There is a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
If that’s the case, then I guess I’ve been insane for about two years now.
Every day I read and post content about social media, every week I blog, (largely about social media) and every month I give talks and consult with companies large and small about social media.
But somehow, in spite of all of that professional activity, I’ve been unable to answer one big question…
Why am I doing this?
- I’m not sure any of these things actually make any difference to anyone.
- I’m not sure I have anything original to add to the conversation anymore. (Actually, I’m not sure the conversation itself is very original anymore.)
- I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to be an “expert” in anymore.*
The truth of the matter is, when it comes to social media, I’ve been pretty unhappy, dissatisfied and lost for some time now.
And it felt like it was time to come clean about that.
The more the merrier.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Many “old-timer” social media experts have expressed a similar sense of disenchantment with the state of social media today.
After half a decade of doing this, many of us (who haven’t already moved on to new careers…which is a lot of us.) have looked around and realized maybe the social media gurus did in fact inherit the earth, maybe companies will always treat social as a game and not a respectable marketing or PR tool, maybe the Cluetrain Manifesto is still ahead of its time.
But, in spite of these nagging suspicions, I have just kept plugging away at this, because an even bigger question was always sitting ahead of the “why” one…
What else would I do?
You guys, I’m totally broken.
It seemed like I couldn’t just write this post — a post that admitted I’m stuck and lost and don’t know the answer.
You’re not supposed to admit you are broken until you’re ready to announce that you’ve already fixed yourself.
So, I’ve been waiting to write the post that detailed how I had had a great life struggle, but figured everything out after having some glorious epiphany (Maybe in a dream!) and was now announcing all of my passionate new plans for the future.
But the epiphany has yet to occur.
Stupid epiphany. Where you at?
“If we really want to live a joyful, connected and meaningful life, we must talk about things that get in the way.” – Brene Brown
I don’t have any big revelation to share with you other than to be dead honest about the fact that I’m stuck. I have totally lost my place and I’m not sure how to find it again.
But I also know it’s a waste of time to pretend everything is fine and just soldier on…
- Life is too short to continue doing something just because it’s what you’ve always done.
- Life is too short to keep walking in circles just because you’re not sure which direction you should start walking forward in.
- Life is too short to pretend that you’re happy just because it’s too awkward to admit that you’re sad.
No, I’m not closing my 12-year-old consulting practice, (I like helping and teaching people, and I’m good at it.) And no, I’m not walking away from social media forever, (In fact, I have a book about social media etiquette I’ll be publishing before the end of the year.)
I guess I’m just saying I need to start walking forward again. And I don’t know where that will take me, or if you’ll want to come along for the ride, (I hope you will.)
I’m saying that the game I’ve been playing…with you…with myself…is over.
But I suspect the adventure is just beginning.
*In content circles, I am a “social media expert.” In social media circles, my numbers and scores are too low to qualify as a true guru, so I am a “content expert.” So, I guess I’m an expert at defying categorization? (Or perhaps I’m an expert in not caring about this question any longer.)
Solidarity. I went through this with social media, then moved on to content strategy. Now I’m in the same place with content strategy—looking around and thinking, “Well, now what?” It’s scary and weird, and it took guts to share. Thanks, as always, for your guts.
Well thank you for reading it and taking the time to comment. Glad to hear I’m not alone on this.
Man, I’d think you’d be all set with content strategy expertise. Haven’t you heard? Content strategy is going to SAVE THE WORLD! 🙂
What a brutally honest assessment of not just your current state, Jennifer, but of the ‘social engagement’ community as a whole.
I am not so sure that the Cluetrain Manifesto is still way ahead of its time, rather I feel that in all the euphoric building of machines of engagement we’ve let some old habits sneak back in.
In reality, for many, the fresh uniqueness of directly reaching out to clients has faded and pressure to fall back on established paths by those who do not understand is great. Its just a tool to attract more eyeballs to our message, they can be heard to say.
This goes against Cluetrain #17
*Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
The pressure is to get immediate gratification – ROI that can be directly tied to real cash on the table. So we gamify, and ‘need to go viral’, all so the CEO and head of marketing can, in the words of Governor William J. Le Petomane of Blazing Saddles fame – “Gentlemen, we need to save our phony baloney jobs!”
Alright, so maybe their jobs are not so phony baloney but the pretext for stone cold metrics is.
What they have lost sight of is Cluetrain # 33, 34 and 35
*Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.
*To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
*But first, they must belong to a community.
What we are more often asked to do is pretend this is what we are doing while still hiding the corporate separation. A not third wall that is a third wall.
I am no longer directly involved in social for a company as the vision for what it must do changed after we had built and established it for the company. The outreach as we called it stemmed from my seeing directly communities talking, cajoling, scolding and crying out to us but getting no answer.
The reaction was immediate and visceral. After some resistance upper management let us build bigger but then came the demand of making it more dynamic, it must be gamified, it must a profit center and now…..
What it became reminds me of a line in the kids book ‘The Donuts Chef’ – Two chefs fight it out to reign supreme in selling doughnuts with culinary extremes :
It wasn’t long before the sweets
looked not at all like doughnut treats
They’d lost their soul.
They’d even lost their donut hole!”
In the end the Chef finds that what most folks love the best is the delight of a simple glazed.
Perhaps it is just me but this, I fear, is the cause of our malaise.
Pretty much everything about your comment makes me like you a whole lot.:)
I totally agree about the “human voice/parlor trick” quote. I had cherry-picked that quote 4-5 years ago for presentations and really felt like it was touching upon a deep truth. But it’s one no one ever seemed to get on board with. At the end of the day it was so much easier for a company to say, “Let’s just count “likes” and “retweets.” Those feel like cold, hard “truthy” numbers that really mean something, so they must be more important.”
A lot of what i’ve seen has been about companies giving lip service to the concepts of community and transparency and conversation, but while still maintaining and respecting a pretty rigid, siloed, self-focused company. And quite frankly, balancing those two at the same time becomes a joke after awhile and an exercise in frustration for all involved. You’re right, after a certain amount of discomfort and experimentation, most companies (heck, most humans) default back to what they know and what they feel is safe. Glazed donuts for all.
On one hand I feel like these old habits die hard and it’s pointless to try to force companies break them, but on the other few would deny that the world of communication has changed radically in the past decade. Companies need to innovate and become more flexible or they’ll die. But (understandably) they don’t want to hear that. So, after awhile, you think, “how long am I going to spend telling them they are in danger before I just realize that they’re not ready to hear it.” For me, five years might be it.
I admire your honesty. Talking about letting it all hang out . . .
In my part of the business world, there’s still legal concerns and regulation and corporate hierarchies. Can’t get around it for all the pretty talk.
Thanks for the comment and the perspective on how things look in your world. I appreciate it.