— Whether social networks discourage people from expressing their own views more honestly, both online and face-to-face.
— The notion that one can get certified as a social media professional for the low, low price of $99.
— The suggestion that companies should consider jettisoning their corporate websites in favor of just a LinkedIn company profile page.
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Chip Griffin: Hi. This is Chip Griffin from Custom Scoop with another episode of the “Media Bullseye Roundtable.” I’m very pleased to have back at the table a frequent guest co-host, Mark Story.
Mark Story: Well, thank you. I’m pleased to back at the table as well, and thanks for the coffee. [Laugh]
Chip Griffin: Yeah, absolutely. [Laugh]
Mark Story: [Laugh]
Chip Griffin: You’re going to have to make your own coffee since we’re 500 miles apart.
Mark Story: Yeah, well, I’m drinking it anyway.
Chip Griffin: Excellent. And, you know, I know that you like to give your disclaimers. Or, maybe you don’t like to, but you’re required to by your employer. So, why don’t you do that?
Mark Story: Yes, very few things in life give me more pleasure than offering my disclaimer, which is roughly the equivalent of, “The views that I will express in this podcast are mine, and mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of Kelly Government Services nor the National Cancer Institute.” So, there.
Chip Griffin: Excellent. Sometimes I wonder whether they reflect your own views, but we’ll get to that later on.
Mark Story: [Laugh]
Chip Griffin: And can you tell us where to find you on the Internets?
Mark Story: Sure. On the Interwebs, I have a blog, which has a long URL, but is the name of a course I used to teach at Georgetown, and it is the intersectionofonlineandoffline.com.
Chip Griffin: Fantastic. And I am so glad to see that you are blogging again. It will no doubt provide great fodder for roundtables even when you’re not a guest.
Mark Story: Oh, that’ll be great. Thanks.
Chip Griffin: All right. Well, speaking of fodder, let’s jump right in with the first topic. It is from “The New York Times,” and it’s a piece titled “How Social Media Silences Debate,” and it is by Claire Cain Miller. And she writes, “Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends, according to a report published Tuesday by researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University.”
So, Mark, first of all, do you agree with this? And, if so, what does it all mean?
Mark Story: I agree with most of what she said. Just to add a little note, the only asked one question. Or, they only used one topic in terms of their survey, and they were asking people about their opinions about Edward Snowden and the NSA. And the very first thing that crossed my mind was, “Well, gosh, if I’m going to express my opinion about the NSA, I’m probably not going to do so using social media; because my conversations are already being monitored, captured and stored.” So, that was my first thought.
But in all sincerity, my second thought was that the title of this, as you mentioned, was “How Social Media Silences Debate”; but I think that there are so many parallels to the offline world, that it should be “How Peer Pressure Silences Debate.” For example, I mean I was just thinking that if you’re at a cocktail party, or with a group of friends, many, many times people might nod their heads politely while listening to people with whom they disagree; but they’re going to voice their disagreement later and elsewhere. So, I mean I kind of found that to be the same as well.
A really interesting part of this study was they talked about social media cues. And based upon stuff that I’ve read by whole life, the majority of cues that we give when we speak to people are nonverbal cues, and they talk about what they call “active social media cues,” like status updates, news stories that people care to share, or photos about how they spend their days; and these all being cues about their opinions on things, or things that they think their friends want to hear. So, people are going to follow these social cues whether I think they’re nonverbal, face-to-face in conversation, or if they’re social media cues.
But the one area – and this actually goes back to the study itself – that I would have liked to have seen done a little bit differently is that within the study, they clumped Facebook and Twitter together. And what I’d be curious to know is how they break out; because my experience has been that, at least on my own Facebook page, it’s more about sharing personal information with a group of close friends. I’m more willing to share an opinion with friends in a closed network rather than on Twitter, which is an open network. And I have many fewer friends on Facebook than I have followers on Twitter. In terms of the differences between Facebook and Twitter, unless you use lists, your Twitter feed is here and gone. You know, unless someone is retweeting something, or if they’re giving it a “favorite,” if you don’t see a tweet in the moment in which it appears, it’s here and gone; whereas, Facebook could be more lasting, especially if you know how to tweak some of the settings, like the “close friends” one.
And, second, I would’ve liked to have seen a breakout, because it’s hard to have a debate with someone in 140 characters at a time. I’ve tried, and you can’t do it.
And my final point on the overall article on the discussion – and I think it was a good article and a very sound study – was that I think, still, despite the advent of social media and its popularity, is that there are still places online that are recognized where debate is encouraged. And I particularly was thinking of the comment section on blogs or on news sites. That’s where you’re supposed to go to give your opinion, to read that of others and to argue with them. And, you know, I’ve been attacked; or, I’ve seen people argue in a space that I control much more on my blog than I have in my social media properties. So, I think those sorts of places are kind of reserved on the Internet for the type of experience that you would have with someone when you disagree with what they have to say.
Chip Griffin: Well, I think you make some really good points there and, in particular, I think the point that, in reality, the online world isn’t all that different from the offline world. Sure, you do have to take cues in different ways; but as you say, if you’re in a group of friends, peer pressure often does dictate how vociferous you might be in expressing your opinion, if at all. You might just withhold from offering it up altogether.
Obviously, I think I would put you and I [sic] on the far end of the spectrum as far as being willing to express a point of view in almost any environment.
Mark Story: Yeah.
Chip Griffin: But I know even for myself, I will temper it, watching what’s going on around me – unless I’m in one of those cantankerous moods and I just want to stir the pot a little bit.
Let me ask you this question. I’ve spoken a lot in the past, and written in the past, about the rise of incivility in social media and not having that human interaction, where you can take the visual cues, not being right there so that there are repercussions to what you say and do encourages people to be, perhaps, more personal, more vitriolic in their commentary, whether it’s political or otherwise. Do you see this? And do you think that contributes to what’s going on here – that people feel like it’s unlikely to be a civil debate, so they want to pull back?
Mark Story: I see that in some places. I think the study in some way contradicts that, at least in social media. But to your listeners’ everlasting disappointment, you and I are going to agree on this subject as well; and that is that I learned a long time ago that, if I’m commenting on a blog or on somebody’s Facebook page, I always stop and reread what I have written before I hit the “SEND” or “SUBMIT” button; because I don’t in any way want my comments to be misinterpreted or taken out of context, even if I’m really fired up about something. But on the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of vitriol. I’ve seen people say things or, rather, type things that they would not say verbally. So, there is a disconnect there as well. I agree with that.
Chip Griffin: And there are certainly things that people say or type that I would hope they wouldn’t say verbally. You know, whether they would or not, I don’t know; but particularly it strikes me that when you see prominent political figures pass away, the commentary from those who disagreed with them in life can be truly vicious. And you’d cited earlier the news comments section as a place where you can have debate. My general experience in reading through news site comments is that it’s not so much debate as it is just both sides screaming at the top of their lungs. I mean it makes the debates that the NRSC and the DCCC have – for those of you not familiar with politics, those are the house campaign committees for the Republicans and Democrats down in D.C, which are generally regarded as probably the most vocal, shall we say, of the political types. I mean it makes that look like child’s play –
Mark Story: Yeah.
Chip Griffin: – in some of these blog comments and newspaper comments. And I don’t know. I do find myself not willing to participate in those discussions and more willing to do so amongst friends who I think are going to be reasonable. For example, Shel Holtz, who is the ‘podfather’ of the FIR network – or, one of the two ‘podfathers’ – he and I occasionally engage in some friendly political banter on Facebook. He and I come from very different perspectives, and I think we both do fine with it because we can do so in a civil manner. But there are other folks who I am friends with on Facebook that I will not engage with, because I know it’s not headed to a productive place.
Mark Story: Precisely. It’s talking to a brick wall – or, unfortunately, listening to a diatribe, neither one of which I enjoy.
Chip Griffin: I like to engage in a diatribe occasionally; but I like to be the one, you know, giving the diatribe.
Mark Story: [Laugh]
Chip Griffin: I’m not sure [what the] right verb here is.
And so I think the next two topics are going to give both you and I [sic] an opportunity to do that, so let’s move on to the next one, which is a post from “Spin Sucks.” It was Eleanor Pierce, and the title is “Are You a Certified Social Media Professional?” And as soon as I saw the headline, I started chuckling. I had a sense as to where it was going, but I wanted to dive into the details.
And so she writes, “Gini Dietrich made a big mistake in hiring me. Turns out, I’m not a qualified social media professional. Fortunately, Laura Petrolino found the perfect solution: A $99 Groupon deal for a social media marketing package from Social Media Academy. I can even upgrade for $199 and get a complete social media strategist package (which incidentally comes with “diplomatic immunity”).
Mark Story: [Laugh]
Chip Griffin: Now, if this weren’t a real thing, it would be laugh-out-loud funny; but because it is a real thing, it’s certainly – look, people will sell almost anything these days, and people will buy almost anything these days – particularly something like this where it’s an affordable way to really get in on the hot, new trend. But you’ve written about real, legitimate social media careers, and so I know that you will have a perspective on this worth sharing.
Mark Story: Oh, I did; and, in fact, I blogged about it. And I blogged about it during my vacation. I was at my vacation house and had promised myself that I was going to try to disconnect from social media a little bit. And I read this, and I couldn’t resist, so I blogged about it. And, first of all, thank you to Jenny and Eleanor for bringing it to my attention. I mean it really got me worked up for a variety of reasons. Principally, I think that it further sullies the space that probably people like you and I, Chip, have been trying for years to clean up; and that is that, for as long as I can remember, people who don’t deserve titles get them in social media. I mean it’s gotten a little bit better; but I think that people who used to be called “gurus,” or “ninjas,” or other cool-sounding titles were the folks who really promoted themselves as social media experts. And it’s gotten better, but I think there’s still a little bit of it out there.
I think that there are even some pretty well-known names in the social media space who, when you take a look behind the curtain in terms of what they say, from my perspective, I see their experience as a mile wide and an inch deep. And I think that, while many companies are wising up as the field grows, there is still no substitute for the core competencies combined with the years of experience you have to have to be a good social media practitioner.
So, what I talked about in my own blog post was essentially common sense: you get what you pay for. I’ve been fortunate enough to teach at two institutions of higher learning, and they were both graduate school courses where students paid thousands of dollars for a top-notch education. They have gone on to become very successful in their careers, many of which have involved social media. So, it’s not something that you can get on the cheap. And the fact that you can get a $99 Groupon – and I did this at the company website. It’s highly deceptive, and I think the fact that it kind of puts people on the same parallel as those who really study the fundamentals of communication for four years and then get a degree – that bothered me greatly.
For years, many people – myself included – have been talking about the fact that social media is more than just about the tools. I mean you can have a lot of followers on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that you can walk into a business setting and be successful. That doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to give sage counsel to either your internal or your external clients on how to build a brand, how to help a company make money, how to respond to a crisis. What I’m seeing more and more frequently [is] how and when to inject a company’s online point of view in a contentious, online debate. I think that’s kind of the new field of online reputation management.
And, finally, the end of my personal diatribe will be that, having done this for many years, when you’re a social media practitioner, you do lots of other stuff. You don’t just do planned tools or write zeros and ones, and your professional path can take you many places. But, again, you’re going to have these two types of clients. If you work for an agency, you’re going to have external clients – an agency or maybe a consultant – and I’ve done both. If you work for an organization, you’re going to have internal clients. And, believe it or not – at least for my opinion – sometimes working for your internal clients is more difficult than your external clients; because with your internal clients, since the beginning of time there has been the debate about the basic precept of who even owns social media. IT think they own it, Communications thinks they own it, Public Relations thinks they own it, and Legal thinks that they own everything. So, there are going to be turf wars. So, how do you learn to develop the communications and the mediation skills to be able to even do your job?
And then, finally, still in 2014, it amazes me that, to be an effective social media practitioner, you still have to sell in social media at your workplace. And, again, it’s 2014, and I still find myself having to sell the mere use of the concept on a regular basis. So, you have to have sound thinking, you have to have critical thinking skills, and you have to have persuasion skills, none of which have to do with any social media platform. And you’re not going to get that in a $99 course.
Chip Griffin: No, you’re certainly not. I mean a $99 course may teach you how to get through the mechanics of using the tools – how to post to Twitter, how to post to Facebook, maybe how to use Hootsuite. So, it’s a tool set-driven approach, I would imagine. I mean I have not actually sat through that $99 course – nor do I intend to. But you’ve made the excellent point that this is really about communications; and it’s about having the experience, the knowledge to come up with the strategic and tactical approaches that you need to be effective.
And I’ll take a moment to tease a new podcast that I have coming out on the FIR podcast network. It’ll be focused on interviewing heads of agencies, heads of communications departments for corporations. I’ve recorded a couple of the episodes already, and in each case that experience was something that came through in the conversations as being important to crisis communications, to social media, to all of those things; because social media – ultimately, it’s a tool.
Mark Story: Um-hm.
Chip Griffin: It’s a way that you can communicate. It is not a replacement for traditional means. It’s not something that operates in a vacuum, and so it’s fantastic if you know how to update Twitter regularly and how to retweet effectively. Those are important skills to have, but it’s just one small part of the skills set that you need to be a successful communicator.
And I think that’s the piece that things like this – you know, it undersells the rest of it, and ultimately it’s setting the people up for failure. They may not fail immediately, but over time they are likely to, because they’re not likely to be able to use the social media in the right mix in order to be effective. I’m struck by what was the “Stat of the Week” on the “Media Bullseye” blog this week – and, again, as a tease, I’d encourage you all to check it out – and that was some research that showed that websites get ten times as much traffic from organic search as from social. But, yet, most communicators – frankly, myself included – probably don’t spend enough time on search, because some of the other things become more time-consuming, and you focus on those instead. But you always need to be looking at these things. You need to look at the data. You need to understand how to use the tools effectively to do what it is that you’re trying to accomplish for your organization or for your client.
Mark Story: Um-hm, with a holistic view of the exercise as a communications exercise – not a technology exercise. And the magic is not in the technology. Rather, it is in its strategic execution. So, violent agreement.
Chip Griffin: Yeah, and on the measurement side of things – which I know you and I both care about as well – the measurement piece that folks who are going to go through that $99 class are likely to focus on are things like followers and “likes” and retweets, as opposed to the actual outcomes – which, as you and I know, that’s really what you should be focused on.
Mark Story: Um-hm. Yeah. Another plug through your podcast, I listened to you and Jen Phillips last week talk a lot about measurement and outtakes and outputs and how a lot of organizations really don’t invest the resources that they need to measuring their social media efforts. And I think that’s something else that continues to be a problem; but, again, as a social media practitioner, you have to have the skills to interpret the right data, pass on the right advice and do your darnedest to make sure that it gets executed.
Chip Griffin: Absolutely. And with that, I think we’ll now move from one dumb idea to what I, frankly, think is an even dumber idea – almost so dumb that it’s hard to talk about, but I think there are some relevant items that we can discuss apart from the big-picture idea. So, this was a post on econsultancy.com by Chris Reed, and the headline is “Can Your LinkedIn Company Page Replace Your Corporate Website?”
I’m going to pause for a moment and let everybody listening just, you know, laugh their tails off for a moment.
Mark Story: Spit out their coffee.
Chip Griffin: Yep. So, hopefully, you’re not driving at this moment and careening off the road as your jaw dropped down to your knees.
He says, “There’s a debate among market and corporate communications professionals as to what is more engaging and important. Is it your company’s LinkedIn page, or your company’s website? Undoubtedly, I believe that it is your LinkedIn company page, and here’s why.” He then goes through, and effectively – not effectively. He does make the argument that you’re better off using LinkedIn as your home base for all your business marketing activity, and it really just is mind-bogglingly dumb to me that any professional communicator would think this. You know, we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen the companies that redirected their home page to their Twitter feed and things like that because it was the hot thing to do. Frankly, I think some of that was more for short-term publicity plays than for real strategy. This one appears to be someone arguing that this should be a real strategy.
Mark, where do you want to take this?
Mark Story: You edit out curse words – right?
Chip Griffin: [Laugh] Yeah, I guess so.
Mark Story: Okay. Well, it took me about ten seconds to diagnose what was wrong with this approach and what was wrong with this article, and I guess I’m just going to list a few of them, but it actually got me pretty worked up as well. And some of them are actually pretty obvious. At the center of my firm grasp of the obvious is the fact that you control 100 percent of your corporate website. You control the content. You control the timing. You control when it gets changed. You control everything. LinkedIn, like Facebook and Twitter, are third-party platforms that they can, and do, change whenever they want to. Facebook and Twitter recently changed their look and feel. LinkedIn dropped polls. You are a slave to the terms of service of a free social media platform, as many nonprofits, small businesses and – cough, cough – government agencies are learning. A subtle algorithm change could absolutely devastate the number of messages that reach your audience, unless you pony up for advertising. And a lot of small businesses, nonprofits and government agencies simply can’t do that. So, if you were to switch your corporate website to a platform like LinkedIn, you’re making yourself a slave to their terms of service, which can change at any point.
Number two [is] an obvious one. You just mentioned SEO. If I still have kind of a firm grasp of SEO, or even a basic understanding, most corporate websites are going to get an SEO boost from having the names of their companies in the URL. I would much rather have markstory.com than www.linkedin.com/ whatever I can get on the platform. So, from an SEO perspective, you[‘ve] got to have your own website.
And what really got to me in this particular article was the way that this guy offered the information, and I’ll offer you up one quote. He said, “Many people say that they have posted blogs and articles on their company website, and very few people have read them, let alone shared them.”
Well, there’s some solid data. I mean that’s like telling me, you know, red cars are more frequently stolen than blue cars, so –
Chip Griffin: [Laugh]
Mark Story: – I’m going go out, and I’m going to get my car painted blue. I mean that’s just stupid!
Chip Griffin: [Laugh]
Mark Story: It’s an entirely different issue. Most corporate websites exist to give you the who, what, why of a company; to give you the reason why they exist; you know, company officers, company information, locations, contact forms – things like that. They’re designed to tell a multifaceted story of a company. And, oh, by the way, they’re not just for blogging – which is a very, very narrow focus.
Chip Griffin: Well, yeah. And I mean, look. I think he had a point and then decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you look at this as you need to have a distribution strategy, then there’s some merit to it.
Mark Story: Yeah.
Chip Griffin: Unfortunately, the way that you come up with a distribution strategy is not by blowing up your content site. It’s by figuring out how to generate more traffic for it. But just to show you how odd this whole piece is – I mean this is another quote from it that I just can’t let go.
Mark Story: [Laugh]
Chip Griffin: He says, “You can also guarantee that you can see your LinkedIn company page on your mobile – not something you can guarantee on any normal company site, even in 2014.”
He needs a new web developer, because –
Mark Story: Yeah.
Chip Griffin: – there shouldn’t be a website today that you can’t see on your mobile. I mean that’s just insane.
But getting back to the distribution, you absolutely need a distribution strategy. You need to figure out how it is that you’re going to help people to see your content. You can’t just throw it out there and assume they’re going to find it on their own. It may be that you have to do some paid promotion. That’s a fact of life these days – that it’s very difficult to get new people to see your content initially without some paid promotion of some sort. You obviously want to build email lists. You want to contact your existing customers, your prospects. Share the information with them and get them to be sharing it around. There’s [sic] all sorts of things that you can do to solve the distribution problem. It is not to turn off your website and go stick your head in the sand and LinkedIn – which is a fine platform. I like LinkedIn. I get value out of it, but it’s not a replacement for anything else.
And as you say, with the rules constantly changing, that’s just a recipe for disaster. What happens when LinkedIn decides six months from now that the company page is not something that they’re interested [in] anymore? That could very easily happen –
Mark Story: Um-hm.
Chip Griffin: – and then you’re out of luck, and you’ve put all of your investment into the ether.
Mark Story: Um-hm, yeah. And what is not mentioned in this article, which I think we touched on in our discussion of the prior article, is that you can have a communications mix of a corporate website and a corporate blog and several social media platforms, all of which complement each other; but they shouldn’t necessarily replace each other, especially when you’re talking about taking your entire corporate presence and putting it on a third-party platform.
So, this particular article, to me, was either one step above click bait, or the guy who wrote it hasn’t spent very much time in online communications; because it’s a pretty scary concept to me.
Chip Griffin: I’m going to hope that it’s click bait, because I have a hard time believing that someone who’s in the marketing communications industry truly believes what’s being written here.
In any case, I truly believe everything that I have said on the show that I have said today – I think. I’ll have to go back and read the transcript to confirm that. Mark, hopefully, you did, too. And, certainly, it’s been a pleasure having you back at the table; and I look forward to having you back here again very soon.
Mark Story: I will be back whenever I’m invited, and I very much enjoyed this. Thanks for letting me be part of it.
Chip Griffin: And I really appreciate all of the folks who listened up until this point. So, I think this week we may be up to three listeners, and I really appreciate it. And I look forward to another episode of “Roundtable” next week.