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Social Media – Shamans and Shysters

By billralston May 13th, 2010

Around every new social development there arise the shamans. Those who seek to shroud the obvious in mystery to create the illusion that only they can interpret the “unknowable”.  And thereby make a buck.

For example, look at the hype over “social media” (presumably this means traditional or mainstream sources are “anti-social media” and perhaps that’s right).

The cyber charlatans smell their chance to cloak in complex jargon and gobbledegook what is a rather pedestrian development in the age old behaviour of human conversation and gossip, so as to give themselves an edge and a marketing opportunity. So arises the new priesthood of the  “social media expert”.

They are generally the humble common or garden PR hack but they garnish their profiles with witless phrases like they’re into “relationship building”, “stakeholder management” and “community building” through mastery of the dark art of online marketing and, in one absurd case, describing themselves as being a “human media monitor”.

Social media and marketing has become the Macarena craze of 2010, a meaningless orchestrated pop chorus that someone, somewhere, is making big bucks out of.

The money lays not so much in using social media or mastering it as a form of commercial communication but in selling the pseudo-science of “understanding social media”.

I read on Dave Farrar’s Kiwiblog of a thing called The Social Media Junction, a social media conference that apparently costs around $700 to attend.

$700?! For that huge sum you can hear people talk about things like, “Becoming a Trust Agent – Social Capital and The New Tribe.”  If you have no idea what that means, apparently it’s about “being human at a distance.” Right.

Apparently places like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, You Tube, Linkedin and the blogosphere are the new frontier where only those well educated in the enterprise of social media can “boldy go” where no one has gone before and make their fortune.

There is no mystery in social media, no real secrets, because using social media for marketing, branding and selling is much the same as using any form of media.

Yes, you have to engage with your audience, grab their attention, and earn their trust but that is the same with any form of advertising or public relations.

Social media just provides yet another channel of communication.

Sure, as with any form of media, you can make mistakes. One peculiar to the online world is that your audience there probably have better attuned “bullshit detectors”.

Online is a reasonably savvy, slightly cynical world and falseness can easily shine through the spin. Even if one reader fails to spot it there are plenty of others out there who will enter an online conversation to point out hypocrisy and pretence.

One potentially fatal fad being pushed by social media experts is “ghosting”, where busy CEO’s and public figures get a ghost-writer to Tweet or Facebook on their behalf. Sadly, there are plenty of ghostbusters out there who can spot the fake Tweeters and either lose all respect for the brand or, worse, blow the ghosters somewhere on line and forever damage their brand’s credibility.

People are not stupid. They know when they are being preached to or pitched to. Woe betide the social media marketers who put what amounts to a hyped up ad on a platform like You Tube. Derision and contempt is heaped upon them.

Yes, it pays to be up to speed on what social media marketing can do for your business, what nifty tricks can be found in that toolbox such as plonking key search engine words in blog posts for example, but beware the snake oil salesmen, the new social media priesthood who flog you their voodoo rites as the cutting edge of modern marketing.

They’re just dancing the Macarena and you’re paying for it.

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