14 Guiding Principles of Social Media

I live in Florida and hard times are visible everywhere. I’ve seen businesses open with promise and flair only to close within a year with nary a sound and barely an announcement. This extends to the houses in my neighborhood, the families that occupied them, and the jobs that the people who lived in them once had. All Gone. Empty. It sucks.

I know some of these families. We were almost one of those families. And because of that, because I know where I once was and because I know where I could be, I have a respect, an  empathy and an acknowledgment of people’s situations, of their plights.  These are still sucky, hard times for a lot of families and thus when I see some of the Dad’s at various functions around town-usually our kid’s games of some sort, I try to help in as many ways that I can but also being respectful of their situation. Oddly, I try to tell them what social media can do for them and what it did for me.

It sounds corny but it’s true.

Social media altered the course of my career. It was somewhere between 2005 and 2006 but that’s when I really started to “understand” the power of the possibility with social. I know things are much different now and the space may appear to be crowded and overrun but the principles still exist.  It is by no means a silver bullet but social can help someone create that picture of who and what they are. It also can help define where you want to go. I could fill up pages with stories and instances of where I personally benefited from the impact of social media-and I want to pay that forward. It starts with these principles that are derived from the positive impact of social media. Now I know they may seem high level but they are absolutely concrete.

The 14 guiding principles of social media.

1) Everything that you do online has some relationship to search either directly or indirectly. Always know this.

2) Understand that you can leverage search in your favor-but so can your detractors

3) Social Media loves search-your footprint is permanent

4) People have an innate curiosity about you-including those you went to kindergarten with and your current employer

5) You can create and control your online  presence instantly, but it takes longer to remove it, if at all

6) You can socialize that online presence instantly

7) You can manage and curate that online presence in real time and any time

8. You can find your tribe easier than ever before-what happens after that, is up to you, and sometimes up to them

9) Social is free. The investment is in your time, understanding and commitment.

10) You can connect with virtually anyone, anywhere and at anytime-but respect that power

11) Social requires  that you are upfront, honest and genuine-If you find that hard to do, reexamine your motives.

12) You can’t wait for it to happen, you have to make it happen-sounds a lot like life doesn’t it?

13) It can be life altering in both good ways and in bad

14) Realtionships matter-take time to develop them and make them Real

I’m sure if I went back over my past 800 plus posts, I may have written similar posts about principles, tenets, beliefs or rules of social, but right now at this moment, these 14 principles are holding fast from my perspective of what social is and what you can make of it if you understand what is at it’s core.. Care to add to it?

On Dependence of 3rd Party Platforms and Leaving the Grid

We use Gmail to send email. We use Facebook to connect with our past. We use Twitter to let people know what we’re doing right now. Without technology, how would we connect with people? The phone, the written word via snail mail, and or lo and behold… face to face?

What happens if Facebook, Apple,  Twitter, Youtube, Pandora, Verison, Spotify, Evernote, Amazon, Google and Microsoft were to go away? What happens? Life goes on. Case in point, you’re talking to someone on your cell phone and the call is dropped, what do you do? You look at the phone, you may call them back, you may not, you shrug your shoulders and life goes on.

Have you ever thought about how dependent you are on the digital things that make your life go? I know I do. In fact, we often joke about what would happen if some of us were off the grid for any substantial amount of time.Would we  shrivel up like a raisin? Get a case of the DT’s? For some it’s possible, they can hop right off of the grid and shut it down no problem. Digital for those that can’t disconnect, resembles some type of ambient ubiquity which they cannot separate themselves from for any extended period of time-like 2 days.

But what if someone just disconnects

This morning I was looking for someone who I had gotten to know fairly well who essentially created a whole new life for himself  around social media. They created a slipstream niche around how to use social media for SMB’s. They wrote a book, they V-logged, they tweeted over 15,000 times, they created an active Facebook page, and then all of a sudden. No more. The sites are shut down, the social profiles are dormant and the person has just disappeared from the social ecosystem.

Did he die? Did he just decide that social media is so superficial that there has to be something better out there? Did he get a new job that necessitates that he not participate at all in social? I may never know because the only way I ever communicated with him were through 3rd party platforms and social networks. He doesn’t use those anymore. Maybe he wants to reconnect with his family? I don’t know. In a sense, he has gone from one extreme to  the other, and that’s OK. Why? I’m starting to think about the overall value of social as it pertains to our truly personal, social selves and maybe just maybe this person decided that it wasn’t worth it.

It makes you wonder though. What will social look like in 5 years. Is social in and of itself creating its own oxymoron? Where social doesn’t really mean social at all? Maybe there is something to Facebook Fatigue. All I know is that when someone ceases “to be” in social media either a life has ended or…maybe just maybe…life goes on.

Social Media Specialists Are No Longer Needed

If you’ve been in this business for any length of time, then its time to take your collective aggregate knowledge of social media and add it to the overall mix of what you know and do. We’re at least five years in and I want you to quit being a social media specialist, because you aren’t one any longer. Simply put, and I’ve written about this at various points in the past, we’re all becoming social media generalists.

I used to be  an SEO specialist until  what I did just became a small  part of the daily mix of things that I did for our clients. There was also a time where I used to do nothing but manage PPC campaigns until it just became part of each clients overall web marketing strategy.

We all did something before social media

We all could mildly claim that we are or were bloggers at one point in time, except that it’s now merely part of what we do for our clients and respective companies. Same with video/vlogging, same with social media optimization, same with email marketing, same with creating websites, designing logos, writing copy, and creating tag lines; at one point in time it was unique and special but now-it’s just a sum total part of the collective us. We’re pulling from our collective experiences now. It’s natural and expected.

By now social should be a small part of what you do, but not all of what you do- At least for some of you. In fact, and I know a lot of you who fall into this category, there was a time where you owned social media and no one else could touch you. You were oracles of the social media soundbite.  Not anymore, social media knowledge bearers and practitioners are multiplying like rabbits and they know the game just as well as you do except…

You still have an advantage...

When I first got started in social it was for reputation management purposes and even then it wasn’t as much about the conversation as it was about understanding social media and its relationship to search… or I should say a blogs relationship to search (Facebook and Twitter weren’t even part of the conversation yet) Back then, a lot of you SEO’ers were merely concerned or wondering how to hyperlink signatures with keywords-I know that’s what I did, but then I evolved and so did you. Case in point.  I can bet all of you who have had a blog longer than a year can now spot a noob to the blog scene. How? When you get comment spam from people who insist on hyperlinking their generic, lame, weak, comment to a no-follow keyword based signature, you know… and you ask “Did they really just do that”? You’ve evolved.

Let’s digress

Things are changing. skill sets are changing- for example, if you are a PR practitioner, when did it become imperative that you understood how to not only write for your client, but also how to write for search? Or where the title of the promo piece was as important as the content contained within? Or better yet, when was it asked of PR practitioners that they had to understand the value of making connections with people in social networks? or starting blogger outreach campaigns? The PR person of today has many skills across multiple disciplines. They have to have them to survive.

Things change, people learn and skills evolve.

For Marcom people adding social to the mix is just another in the long list of things that are now just part of the job description. Yes we all still have to deal with the pretenders in the space, the snake oil salesman if you will, but for a lot of us, social is just part of the mix now. There was a time where I hated hearing the comment, “Yea but there is no ROI in social”; Now? I love to hear that comment so that I can fire both barrels of justification back at them. I’ve evolved and so have you. Marcom people need to know social, marketing, writing, PR, email marketing, advertising and design. Do they have to have deep knowledge? No, but give me breadth if I can’t have depth.

The next act

You see for a lot of you, your baseline level of knowledge in social now sets you up for what’s next. For those of you with an agency background, social is now just a part of what one does when creating a campaign. In some cases it’s the cornerstone, in others, it augments. Same with design. It’s a given that sites will have social components now-The hard part used to be finding people who could carry out the idealistic social initiatives aligned with the campaign, not any more. The troops are waiting for their marching orders.

Now social media failure isn’t so much based on the unknown or the person with a lack of knowledge, as much as it is based on a weak strategy, poor management, the wrong KPI’s or bad tactics. For a lot of you, you are the ones that will lead the charge into the new era of well rounded, seasoned generalists with skill sets that cover, tech, social, marketing, pr, and web. That’s the person I want and that’s the person that brands need.

The Uphill Battle of Social Media Buy In

If you talk at any length to any large corporations these days, they are all excited about the possibilities that social media might bring to their organizations, except that they are scared to death of the risks that social presents.

As a practitioner, before you can have meaningful conversations about those possibilities, you need to have that conversation about how to cover the ass of the employer when their rogue employee does something stupid and lets everyone know it-which is then picked up by every major news outlet around the world. Does anyone remember this?

This is the uphill battle that all consultants, marketers, and marcomm people are facing. That looming Fortune 500 question, and it’s a valid one of- “How are you going to prevent our employees from doing something as stupid as these two did at Dominos?”

You, as a practitioner, have to be able to answer this question and the following which is, without a doubt, the number one concern of every company, large and small, out there today as they address social media.

“How can we protect ourselves?”…

The second question right behind it is, “How can we protect ourselves from others who choose to use social media channels to trash us?” The question is legitimate and can extend, as it normally would, to former disgruntled employees who have an ax to grind who actually can be protected when taking to social media channels to trash their employers.

If you haven’t already figured it out, it starts with creating a social media policy that outlines how people are to behave. Cisco is a good example of a company doing it the right way. You have to have something that sits right next to the employee handbook that covers social media usage both in house and off hours. I know off-hours is a slippery slope because a lot of lawyers and employees will tell you that when a person is not on the clock, their time is their time-however in a sense, your social self can still be mapped back to who you work for 24/7/365. Digital footprint are not made in sand.

If you can’t help a company through the early stages of social media adoption, and that extends not only to external initiatives but also internal policy creation, or you don’t know how to get them there-then you need to get out. You can’t skirt this question. We live in a world where transparency is the new black, and with that comes a concern for mitigating risk. Explaining it away by saying that, “People should know better when using social media or People will use their best judgment,” won’t cut it anymore. Trust me, social media has given people an artistic license for stupidity unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

Search Results and Quality Content is an Oxymoron

Like it or not we are a search driven society. Thus this post could have easily been titled, “Content for content’s sake” or “Crappy content for search engines”, or “The difference between worthless content and worthy content”. The point being that in today’s hyper mobile, hyper-consumption, media driven society-we search for the information that we need right now without thinking that maybe what we’re looking at is not nearly the “best” information.

The reason? We see the information that we see first and has ranked well and assume it is the best. Unbeknownst to most of us is the fact that we’re getting played because someone knows how to play the game of driving eyeballs to a site that isn’t about quality content as much as it is about trying to get you to click on Google adsense boxes.

And that my friends is the problem-at least for the majority of us. Unfortunately we have quite a few lazy, dubious, web marketers who understand that if they have a choice of either writing for search or writing for the public, they are going to opt for search, and the public be damned. The reason? The game is all about getting ranked quickly on page one and that means inbound links, page rank, lots of keywords, and a site’s relationship with other sites… and maybe not so much about content quality.

Good content takes time. Good content that we may value, may take even longer to produce and in some cases may take longer to find. Why? If the person who has authored it has not written equally for search engines as well as for their audience, and if it doesn’t possess the “right” linkage and properties that meet Google’s search algoritham-it may fall quietly by the wayside.

Thus we have more noise than signal and more of a glut of worthless, search friendly content. So instead of it being like this:

We get something like this:

So for a lot of people, they have to really sift through a lot of non-relevant stuff to find what they’re looking for. Luckily and sadly for some, they generally can look at a search result URL and know that what they’re getting ready to look at, and they know that it’s  going to be bad and worthless-but what about everyone else?

Will search ever be about  contextual efficiency?

Social Media’s effect on the UK riots should surprise no one.

According to HitWise, Twitter accounted for 1 in every 170 UK Internet visits yesterday; by their estimates, there were over 3.4 million visits to the Twitter homepage from the UK population alone. This is the world that we live in now. WE are the media. We create the content, we share the content and we consume the content-CONSTANTLY.

I can’t pinpoint the exact date where we started to leverage the medium of social media for world wide causes, but I can cite some recent events such as the terrorist attacks in India and the uprisings and revolutions in Iran and Egypt respectively as moments where cultures took social media platforms to such scales as a way to augment, support, discuss, share and or fuel what was happening IRL.

It is the nature of the world that we live in today. we are one digital culture.  But look at what organizations and institutes now have to deal with…

Yes there are other digital platforms that are in play during all of this but it is Twitter which seems to be the primary conduit for real time conversations, and updates during the riots in London. The real-time aspect of sharing information through Twitter has made the platform ideal for updates on what has been happening. In fact because of the riots, it has been Twitter’s biggest ever spike in UK traffic online.  Beyond the role that social media has been playing in the UK riots, there’s a larger question that needs to be asked…Has the disruptive nature of social media now become the fuel for anarchy?

Eventually we’ll all be good at social media and then what?

I was talking to a really smart person yesterday, way smarter than me, and I told her in no uncertain terms that eventually, this whole social media thing will eventually flatten out. Pretty soon,  a lot of us, if not all of us, will have a pretty solid grasp of what social media is, and and how we are supposed to use it. So instead of just a few of us knowing what’s going on along with the requisite snake oil guys, they’ll be a whole slew of us running around who actually might know what they’re doing. It’s inevitable. For some of you snake oil dudes-the clock is ticking

Just like the early days of the internet and AOL, of email and using Hotmail and Outlook for some good ole’ email blasts, of SEO, of pay per click, of content marketing and so on and so forth. In each case there was always that big learning curve and once everyone overcame that, then all of a sudden you had people and companies left and right who decided to wrap whole business solutions around disciplines such as internet marketing, email marketing, search engine marketing and content marketing.

What happens is, as more and more people learn social media, they then turn right around and flip that new found knowledge into a business that is either directly or indirectly related to it. That’s technology.

So then what happens is that some people are no longer deemed a  social media specialist as much as they become a generalist. Face it, we all to a certain degree become generalists. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. It means that surface level discussions now have the potential to take deeper dives because we all have a general understanding.

Right now, we’re still stuck in a semi-education mode with social.

My point though is that the days of the lone ranger, of the actual social media knight in shining armor riding in to save the day, will start to wane. Eventually when a mar-comm person or an IT person, or a PR person is hired, the skillsets will include a healthy understanding of how to use social networks, how to build communities, how to engage users in social nets, how to drive engagement in social nets and how to measure social engagements. Those will be “must have’s” and not “would be nice” reqs-and that won’t be asking a  lot either.

The day is coming. We’re not there yet but eventually finding a director of social media won’t be too difficult and having director of social media in your title will be the same as being a director or email marketing or SEO, they’ll be everywhere; which will still be cool, but as I said, eventually, you’ll see that everyone will have experience “with” social media on their resume right alongside all the other must have skill sets . We’re close but not yet. But when we are there, then the real fun will begin.

Why Digital Strategies Fail.

The easy answer on why digital strategies fail is that technology is changing so quickly that once an organization has decided to implement one strategy, it’s time to alter course and develop a new one. And to a certain extent that’s partly true.  It is very difficult to stay ahead of the curve, especially now.

But the real reason a  lot of digital strategies fail isn’t because of a dearth of good ideas or talent, it’s because of 5 things inherent in a lot of organizations. They are in descending order of importance.

5. Turnover coupled with leadership vacuum.

4. Red Tape/Politics/Hidden agendas

3. Lack of belief or Buy in from Leadership

2. Poor planning and Bad execution

1. Culture

I suppose that we could easily expand this discussion to include other aspects of a business that fail instead of  just digital strategies because of the above mentioned bullet points, but these 5 seem to occur moreso than most around aspects of digital.

For example, if we’re to believe the Gartner Hype Cycle, which I do, we’re approximately 2-5 years away from mainstream adoption of social analytics. That’s measuring and monitoring and analyzing the biggest technological and cultuural phenomenon to hit the globe since the internet first came on the scene, and we’re 2-5 years from mainstream adoption. It’s not a technology problem.

It’s tough to stay ahead of the curve when some struggle to just get on the curve. Why is that? Your number one answer? Culture. We have to get out of our own way.

It’s the people not the platform

I was asked the other day via a tweet what was my biggest challenge when managing social media. I shot back, “It’s the people not the platform”.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. Was it the right answer?

You see, there are thousands of companies out there right now that are wanting to tap into all that makes social business sexy right now-Finding new customers, tightening the relationships with existing ones, discovering new channels of business oh and making money.

There’s just one problem. The platforms where social business may take place i.e., Twitter, Facebook, Blogs-They’re solid and the people that flock to them? Well, sometimes they are not. Which means if the employees can’t grasp the nuances of connecting on Facebook, can’t figure out how to leverage social relationships on Twitter or can’t figure out how to write a compelling blog post that will be shared and commented on-then invariably the problem isn’t the technology as much as it is the people using it.

The reality is that the barriers of social media adoption are so low that anyone in 5 minutes could, 1) create a blog and a blog post, 2) a Twitter account and a tweet, and 3) a company Facebook fan page. It’s too easy to start and it’s too easy to fail-which invariably leads to social efforts that fall flat. Largely it fails because the expectations are so huge and because they are measured against other companies that invested time, resources, and people first strategies and the platform last.

Start with your people first and build from there. People define platforms.