Social Media Snake Oil

There are far too many snake oil salesmen in the social media business. If you believed their marketing claims, you might think that social media tools are the remedy for everything that ails you. Unfortunately, as more companies and individuals are finding out, that’s simply not true. Equally, there are far too many uneducated consumers and enterprises who hope that by throwing a social media tool at a problem they might get lucky.

Social media tools are nothing more than tools.  Just like a hammer is useless if you need a blender, social media tools won’t help if the functionality they provide is not what your situation requires.  In This is about that other thing, right? Jack Vinson recounts an incident in which his client had the epiphany and realized that the issue they needed to tackle wasn’t the project they had planned but rather inadequate communication within the enterprise.  If you have a foundational challenge like inadequate communication or few distinct, active internal social networks, you might find that implementing social media projects are more challenging than they should be.  While social media tools can be transformative in the right situation, Steve Radick notes that they often simply reflect your corporate culture and any of its inadequacies.  A command-and-control organization won’t turn into an open, emergent, dynamic enterprise overnight merely through the introduction of social media tools.

Don’t get me wrong — social media tools are fantastic and do open up new possibilities for education, innovation and growth.  However, they are just tools, not miracle workers.  And, they work best in the hands of educated, experienced craftsmen — not snake oil salesmen.

[Photo Credit:  OutlandArmour]

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A Social Media Challenge to Wimps

I’m a wimp.

There.  Now you know.

Since I was kid I’ve happily walked away from blood and gore on the screen.  Horror movies?  You can keep them.  Disaster scenarios?  Don’t want them.  Nasty cops and robbers shows?  They are yours too.  The Sopranos?  Fuhgeddaboudit.

The problem is that with the openness of social media, I keep tripping across things that make me queasy:  rabid commentators from the fringes of  the political spectrum who froth at the mouth as they spew venom on their blogs and on Twitter, strident people who can’t rest easy until you sign up to their view of morality, etc.  In short, any number of people who challenge my cozy way of life  — and my own intellectual blind spots.

What’s a wimp to do? Do I owe it to myself to hear them?  Should I engage?  Or should I just walk away?

One of the great challenges of social media is that it makes it awfully easy to isolate yourself in an echo chamber in which you think you are interacting with hundreds of interesting people and don’t realize that they all are pretty much just like you.  Therefore, all you hear are many voices agreeing with you, giving the illusion that you’ve figured it all out.  But in so doing, you sell yourself short.  It is equally possible to seek out people of goodwill within various social networks who know how to take opposing positions and discuss them with respect and decency.  No matter where they sit on the political spectrum or in your professional niche,  they are the ones you need to know.  By engaging with them, your thinking evolves and you grow.

I don’t mean to underestimate the effort it takes to separate the shrill from those of substance, but it seems to me that a person of integrity needs to make that effort.  Even if that person is a wimp.

[Photo Credit:  Zagrev]

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My Low-Level Online War

Today is a day for confessions. While I place a very high premium on honesty, I have given myself leave to be “economical with the truth” in one particular area: when an online service starts asking for my personal data, I start obscuring the facts. For example, why does any social media platform need to ask me for my birth date AND a separate security question/answer? Therefore, I generally don’t provide my actual birth date. It’s not because of any foolishness about trying to hide my age. It’s because this age of identify theft and privacy incursions has me concerned about where I can legitimately draw the lines between my private data and the world.  So, my low-level war is about muddying the waters for marketers and others who lurk online and attempt to profile me for their financial gain or for other nefarious purposes.

To be honest, I’ve been a privacy hawk for years.  Shortly after we first married, I mortified my husband by refusing to provide my social security number to a shop checkout clerk who (improperly) demanded it to verify a credit card purchase.  I made a fuss and tied up a rather long line of people waiting to make their purchases.  And, I’ve kept making a fuss whenever someone other than the tax authorities has asked for this number.

I’ve since learned that I’m not the only one engaged in a guerrilla war.  Chris Brogan wrote today about why he gives April 1 as his birthday when, in fact, his actual birthday is a few days later.  Here’s how he explains it:

I don’t do this as an April Fools thing. I do it because I’ve chosen to tell all the databases of the Internet one fact that’s different from the real world. I do this to see where my data ends up.

Do you take any measures (no matter how quixotic) to protect your privacy online?  If so, do you have any tips you could pass on?  If not, why not?

[Photo Credit:  Keso]

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