The five tribes of social media

Just came across a terrific post from my friend Sean Moffitt at his Buzz Canuck blog. Sean argues that there are five basic character types swimming around the social media fish bowl – each speaking a different language and each having a fundamentally different understanding of what is social media.

He writes:

The fact that these different 5 tribes exists is a good thing – it points to the multi-faceted nature of social media’s benefits. The inability for these social media tribes, particularly the more seasoned ones, to accept that they operate inescapably in the same social media bouillabaisse is a continuing issue that threatens the future financial health of the social media industry. It’s just too bad we don’t have some kind of United Nations of social media where people of different tribes could try to understand the other’s positions with the help of translators…because right now, we’re still talking different languages.

He’s right, of course. I’m constantly amazed at how every social media “expert” defines social media in a different way. Even buzz words like “conversation” can mean very different things to different people.

How do public relations types come across in Sean’s analysis? He gives credit to our tribe for recognizing that influencers deserve special attention, but says we don’t pay enough attention to the community aspect of social media and don’t spend enough time on relationship building.

I don’t necessarily agree with that analysis (I think PR actually pays more attention to relationship-building than many other marketing disciplines) but Sean’s overview provides some good insight as to how we’re viewed.

Now tell us Sean — which tribe do you belong to?

The inspirational quote I would have shared

I messed up.

Each Friday, we finish up our weekly staff meetings with an inspirational quote. For the first time it was my turn. And I completely forgot.

I was going to use a quote from Bill Bernbach — the “B” in ad agency DDB. I like the guy. I refer to him and his legacy when I’m trying to help clients and prospective clients understand and appreciate the way social media is redefining the entire marketing communications landscape. Bernbach is given credit for helping to launch a creative revolution in advertising around 1960, one that would forever alter the way in which marketers speak to consumers. The impact of social marketing is just as profound. I describe it as the second major revolution in marketing, with Bernbach’s being the first.

Bernbach was also a quote machine. Here are some of his gems:

“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

“Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it.”

“In communications, familiarity breeds apathy.”

“Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.”

“Our job is to sell our clients’ merchandise… not ourselves. Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product. Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.”


Today the quotes are a little dated. They came from an era when the best way to sell stuff was through TV ads. There were only three or three television stations in most markets and people watched shows in groups at predetermined times. The Internet wouldn’t come to people’s homes for another 35 years and digital video recorders were still 45 years away.

But replace the words “advertising” with “social media” in his quotes and they are just as relevant as they were in 1960.

How to get Social Media Smart

I just made a presentation to business and marketing students from across Ontario at the Queen’s Marketing Association Conference.

My topic: How to get Social Media Smart. My thesis was simple: You’re into marketing. You want to work in marketing. Social Media Marketing is huge and growing and if you’re not already active in this space you’d better get there fast.

Before I get to my seven tips on How to Get Social Media Smart, a few quick observations…

  • While these university students get social media, their experience is largely limited to Facebook, YouTube and reading blogs. Only a couple wrote their own blogs. Most didn’t know much about Twitter or LinkedIn; few used social bookmarking tools or feed readers.
  • The exception was one guy who put up his hand for everything — he blogs, he Twitters and Jaikus, he uses feed readers and social bookmarking. If I were hiring for a marketing job, he’s he guy I would want.
  • They also told me that Facebook is still gaining in popularity on campus. It’s easy to get stuck in our tech geek bubble where Facebook is, like, so 2007, but it’s worth remembering that Facebook is still, by far, the No. 1 social network in Canada. Marketers who don’t have a Facebook strategy are behind the 8-ball.

That said, I offered them seven tips on How to Get Social Media Smart. Here they are:

  1. Join another social network. Facebook isn’t enough. Try LinkedIn or Twitter, or another social network.
  2. Read blogs, lots of blogs.
  3. Listen to podcasts. My favourites include Marketing over Coffee, For Immediate Release and Six Pixels of Separation. (Come to think of it, I’m probably somewhat indebted to Mitch Joel of Six Pixels for this list; he did a similar list in his New Year’s Show).
  4. Join the conversation. Don’t just lurk. Blog, microblog, post comments on blogs, leave comments on podcasts.
  5. Use a feed reader. (I use Google Reader.)
  6. Use a social bookmarking tool. (I use del.icio.us.)
  7. Manage your own online brand. Google yourself. Try to develop a consistent online persona. And remember that everything you post online (even in a closed community like Facebook) can live on forever.

Twittersquatting targets General Motors

General Motors unveiled a major, global social media campaign last week to mark the company’s 100th birthday. The platform, called GMnext, includes a commitment to allow/encourage its employees to participate in discussions about the company though blogs, wikis and discussion forums.

In a blog post about GMnext, Shel Holtz refers to the recent discussion about whether brands or organizations can actually participate in social networks — or only people representing those brands or organizations. GM, he notes, won’t try to participate as a brand, but will let its own flesh and blood employees represent the company. That obviously comes with risks, but it shows that General Motors understands that the communications landscape has changed radically over the past 18 months or so.

It’s particularly interesting to me that — for such an important anniversary — General Motors has decided to write its history through social media instead of commissioning an official biography. GM has set up an internal wiki through which employees and retirees will collaborate on an online company history.

This is all great.

But Dutch blogger Marco Derksen noticed that the company had failed to stake out its ground on various prominent social networks. So he went and secured GMnext branding on networks including Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, del.icio.us and Flickr.

He’s done it to prove a point and says he’ll gladly surrender the identities in exchange for a cup of coffee with GM execs in New York. The point is this: Just like it’s best practice to guard against cybersquatters by securing domain names similar to your own, it’s also a good idea to protect against twittersquatters (or MySpacesquatters or Facebooksquatters) by securing user IDs in those space.

I don’t disagree, but I think this raises an interesting issue. Most companies — even big ones like GM — don’t have the resources to participate in every social network. Best practice would say you pick the big ones (like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace) and join the conversations.

But, what if you don’t have the resources (or the commitment) to truly be part of that conversation? Yes, you could set up Twitter so it would update with blog posts, but what if there’s nobody available to really participate and discuss in this forum? Is it better to secure the Twitter ID so nobody else can use it, even if you aren’t really participating? Or is a disengaged presence even worse than no presence at all?

Does the world need any more predictions?

I decided to start 2008 off right. The first thing I did on arrival in the office (after checking my Twitter feed as per New Year’s Resolutions post) was to read through the various 2008 predictions for technology and social media.

You can find them tagged as “2008predictions” on my del.icio.us page.

So clearly, there’s no shortage of predictions out there, but just for fun, here’s four of my own:

1) Social media will continue to move from computer to mobile devices. This is pretty obvious, except for the fact that most North American marketers haven’t thought much about it yet. The migration will take some time, especially in Canada, which lags most of the developed world in mobile marketing, but 2008 will see some major moves forward.

2) Social networks will understand that not all friends are created equal. Friends, colleagues, family, prospective employers — all are different types of friends with whom I should be able to share different bits of information. Google showed they don’t understand this when they began sharing Google Reader bookmarks with Google Talk contacts. Watch for increased ability to tag friends based on relationships and set privacy settings accordingly.

3) The slowdown will help the entrenched. The U.S. economy is expected to cool in 2008. I don’t think we’ll see the bubble burst the way it did a few years back for dot coms. In fact, I think entrenched players like Facebook and Twitter will continue to see valuations rise. But the slowdown may mean less venture capital for challenger social networks. So I don’t think we’ll see a “new Facebook” in 2008, the way we saw Facebook become the “new MySpace” in 2007. (The caveat here is Google, which has the resources to make itself into the dominant player in any Web sector, either through development or acquisition.)

4) 2008 will see the rise of a better Second Life. Google is already rumoured to be building one. Facebook should too. The fact that these companies are custodians of the so-called social graphs make them well suited to transition into a virtual reality space that could get mass traction.

Lessons in social media from a horse on a stick

When I arrived at Veritas, with a mission to spread the social media gospel within the organization as well as outside, I began writing a weekly e-mail to my colleagues which I uncreatively called “Social Media 101.” I churned out two of them before I got sidetracked by other things. I hope this blog is now providing my colleagues with a bit of 101. (Inside message to fellow Veritasians: If you mention that you read this post, I’ll buy you a Sambuca shot at Friday’s Christmas party).

Now Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo of Vancouver’s Capulet Communications have written a 101-type ebook, which they call Getting to First Base: A Social Media Marketing Playbook. You can buy it for $30 here, but Darren was kind enough to send me a copy.

I haven’t had much time with it, but after a quick scan on the subway ride home, there are a few things I really like about it.

First, it looks like it has some great case studies — both the obvious and some more obscure ones.

Second, it is surprisingly up to date (there’s a long entry on Facebook Beacon).

Third, they specify that the social media techniques in their book don’t apply to kids under 16. That’s important, because I find that a lot of marketers still think of social media as something specifically intended for kids under 16. And that’s just wrong. In com.motion’s recent social media poll, we found that 71 per cent of Canadians 18 and up have used social media tools. Predicatably, the number was much higher (93 per cent) for those aged 18 to 34, but still surprisingly high (49 per cent) for those aged 55 and up.

(Daren and Julie’s book would probably make a nice companion to com.motion’s Social Media training seminars. Contact me for more information on those.)

Finally, check out Daren and Julie’s promotional video in which a horse on a stick (I think it’s a horse) says — and I quote — “this books sounds very interesting. Maybe we should buy it. Maybe for some of our friends at Christmas. Mmmm. yes. Because nothing says Christmas like Social Media Marketing.”

Happy holidays.


mcarthur (at) veritascanada.com

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Facebook fumble: How can the poster child for social media conversations be so bad at it?

Back when I was working as a reporter, I was struck by the fact that the companies with the strongest brands are sometimes the worst at public relations. I won’t name names, but suffice to say that some of Canada’s most iconic brands are among them.

The most recent (non-Canadian) example is Facebook, which had come out of nowhere in the past 12 months to establish itself as one of the English speaking world’s most loved brands. No exaggeration.

It’s also no exaggeration to say that the Facebook folks are precariously close to losing all that good faith.

In an online piece yesterday Josh Quittner, the former editor of Business 2.0 magazine, warned that Facebook is being harmed “perhaps to a terminal degree” by “enormously bad PR.” He writes:

For a social media company, these folks don’t understand the first thing about communication; they have alienated the press by being arrogant, aloof and dishonest. Their idea of press relations is sending a stupid message to a What’s New at Facebook Group that directs you to another website for a canned statement. … Facebook has turned all the people who rooted for it into a lynch mob. In the space of a month, it’s gone from media darling to devil.

His harsh words relate to Facebook’s PR efforts around its Beacon advertising program, which allows Facebook advertisers to send users’ personal data — like what books or movies they order — to their friends.

Also yesterday, Robert Scoble (author of Naked Conversations), dumped blog criticism on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for his turtle act around Beacon:

I don’t see ONE SINGLE INTERVIEW that Mark Zuckerberg, or top executives at Facebook, have given ANYONE. Hell, don’t like me or other bloggers? Then give a press conference with professional press. ANYTHING would be better than the way that Facebook is handling this.

It appears that Zuckerberg may have got the message. For the first time in 15 months, Zuckerberg posted today to the Facebook blog. (Interestingly, his last post was also an apology).

Here’s what he wrote today:

We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. … It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

He took responsibility, apologized and announced that Facebook has released a privacy control that allows users to turn off Beacon altogether. This may be a case of too much, too late. Zuckerberg failed to follow one of the primary rules in crisis management: Apologize because it’s the right thing to do, not because you have to. By waiting too long (until he had to), he may actually have had to make greater concessions than if had been able to get ahead of the crisis early on.

Facebook is the poster child for social media, conversation marketing and online communities. But while it facilitates and enables those communities, it is surprisingly ignorant in how to converse in them.

mcarthur (at) veritascanada.com

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