Social media this, social media that. Are you tired of hearing about “social media” yet? Well, if you are, my heart aches for you in advance. With the financial chasms in this country deepening and marketing budgets being the first to get slashed, expect social media to go the route of Icarus until it reaches its tragic meeting with the sun.
These days, it seems like everyone – theoretically speaking, at least – is doing social media. As a result, there are dime-a-dozen self-anointed social media “experts” everywhere. Everywhere, I tell you! Overindulged “social media gurus“ (the less faint of heart despise the word “guru,” yet don’t hesitate to describe themselves with it) navigate the sinewy entrails of the interwebs, flaunting and strutting their proverbial feathers for anyone who’ll pay at least a backwards glance. “Look at me, I’m a social media expert! I know everything there is to know about social media! I have the answers! I set the tone!”
There are gobs and gobs of ambitious and savvy Internet users out there – cutting-edge marketers, calculated enterpreneurs, impatient get-rich-quicks, critical executives, curious public relations personnel, bushy-tailed college graduates, tentative self-employeds, and so on – confidently asserting that they know social media. Hell, I’m pretty much one of them! We’re all out there claiming to be the definitive voice on social media. Asserting our opinions like the deciphering Rosetta Stone to those social media hieroglyphics. We’ve articulated how-tos, promulgated guidelines, set the acceptable standards. We’ve engaged each other in the “echo chamber” via self-serving, back-patting discussions. But by and large, social media “experts” really love to create copious – which, translated, means often indigestible and inconceivable – amounts of rules, rules, rules, rules. Because, well, you know. We social media folk know what social media is and we know what social media expertise is all about.
But c’mon – who’s really an “expert” at this, anyway? An “expert” is defined at the core as someone “with a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a certain subject.” Fair enough. So those of us that “specialize” in “social media strategy” or “social media consulting” are then de facto “experts,” right?
Really? For a subject that’s been around for such a short period of time that’s ever-evolving (as in hourly and daily – this is hyper-time, baby), just what out there can we possibly be “experts” on, exactly? What’s the subject matter? Okay, what’s the subject matter now? Even the ever-influential Malcolm Gladwell claims that we need at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to really master a subject area or skill – that’s 20 hours a week for 10 years, folks. Has there even been enough time to become an “expert” on these tools, in these conversations, in these interactions that are always, always, always changing, and never, ever, ever constant?
So I ask again: Are we the experts? I’ll speak for myself; I’m certainly no social media “expert.” I didn’t go to social media school and my Juris Doctor specialization certainly wasn’t in social media. I’ve learned everything I know through an insatiable enthusiasm for the trends, ascent, and usage diversification of social media, becoming a heavy user of the social media tools, and through trial and error. So is it still acceptable, although I’ve had no formal education on “social media,” that I hold myself out as a social media “expert”?
What do we – we, the self-proclaimed social media strategists, the social media consultants, the social media advisors, the social media evangelists – what do we really know, anyway?
Frankly, we know as much as anyone. And that “anyone” is any of you.
Dearest random Facebook user, darling random Twitterer, querido random Flickr user – you specialize in social media just as much as I do, just as much as he does, just as much as we do. You’re out there in Social Media Land, just like me, experiencing and experimenting with these tools and platforms daily, letting them transform your careers, your relationships, your leisure time, your hobbies, your social calendars – your very lives, at their most fundamental. You’re in it, just like me, in the thick of it, having the conversations of Jane Everywoman and Joe Everyman, fueling the engines of social media. You have no desire to analyze behaviors or value or ROI. You don’t care how to participate in and massage conversations for marketing purposes. You don’t care about tracking your brand. And yet, you are what makes this whole thing go. You are social media!
So then how can there be rules for this when the very nature of social media depends upon the spontaneity and unpredictability of human interactions, human conversations, and human experiences? Are there rules for that? Well?
Let’s extrapolate for a second here. What rules govern your offline interactions with people? For instance, do you consult a handbook before you lean over your cubicle wall to greet your co-worker? Do you conduct extensive online research before going to the bar for drinks and idle banter with your friends? Chances are, you probably don’t, because hard and fast rules don’t permeate your everyday relationships. Not with flesh and blood, anyway. Unless, that is, you’ve deemed the generally held notions of common decency “rules” by which you conduct your daily activities. Normally, you’ll find such nonsecular edicts buried deep within the foundation of many holy institutions. But for those of us that aren’t particularly religious, these mere proposals for human conduct are not transcribed nor housed in some public repository for all to see and admire, nor are they universally honored. Besides, it’s a matter of course that these sorts of behaviors are subject to wild variations in interpretation from individual to individual.
Social media, my friends, is a study in sociology, at best. It’s merely “an effort to use systematic methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human societies and human social activity.” And it is chaos, at worst. This is the humanity, and its actions cannot be prescribed, dictated, or controlled. Social media, at all times, is a snapshot of the human condition.
Why? Because there are no rules in social media. There are norms. There are customary behaviors. There are habitual behaviors. There are recommendations and suggested guidelines. But there aren’t rules.
We “social media” folk study you. We study your interactions, we study how you relate to each other in the sphere that geeks have most aptly dubbed “social media.” We want to know what you do before you do it, so that we can say, “Yeah, we knew you were going to do that! Because we know you! We know what you did, why you did it, and we know what you’ll do next! It’s social media!” It’s amazing we social media folk have any breath left after proclamations such as those.
But fellow social media “experts,” we’re not the teachers here. We’re the students. Do you realize how much the public at large is educating us about our very own craft? About our area of “expertise”? We are learning our jobs from them!
Those people out there, blogging and using Facebook and YouTube and Flickr and Twitter? They don’t call this stuff “social media,” kids. When I tell people what I do, I usually have to say, “I help companies and organizations use Facebook and Twitter to market their businesses and interact with their clients.” Because if I go into any additional details, I run the risk of alienating anyone that isn’t in the industry. You know, those people for whom we created this term, “social media,” remember? Yes, them. The meat and potatoes of “social media.”
Yes, we social media “experts” are heavy users and early adopters of the social media applications about which we preach and gush. Yes, we take part in the conversations swirling around us. Yes, we push out well-written, meaningful content (which probably isn’t of interest to anyone else but us, but that’s outside the scope of this post).
But who creates this? Who makes it so? Who makes it “wrong,” for example, to follow someone on Twitter and then, after you follow them back, you’re unfollowed immediately? Who makes a social pariah out of the users that are constantly intruding with invitations to Vampire Wars and Lil’ Green Patch applications on Facebook? Who makes it “wrong” to fail to credit the usage of another Flickr user’s picture in a blog post? Who makes those practices “norms”? Who ushers them into “custom”?