June 28, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Chemical Warfare

Chemical Warfare

Dmitri Mendeleev was a genius.

He saw the world of the elements and knew there must be an order, and he was determined to find it.

Mendeleev is responsible for the Periodic Table, which provides useful information about elements at a glance. More than just the letters and figures in the squares, the rows and columns have meaning with regards to chemical properties and which elements will react with others and in what quantities.

Mendeleev’s detractors used to get a huge laugh, pointing at the holes in his early periodic table. “There aren’t any elements there!” they would shout at him. However, the rest of the table was such a fit, Dmitri took the bold step of calling his shot: he predicted the existence of the properties of those missing elements, including their atomic weights.

A few years later, those elements were discovered. This was a dramatic victory for science, as Mendeleev’s framework was validated not just as a pretty picture, but as a useful construct that made the world easier to comprehend and predict.

Rick Liebling is a nice guy.

He has a PR and marketing resume that will dwarf anything I will ever have, yet he’s still tinkering and learning, trying to divine some order in Social Media.

Liebling is responsible for the Periodic Table of Social Media, and dozens of commenters across the sphere are hailing it as brilliant. In reality, it’s no more than just letters and figures in the squares; the rows and columns have no meaning or relationship to anything.

Liebling’s detractors are likely venting in the wrong direction. Rick has been very gracious to say that he doesn’t know much about science, and he recognizes there will be many iterations of this particular idea before it is finished. My hunch is that it will look nothing like a periodic table, and more like something that is peculiar to the needs of Social Media.

This post isn’t for Rick Liebling: it’s for the crowd of sycophants who are unwilling to call out an idea for what it is.

Seeing what is there

Data visualization is a very powerful tool. I’ve used it on my own site (Occam’s Razr ) quite a bit, with one of the original data visuals – the Venn diagram. For it to work properly, you must think deeply about the items in your set, their connection to each other, and then see if those obvious connections lead you to other insights.

In the same way, analogy is such a powerful communication tool. Start with something with which others identify, then tweak the differences so they understand. It’s brilliant shorthand (Christians recognize the concept of parables.) But you can’t just start at a random place and end up somewhere brilliant. This isn’t improv comedy.

Liebling deserves credit for asking the original question, and credit for the humility to say “I don’t know how good this really will be.”

There are clearly flaws with the paradigm. But to listen to the voices of Social Media, it’s hailed as a work of genius:

every once in a while someone really hits the mark, congrats on a job well done, super thought line and overall strategy. You=genius

This is AWESOME! Concise, yet complicated. I’ll be using this in the college class I’m teaching on social media & social networking in May. This will fit right in to that environment.

You must have put so much work into this chart – it is outstanding, one of the most original things on social media I’ve ever seen. Very, very cool!

Holy Cow, this is so cool. I believe that it means that the old Periodic Table that I had stored erroneously for ages can be replaced finally with something relevant. Formulaic and freekin fun.

Those are just on Rick’s site… here is what you see elsewhere:

You have to be a REALLY serious student of social media to drill into it like Rick Liebling has done here

No, you don’t. You just need a decent screengrab utility and Microsoft Paint.

As we enter the new dimensions of our interconnected world, it is important and necessary (and a stroke of pure genius) to envision the relational aspects of the micro-components that comprise the covalent bonds that we will have to co-VALIANTLY share.

I certainly hope that was humor.

Consequences of careless inquiry

It is already enough of a stretch for some that Social Media would be compared to anything scientific. That is for another day. The issue here is one of credibility.

Imagine for a moment you were a scientist, researching Social Media online for whatever purpose you might have. If you stumbled across statements like those above, would you take any of the authors seriously? If they have so little regard or understanding of what makes science “Science,” (much less what makes the Periodic Table so brilliant), then what sort of real understanding might they possess when it comes to their discipline?

I’m all for looking for new analogies and paradigms, but those emerge from thorough thought and contemplation. They are not Mad Libs. You can’t start with any pop culture reference and write an article about it, not one that makes sense, anyway. “The Laura Ingalls Wilder Rules for Social Media,” “Ten Mistakes Fonzie Would Have Made on Twitter,” “Stephen Hawking is a Social Media Trailblazer,” or “Social Media Lessons Learned from Battlestar Galactica.”

Okay, there might be something to that last one. What, with there being only 12 original Cylon models, and the rest being clones? Being something less than human? Groupthink? Okay… bad example. But you get my point. Start with the insight, then work your way back to the analogy.

If you start clinging to a paradigm, at best you’ll get a bunch of bland Forrest-Gump-and-chocolate aphorisms. At worst, you end up offending martial artists by writing the “Kung Fu Secrets for Social Media,” even though all you know of Kung Fu is a show with David Carradine.

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