Are you living social?
“Do any of the people who make up your company, agencies, partners and so on actually live social?” That’s the question David Armano asks in his opinion piece in the Harvard Business Review.
His point is that a company (a winery, for example) shouldn’t just go out and hire somebody to manage their social media campaign if the actual people who run the company aren’t “living” it. That is treating social media “like a temporary advertising campaign,” an adjunct to traditional business practices rather than a revolutionization of them. If a winery tries “to control [the message] rather than participate in the discussion…then you’re not living social.”
I take Armano’s point. If a winery thinks it can just hire an “ad agency, PR firm or business consultancy to go out and ‘be social’ for them,” this will indeed “limit potential success.” But I’m not sure I agree that all management, everywhere, has to be SMATT [social media all the time]. It’s more complicated than that.
It’s too early in the evolution of social media to predict what will work and what won’t. I think, for example, of those wineries (Murphy-Goode, Jackson Family Farms and St. Supery come to mind) that already have hired social media directors. In a sense they’ve done exactly what Armano says not to: Farmed out the social media sphere to hired experts, while the senior partners and owners who pay them do not necessarily “live social.” They (in Armano’s words) “assume that they themselves don’t have to be social (open and collaborative) to reap the rewards (cost savings, marketing ROI, effective reputation management, and search engine juice) they think they might get from social media.”
Well, this is only proper business practice. You identify a need and then hire someone to fill it because you don’t have the time to do it yourself. It’s in the job description. It’s all well and good to say that a winery that wants to use social media has to “live social” from top to bottom, but that’s a little like saying that a general heading up a war has to peel potatoes and scrub latrines in order to be “honestly engaged” with the troops or that Steve Jobs has to twitter and Facebook all day for ROI. (Does he?)
And yet Armano is spot-on when he suggests that the crass, reflexive use of social media by wineries will be instantly and harmfully recognized by other users who “look askance at posers.” “If you’re not genuinely, honestly engaged in the social network,” he warns, “you’re not going to get far with those who are.” This is true, as I learned when I started blogging. Some saw me as a poser. The idea that I wasn’t “honestly engaged,” that I was merely crashing a party others had started, was false, but it took me a while to get that message across. Wineries are going to have to put bets on social media before the wheel stops turning.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, which I think is endemic to the social media world, it’s that you can’t please everybody all the time, as tempting as that may be. Individual bloggers soon discover this; so do wine companies. There will be carping and criticism of everything, and if you’re a highly-structured company, this may be a problem. Armano deals with this in an indirect way when he asks “Where does social media live?” by which he means, Where inside the company? “Is it marketing? Is it public relations? Is it IT or corporate? Is it a combination of multiple business units…”? These are questions every company asks itself — so far, without answers. My own feeling is that it doesn’t matter where you house social media. That’s an old-style tactic that doesn’t fit in with the new paradigm, which is non-hierarchical. It doesn’t matter who represents the winery’s face or what her title is. If it’s done passionately and with talent — and let’s not pretend this is some junior position because it’s not — it will help the winery’s bottom line.
New paradigms are hard to recognize. Even if you’re lucky enough to recognize you’re in one, it’s hard to know exactly how to adapt, and impossible to see clearly where it’s going. Nobody who hopes to use social media should get too locked-in, or addicted, to anything. That means not believing the hype. Twitter could turn out to be this generation’s Nehru jacket. Even Pluto was downgraded from a planet to an asteroid. Nothing’s safe.
Whenever I hear about “living the social media life” it makes me worry. People already spend too much time on it, at the risk of being disengaged from the real world. Yes, the digital world is not the real world, in case that fact has escaped anyone’s attention. Remember that “social” had a profound meaning for humans before “social media” existed. Does any Twitterer believe he’s created anything new, beyond the medium, which is Faster! Stronger! New and Improved from anything we’ve known before? Can any social media relationship be as good as an old-fashioned relationship in which the participants actually meet in the real world, hang out together, eat and drink and laugh and talk with and see each other?
HAPPY NEW YEAR! See you in 2010.