There’s a social media evolution – Part 1

(See “There’s no social media revolution” by Paul Seaman for direct context.)

Over the past few weeks, Paul Seaman and I have engaged in a friendly debate (well, a series of individual blog posts) about social media and whether or not it changes the rules of business.

Paul and I are in opposite camps of belief – he of the “no it doesn’t” school, me of the “I reckon it does.”

I will continue developing and exposing my own thinking in another post here in this blog soon. (This debate already has contributed to the start of a broad fleshing out of thoughts in the post Is ‘social business’ the new black? I wrote the other day.)

Today, though, I’ve recorded a podcast with some comments about some specific elements in Paul’s latest post concerning what he says about General Motors, Dell and Erik Qualman.

I’m not defending any organization or individual: they’re all grown up and can do that for themselves. Indeed, I hope they choose to join the debate, here or at Paul’s blog, or anywhere else.

The more joining the conversation, the merrier.

Chronology so far:

I shall be writing a further post soon. Meanwhile, any and all comments welcome.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Paul Seaman

    Neville, I look forward to your next post. Our debate is certainly sparking interest and I would urge people to get stuck in and to let us both know their views. The more input we receive from other opinion-formers and readers the further and the better this discussion will progress.

  2. Richard Stacy

    Neville / Paul

    Can I tip this boulder into the pond of your debate – a boulder not necessarily because of its anticipated impact, but because of its size (8,000 words). In my defence, I was commissioned to write something of this length and style. Its intention was to demonstrate, as comprehensively as possible, why social media represents a fundamental shift to the way we do pretty much everything – which will affect business, government, society. I sit on Neville’s side of the fence therefore and while I appreciate Paul’s points I think they are flawed because they are looking at the future through the lens of the past – a common mistake when confronting genuine revolutions. Its why we called cars horseless carriages and bemoaned the death of the blacksmiths.

    Check out also Clay Shirky – I think he nails it pretty well in this recent TEDTalks presentation

    Could we perhaps have a twitter tag to create a space for this debate? Will make it much easier than following individual posts and comments. #rev? perhaps or #N&P.

  3. David Phillips

    Hi Neville, This is interesting and perhaps continues a discussion Richard Bailey and I began last May.

    We debated whether we are now entering a period of evolution or revolution.

    I used the OED definition:

    1 a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system.
    2 a dramatic and far-reaching change.

    It is my belief that social media is not just capable but is already providing the facility for revolution and is therefore a revolution in itself.

    The mass exposure of beliefs and their consequences is perhaps the most vivid manifestation of the revolution.

    The social order in the West and in the Middle East is now under huge pressure.

    Mohammed, not his real name, is 46, from Paktia province near Afghanistan’s troubled border with Pakistan. He can say to the BBC reporter Chris Morris

    “But if the president wins again… well, we can’t accept it.”

    It was reported yesterday. No change. It is reporting as we have known it for a very long time. In another time, it would have then been put in a dusty archive.

    What is different now is that Afghan’s across the country can now see, repeat, forward and store this snippet. It is the evidence that is in the hands of those who would want to overthrow governments.

    It is now also part of that body of influential content that will affect votes in a British parliament. It is hard, searchable evidence, not a short, transitory verbal report on the BBC World Service.

    It is also part of global conversations in a wide range of social media with a wider audience.

    Conversations put such phrases into context and online this can, and often is, context in very large networks. It is searchable and can come to life again, long after the event.

    This brief sentence has considerable power as part of community interaction and because we are social animals it can be part of social group formation.

    It is this that gives it power to be of a revolution.

    • neville

      Thanks David. The example you give from Afghanistan lends great credibility to understanding what social media can help individuals achieve as a means to effect change, revolutionary or otherwise.

      I suppose whether we’re entering a period of revolution or evolution does depends on your point of perspective apart from anything else.

      In the business context, I see much of what’s happening as evolutionary. Yet can the business context really be separated out from the overall picture?

      In which case, is it all really revolutionary?

      More to consider.

  4. Keith Childs

    Disclosure: I work for GM Europe and the blog Driving Conversations falls under my remit. I’m jumping in here and adding my two cents. This comment is cross-posted on Paul Seaman’s blog:
    Paul quotes from the opening post from Chris Preuss, the former Communications VP for GM Europe: ‘Driving Conversations is a blog for GM leadership in Europe—mostly led by Carl-Peter Forster—to discuss products, issues and corporate performance from a personal perspective.’
    Paul adds: “But that’s a misleading claim from GM at best; dishonest at worst. Here, the “personal perspective” is a clever way to express the corporate perspective, or Forster would soon be out of a job.”

    Rubbish! and that’s my personal perspective and not a corporate answer. Personal does not mean I’m going to mention my religious or political views or even what I think of global warming. Personal does not mean challenging your boss in a public forum. Personal does not require you to express opposing points of view. Some people have very strong views and are very outspoken. Others have a different communication style. It is not misleading nor does it make them dishonest.

  5. Paul Seaman

    Keith, I fear that you have actually reinforced my point that all corporate utterance is collegiate, not personal. You say, for instance, that at GM Europe personal views are allowed public expression under the GM banner so long as they do not contradict your bosses, your company, or express any views which have nothing to do with GM, or which make points unlikely to be deemed controversial (unless related directly to GM). That is, your freedom of expression is limited by the need for it to align with GM’s viewpoints, for whom you work as paid employees.

    But the truth is, GM Europe is blogging and tweeting as if its spokespeople were expressing personal views independent of the corporation. In other words, GM Europe is trying to be matey and involved in the ’social media’ world in an attempt to gain empathy and credibility by disguising the corporate voice as a personal one. This approach is actually a clumsy attempt to promote what is just another marketing exercise.

    For sure, the essence of blogging and SM is personal, and that is a distinction (between collegiate and personal) corporates must grasp if they are to intervene in social media forums effectively. Hence, my objective is to identify how to keep the corporate voice authentic and honest, because that is what good reputations depend on for their long-term sustainability.

    • Keith Childs

      Paul, I think you may have misread my comment. I’ll make it clearer. Personal does not make it mandatory to contradict your boss or your company. Hey, I know this might sound strange, but it’s not unusual for people who actually develop or implement strategies for the company to believe they are the right strategies.

      Sorry that you think this is a marketing exercise. If the views expressed are not personal enough for you or controversial enough then this blog is not for you. What would be a good marketing strategy would be to take an opposing view on things, to be deliberately contentious and opinionated. That would certainly get some press coverage. If it’s not that person’s style then it’s wrong for us to encourage a different style online. I think that would be dishonest.

      I respect your views, but I think we agree to disagree on this topic.

  6. Paul Seaman

    Keith, when it comes to new and social media: trust = gold standard for reputation. So it is worth continuing our discussion.

    You confuse style and presentation with the line and content of corporate communication. Style and tone can be very personal and should be encouraged to be so, I would argue. However, while it might help if people working for a firm agree personally with any particular corporate policy that’s formed – especially if they have to communicate it – it is not essential.

    There are, as we know, many different styles of corporate management, including consensus management- and charismatic leadership-led. But whatever form it takes in a corporation, individuals are always subordinate to the interests of the whole.

    Meanwhile, social media – blogging especially – is a highly personalised form of communication. That’s why I think that corporations (and institutions) should steer clear of pretending that they are people and have personalities that are free of corporate ties. They have qualities, and even aspirations, but these are group things.

    In short, SM consultants who advise corporates and their communicators to appear to be in the social media world something that they are not in reality risk undermining the very trust in corporations they are often employed to forge.

  7. Richard Stacy

    It seems to me this argument has got stuck in a bit of rut.

    I don’t think the issue of whether it is valid for a corporate organisation to use social media tools from a personal perspective is actually a relevant debate. Blogs, and all forms of social media are just means of distribution – they are not forms of content (although people often mistake them as such). We tend to make that confusion because for 600 years content has been wedded to a means of distribution. And those means of distribution set the rules – a book has content rules, as does a newspaper article or TV programme. When blogs first emerged they tended to be for a particular type of personalized content. We assumed therefore ( as Paul continues to do) that blogs = personalized content was a rule. It wasn’t – it was simply a function of a blog’s ease of use and availability. You can use a blog to distribute anything – that’s the point.

    Social media is about the fact that content now doesn’t have to be wedded to a particular means of distribution – that’s why it’s a revolution (to return to the original debate in these series of posts) It breaks a fundamental principle established by Gutenberg around which we have shaped almost every institution in our society – until now.

    Social media has shifted information out of places (newspapers, blogs even) into spaces – i.e. conversations. The requirement for corporate use of social media is to understand where you can make a relevant, credible and, above all, useful contribution to these conversations – collegiately, personally, via blogs, twitter, YouTube – whatever. End of story.

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