I heart Jeremiah Owyang. Have never met him in person. Would love to though. I think he works really hard at his craft. He understands the concept of riding waves. He left Forrester at the right point. He invested in social at the right point. He’s smart. He’s one of my favorite people to follow and I’ve learned a lot from him.
Recently, he wrote a great post that basically speaks to the CONSTANT reinvention by companies grappling with how to hold on the ever changing landscape of the Social Media space. Specifically, he was talking about pure play social media organizations getting into the media planning and buying space.
I’ve long said we need a social media sheriff. We need someone with the Klout (pun intended) to really call a spade a spade and not be fearful of bruising some egos. As Philip Seymour Hoffman said in Say Anything:
My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You want to be a true friend to them? Be honest and unmerciful.
Frankly, we need more of that in this space. We need an Angie’s List and a “please, run the other way, and never work this company/person” list. Of course, love creating the former and sprint away from the latter. Jeremiah and most analysts will focus on the Angie’s List. You’ll rarely, if ever, see an analysis where an analyst advises avoiding a company.
In the last 15 years in this business I’ve seen a lot while traversing the client and agency side of the business. I’ve sold and been sold. I’ve built social media offerings out of scratch for 2 agencies and listened nearly 1,000 different pitches from companies talking about their approach or solve for social. That’s not an exaggerated figure. I take all calls all the time. This space changes all the time and I never want to miss a potential opportunity.
In response to Jeremiah’s post, I left a comment on his site, but I think it needs a larger platform. It’s actually something that’s been on my mind for a few years now and in a stream of consciousness while waiting for a plane it all finally manifested into words.
With that said, here’s what I think about the state of social media.
We have a big problem. Not a small problem. It was a small problem 4 years ago. Not a medium size problem. It was a medium size problem 2 years. Today, we have a titanic sized problem in the industry that stems from a general lack of accountability. In Groupon’s recent 10K filing they stated something very profound:
We expect competition in e-commerce to continue to increase because THERE ARE NO SIGNIFICANT BARRIERS TO ENTRY.
It’s those lack of barriers that has allowed so many startups to enter the social media playing field. This isn’t just in the social software arena, where there seems to be a new Buddy Media or Hootsuite copycat. No, we’re also seeing large companies create social media spin off companies, departments or “revenue centers.” We’re seeing social media boutiques pop up all the time. As a litany of companies enter the space, it becomes ever more challenging to understand which of these offerings are legitimate, credible and which are selling vaporware.
So, yeah, we have a problem.
But, make no mistake, we created this problem. As agencies we rushed to create social media/business offerings. As an industry we allowed consultants with no experience, but several books to call themselves experts and earn the ear of clients. As social media boutiques we offered buzz word after buzz word but nary a person who’d actually been in the trenches. As clients we turned to all of these companies and said fix it; we washed our hands of the problem by outsourcing it. But who did we outsource it to?
The reason there’s a lack of case studies has everything to do with the fact we still live in a world with risk averse clients, an impatient C-suite, shareholders demanding instant return and of course companies (social media agencies, holding companies, etc.) offering quick solutions. We allow Facebook to keep changing the system and offering almost zero data transparency. We bellied up to the table and kept spending without any concept of what we were buying.
Oh, we most definitely created this problem. And, what do we do in this post and the comments? We offer, at best, half-measured responses that skirt around the issue. We have allowed social media to become SEO industry; a collection of pseudo experts all promising a solution without the talent to do deliver.
Frankly, it’s depressing. I hope for better. But, until we actually are willing to be honest and take a stand against the bullshit being passed off as social media experts, companies and strategy; you aren’t allowed to complain. No, you can’t complain when you lose a piece of business to the smoke and mirrors boutique that has a book, fancy slides and manufactured metrics. We need better accountability. We need the analysts to do their job, step up and call bullshit, bullshit.
But, I get it. Right now, there is zero incentive to be brutally honest. The analysts would lose their connections. The agencies who took a stand would lose short term revenue. The clients would have to admit ignorance. And, well, all of us, with “personal brands” would of course lose all the social media juice that comes from the situation we created. We deserve better. This industry deserves better. Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, if you’re ready to stop perpetuating this situation. I bet you, the answer is no. That’s ok, just like SEO rose above a sewer like environment, so will social. When it does, history will remember your part and reward you accordingly.