Either way, it’s there and validated by many every day.
    The Internet was used in this discussion as an example of a medium that truly delivers value. Please don’t forget that not too long ago, it was clobbered by hype and only after the beating did it emerge to deliver the value it does today. I suspect the Social Web is going to go through the same cycle as most new things do.
    But, perhaps we can learn from that experience and focus on the good things that Social Media delivers instead of dwelling on the bad. Then we have something to build on, not get kicked in the head by, as with the DotBomb.

  19. Tim says:

    Well Paul, it seems you have caused a stir here, and perhaps for once on here, the majority of respondents are mainly in agreement!
    To add to a lot that has already been said, in the main I am in agreement with you.
    Social Media is just another way of having a conversation, and in some sense is a platform for corporations to have the opportunity if they wish to listen to their consumers.
    When it comes to business; to suggest that Twitter or Facebook alone will support a business is far fetched, its a service that compliments other channels and delivers a link to greater knowledge of a product to be found elsewhere. Mainly it is a system of conversing much like the telegram was in the past.
    As a social commentary platform Twitter has its uses, the G20 events in London or the Iran elections, but these are information and agitation not for business.

    Love the rebuttal of Facebook; the New York times is right to speculate, in fact another report I read the other week (will try and dig the link out) stated that the younger generation were leaving Facebook, and the demographic is changing to use by early 30s age bracket. It seems like all fads, ( and thats what it is) or new things; it is destined to be used and abused until a tiredness sets in. The young create the fashion, the middle aged take it up slowly, it becomes part of the establishment , the young leave to the next thing , it slowly dies off: it was ever thus!

    Meanwhile as I alluded to in a much softer blog than yours, I believe social media is actually for a select group of the world, those privileged to have internet access. The vast majority of the globe still retain a social medium that is as old as man itself, the spoken word direct to each other. It is this that is still king, Twitter just speeds it up for those that have the desire or ability to access it.
    Jacks comment here is an interesting if blunt one, if social media will do anything in business it is to inspire better consumer friendly products at a faster rate, and may i add encourage open criticism of those that stray on the path.

  20. Shel Holtz says:

    I’d like to offer a few thoughts to the discussion, Paul, but before I do, I’d like to commend you for the polite, reasoned, thoughtful approach you have taken to this discussion. In this space, far too many people have swapped civil exchanges for insults and name-calling. In fact, in an amusing post titled “50 things that are being killed by the Internet” — — Matthew Moore begins his list with “the art of polite disagreement.” It’s reassuring to see that it’s not completely dead yet.

    The use of the word “revolution” in this debate is intriguing. It’s a word that gets bandied about a lot, but not many people consider what it really means. In fact, the word has multiple meanings and, when applied to a conversation like this one, it’s useful to establish which meaning applies. Here are two that I find relevant when discussing the impact of social media:

    “A drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving” — Princeton University’s WordNet

    “A fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time” — Wikipedia

    Dictionary definitions reinforce these definitions. Using these as a basis for discussion, I view social media as the catalyst of a revolution. People and institutions are behaving differently and power is undergoing a significant shift.

    Your post suggests that social media tools are more of an evolution. I don’t disagree in principle, but the concepts are not mutually exclusive. To my point that social media have ushered in a new era of collaboration in the workplace, you responded that the telephone, email and normal social interaction have enabled collaboration all along. While this is true, I find it no different than suggesting that monks in monasteries illuminating texts made reading possible all along and that the printing press was just a point on an evolutionary curve. In one regard, that’s true, but it would be silly to claim the printing press did not produce a power shift. The existence of the Protestant church provides ample evidence of that shift.

    In fact, the telephone and email both representing significant, dramatic changes in the conduct of business. No, the core dimensions of business didn’t change, but the means by which they are accomplished changed significantly. And while collaboration was possible before the industrial revolution, social media represents one of the most significant leaps in its evolution. Some examples:

    * Sony developed its PlayStation with a global team using a wiki, which made it easy for each team to update information that would be ready for the team in the next time zone to use as they began their day. Sony still uses a wiki “to help keep executives informed about products in various stages of development for the video game console. ‘The marketing people can get a sense of what’s coming their way, as well as the finance and legal people—anyone who needs to know the one-page overview of what’s going on,’ says Ned Lerner, Sony PlayStation’s director of tools & technology.” The quote is from BusinessWeek — — which in an earlier article noted that wikis used internally have reduced cycle time (time-to-market) by as much as 40%.

    * Internal social networks allow for the organic creation and maintenance of communities of practice (CoPs). CoPs exist in every company, but organizations frequently are unable to identify them or tap into them. With an internal social network, employees who share common knowledge or interests, or perform common tasks, are able to find each other and share their knowledge. Internal social networks have also reduced turnover. As employees become members of communities that extend beyond their geographic location, the cost of leaving rises since they would also have to abandon these communities. Best Buy’s “Blue Shirt Nation” is an example of both results.

    * Crowdsourcing is producing better ideas. Through the World Wide Web, Procter & Gamble derives 70% of its new product ideas from outside the organization. GoldCorp found a rich new gold vein by giving its geological data away (via download from a website) and allowing outsiders to suggest where to look in exchange for a handsome cash prize. Dell has generated dozens of product ideas through its IdeaStorm utility, where customers submit ideas that others vote to promote or demote. Those with strong support are examined more closely and often productized.

    Crowdsourcing, in fact, has had a devastating impact on one traditional business: stock photography. With amateur and hobbyist photographers contributing images for incredibly low prices to sites like DreamsTime, the high-priced stock photo business has suffered immensely. More disrutpion like this is inevitable. I suggest you read “Wikinomics” by Dan Tapscott and Anthony Williams, and “Crowdsourcing” by Jeff Howe for detailed insights into this phenomenon.

    You also suggest that word of mouth has been around for a long time. Indeed it has. But again, social media has propelled word of mouth to a new level. While most word of mouth continues to occur offline, the ability to reach influencers in discrete clusters dramatically accelerates word of mouth. For more detail on this, I recommend “The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited” by Emanuel Rosen. Again, I would argue that the acceleration of word of mouth online can be viewed as evolution, but that dismisses the dramatic alteration in behaviors and the shift in power that it has wrought.

    Former Forrester senior analyst Jeremiah Owyang suggests that the power shift will be evident when communities tell companies what products they want, adding that a day is coming when communities will hire public relations agencies to represent their interests to businesses. Your evolution argument would note that market research has always tapped into consumer needs, but there is a considerable difference between surveys and focus groups that seek specific information and a community lobbying a company or industry to develop specific goods or services.

    According to Clay Shirky in “Here Comes Everybody,” the Net has reduced the cost of organizing to zero. The revolutionary consequences of this change is nowhere more evident than in the flash mobs that contributed mightily to the downfall of the government in Belarus. Using text messaging, protesters were able to assemble without government knowledge. Photos and videos were taken quickly and uploaded to sites like Flickr and YouTube, illustrating the scope of unrest to the world. Then the mobs would dissipate before authorities could arrive.

    This ability for people who share passions to organize quickly at virtually no cost is at the heart of the Whole Foods boycott to which you point. The population of Facebook is significant not based on a Facebook business model, but rather based on the amount of time these people spend on the site and the volume of information and content they share. Nearly 33,000 people have joined the Whole Foods boycott group on Facebook, which includes shared content contributed as of just minutes before I submit this comment. Yes, a boycott may well have formed without social media, but it would have been a slow process without the impact the social media-driven boycott has achieved (which includes considerable coverage by mainstream media).

    In fact, social media is altering the very definition of “news,” and companies are responding by providing more frequent updates, recognizing that if they don’t, secondary and tertiary sources will fill the void with what may well be inaccuracies and misinformation. One example: Ford Motor Company’s Scott Monty sending about 150 tweets during the course of a reputation crisis that was resolved in a day without finding its way into the press. Scott’s constant flow of information wound up being what people talked about, avoiding speculation and misinformation.

    Another significant behavioral shift has to do with transparency. Because of the intense scrutiny by large populations of interested individuals, organizations find it harder and harder to operate opaquely. Information once easy to keep hidden is now readily available. When a graduate student uncovered a Belkin executive paying people to post positive reviews of its products, the company’s president posted a message to the Belkin website home page asserting this executive was a loose cannon and his behavior not characteristic of Belkin’s culture. This message inspired dozens of former employees to post messages disputing the claim, noting it was, in fact, typical of Belkin’s culture.

    To summarize, it’s easy to dismiss just about anything as just another blip on the evolutionary scale. But if it alters behaviors significantly and produces a power shift, it’s revolutionary. Under that definition, social media qualifies. The fact that the basics of business — innovate, produce, market, sell — are unchanged does not diminish social media’s impact. After all, as Dov Seidman says, how a company does something is as important, if not moreso, than what it does.

    One last point: Stephen Byrne, in his comment, declares that social media lacks any significant ROI measurements. This is simply inaccurate. Communication measurement professionals like Katie Paine measure social media’s ROI for their clients routinely and clearly. I would point Mr. Byrne to this resource:

    Again, Paul, you have my respect and admiration for a thoughtful debate based on ideas rather than shrill ideologies.

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  24. Richard Stacy says:

    Why is social media a revolution?

    Because it is knocking down a pillar that has supported our societies for 600 years – namely that the power of information dissemination was only available to institutions. Almost every institution, not just the media, is shaped by this principle.

    As a result we are creating something totally new – never seen before.

    Trust is shifting away from traditional institutions – not to new institutions, but to processes. Most institutions therefore don’t face competition, they face irrelevancy. This is something very diffitult to accept – most journalists can’t, most businesses won’t, even the social media players themselves (Facebook, Twitter et al) can’t really grasp it since they persist in trying to sell themselves as traditional ‘real estate’ media platfroms, rather than utilities or infrastructures.

    Here is my argument in pictures

  25. […] than publishers September 6, 2009 Social Media, its decline and the youngsters September 6, 2009 There’s no social media revolution | 21st-century PR issues › Paul Seaman's online review (… September 5, 2009 Search […]

  26. […] if you’ve been following the debate between Neville Hobson and me (if not check it out here and here) am I still pushing […]

  27. Keith Childs says:

    Disclosure: I work for GM Europe and the blog Driving Conversations falls under my remit. I’m jumping in here and adding my two cents. This comment is cross-posted on Neville Hobson’s blog:

    You quote from the opening post from Chris Preuss, the former Communications VP for GM Europe: ‘Driving Conversations is a blog for GM leadership in Europe—mostly led by Carl-Peter Forster—to discuss products, issues and corporate performance from a personal perspective.’
    You add: “But that’s a misleading claim from GM at best; dishonest at worst. Here, the “personal perspective” is a clever way to express the corporate perspective, or Forster would soon be out of a job.”

    Rubbish! and that’s my personal perspective and not a corporate answer. Personal does not mean I’m going to mention my religious or political views or even what I think of global warming. Personal does not mean challenging your boss in a public forum. Personal does not require you to express opposing points of view. Some people have very strong views and are very outspoken. Others have a different communication style. It is not misleading nor does it make them dishonest.

  28. Paul Seaman says:

    Keith, I fear that you have actually reinforced my point that all corporate utterance is collegiate, not personal. You say, for instance, that at GM Europe personal views are allowed public expression under the GM banner so long as they do not contradict your bosses, your company, or express any views which have nothing to do with GM, or which make points unlikely to be deemed controversial (unless related directly to GM). That is, your freedom of expression is limited by the need for it to align with GM’s viewpoints, for whom you work as paid employees.

    But the truth is, GM Europe is blogging and tweeting as if its spokespeople were expressing personal views independent of the corporation. In other words, GM Europe is trying to be matey and involved in the ’social media’ world in an attempt to gain empathy and credibility by disguising the corporate voice as a personal one. This approach is actually a clumsy attempt to promote what is just another marketing exercise.

    For sure, the essence of blogging and SM is personal, and that is a distinction (between collegiate and personal) corporates must grasp if they are to intervene in social media forums effectively. Hence, my objective is to identify how to keep the corporate voice authentic and honest, because that is what good reputations depend on for their long-term sustainability.

  29. Keith Childs says:

    Paul, I fear you have possibly misread my comment. I have responded to you on the comment you left on Neville Hobson’s blog:

  30. […] social media webcast   After taking the new media and PR module, I realised how the nature of communication has undergone a drastic change within a span of 4 years! While in some parts of the world, the best way to communicate for people is stil the E-mail or maybe the telephone, for some others, tweeting updates through social networking websites has become an addiction.   Making this webcast was a struggle initially, but now that I can see the finished results and finally about to upload my video, it gives me a sense or relief that i’ve finally done it! This webcast is an attempt to understand the flavour of social media in our day to day communication alongwith the buiness context. Social media is still a cause of apprehension for many entrepreaneurs because they havent realised the power of social media and how it can give an image makeover to brands. (either new or established). Not only the image and reputation, it also has brought a paradigm shift in the fundamentals of doing business! Rather than spending millions on a expensive PR campaign, smaller, more personalised and interest-driven attempts are being made to gain the audience’s attention, support and loyalty. The tables have turned; pushy sales has taken a back seat and building customer relationships has become centric.     Despite all of us being so diverse in our cultures, traditions and mannerisms, yet the medium has picked up on our basic needs to share, talk, express our emotions and stay in touch. Ofcourse it cannot substitute for a physical exchange of ideas, yet it has become an inevitable part of our busy lives. Social networking websites hae been customised according to our cultural backgoundsand do allow us to personalise content! at the same time, it facilitate formation of comunities, fan clubs and groups with those who have some commonalities with us. This phenomenon helps businesses to identify their niche and target their message to the right audiences!   If there are positives of using social media for a business activity, it has some of the dangers too. If on one hand social media is fast,accessible, cheap and has a massive reach. on theother hand, one mistake can be lethal for the reputation of the brand and the company. For eg: the dominos gross video spread like wild fire and had millions of hits on outube overnight! It gives less time for comntemplating in a crisis and demands prompt action. otherwise, things can be blow out of proportion. A careless use of the medium can get the world attacking you in no time. Another danger is the lack of control over the user generated conten being disseminated through blogs, videos, picture sharing or social networking websites. Too much transparency could spin the tide.   well, its time for me to wrap up and get ready for the london fashion week. hope you enjoy the my little endeavour   Cheers Diksha   Related Articles: […]

  31. […] Lewis, Managing Partner at Open knowledge UK, had to say on this when he commented on my piece There’s no social media revolution: … it’s definitely the case that social media like any other technology does not alter […]

  32. Victor Panlilio says:

    It’s a bit surreal reading this now, after reading