The Buzz by Mike Schaffer - PR, Social Media, Pop Culture and Sports

PR,Social Media,Uncategorized

June 20, 2010

A Social Media Culture Clash?

This post probably won’t make much sense unless you read “Social Media, Put Some Damn Pants On” and the comment stream, so start there, then come back here.  We’ll wait.

Two businessmen shaking hands, close-up

In the post and comments, there was a spirited debate on how social media practitioners should present themselves, in general, but also specifically during presentations to fellow experts. Both sides made fantastic points.  (For the record, my stance shifted [softened?] a bit after listening to the other side – wear whatever the heck you want, but prepare for praise, backlash, or a little bit of both.) The most interesting comment, in my opinion, came here:

When we were all blogging, podcasting and otherwise inventing web media in the first half of the ’00s, wardrobe wasn’t a concern because *no one* was paying attention. Now that businesses are involved, there’s an obvious concern that paying customers won’t take a practitioner — or, by extension, an entire field — seriously if we don’t resemble “traditional” business models. – Justin Kownacki

Other commenters also referenced a possible division between the tech side and the marketing side of social media. Let’s examine the two major groups the commenters identified: 1) “Techies” - The whiz kids with the foresight, creativity and knowledge to create the infrastructure and programming behind social media.  There are probably a lot of successful entrepreneurs in this group.  These are the innovators that create the sandbox. 2) “Marketers” – Advertising, marketing and PR professionals integrating social media into communications plans.  These folks most likely work for agencies, small businesses and corporate communications departments.  This group doesn’t get the “back-end” development, but focuses on linking clients/brands with people.  [For full disclosure, I am clearly part of this group.] As Justin outlined, the “Techies” were more than just early adopters – they created the movement!  When they pioneered the industry, they wrote the rules and answered only to themselves. Once us “Marketers” saw the potential of social media, we started using it in an existing professional setting, with boardrooms, monthly reports, and attention to appearance. Obviously, there are bound to be disagreements here, no? Just looking at the Dress Code Debate of 2010, there is palpable passion on both sides.  One side wants to be judged solely on accomplishments, not appearance, while the other needs to “sell” their unplugged bosses and clients on the value of social media.  One side feels justifiably invaded by “communicators,” while the other is jumping on a marketing bonanza. Without a doubt, these two groups discussed here are over-generalized.  There are hundreds of combinations of tech-savvy and marketing-consciousness, but, the fact remains that an apparent culture clash is going on in the social media world. My questions for you: Do you see a split in social media? How can we unite all sides of the industry?  Can we all work together…or are the philosophical differences just too great to overcome?

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  • So here it is..... "Social Media - The Clash, The Pimps and The Consumers" -

    of course I had more to say!
  • Before we talk about the groups here, there's a concept I think we should invoke here. Let's accept for a minute that technologies, and their productizations, are socially constructed. It's not just about the merits of technology; it's also about the adaptations and uses. There's a whole long process to understanding how nascent technologies are adapted, adopted, and altered into platforms that allow marketroids to flourish.

    There's a process of compromise that exists that allows marketers and communications pros to invade a platform and space and use it for their own purposes, and those compromises are often odious to the developers who built the space to begin with, and so there's going to be a bit of discontent between the two sides. After all, the techies have built this thing, and they see it as theirs, while they see the marketers and communicators as epiphytes of various kinds. Some are orchids, some are fungus.

    So, yes, there's going to be some friction as the culture of the marketroids and communicators, with buzzy language and a different set of social expectations interact with the jargony language and different set of social expectations of the maker community.

    They don't have to get violent, but, there are frequently clashes.
  • Anthony
    Maybe because I'm really new to the industry, I don't see a divide. Then again, the firm I'm with right now is so small that our SM and PR work close together (and sometimes overlap).

    If there is a divide, I think the "uniting" will happen once new grads who are comfortable with SM (and sometimes help create/adapt) become more acclimated to the industry.

    For example, for a new grad not to know how to use Facebook is absurd.

    As far as the artist vs businesspeople divide goes, you may be right, but I'm not sure - again, I'm way too new to the industry. Interesting POV though, Justin.
  • Angie Meeker
    Last month I met a 2010 PR grad from the LARGEST public university in the country. Not only did she not know HOW to use twitter (let alone how to create a twitter strategy for a client), she had never even used it once. It's not as absurd as you'd think. Keep in mind that many of these newer technologies have only been around for a relatively short period of time and may or may not have had time to make it into the coursework of a university.
  • And therein lies another problem: hiring people who only learn the curriculum.
  • The divide isn't between SM and PR, though, it's between technical and non-technical.
  • Good points. Personally, I think there's also another divide, which may overlap this one: artists vs. businesspeople. (And yes, I know artists are also businesspeople, but let's think in terms of driving motivations.)

    When blogs, podcasts and social networks began, they were tinkered with by two kinds of people: early adopters who like to be on the ground floor of whatever's next (whom you might call the techies), and innovators who tried to figure out what these new programs and services could "do" (whom I might, charitably, call artists). They're probably all techies in some regard, but while one group focused on how things worked, the other just wanted to create something cool.

    And neither group could scale very widely without money.

    If money did come in, it was on the service end, the tech support, the structure. The medium's focus shifted to creating tools and websites that could serve the needs of a wide variety of people, under the presumption that more people = more money (somewhere down the line), which would eventually create new, supported opportunities.

    Those of us who, like me, considered ourselves more on the artistic side of social media wound up shifting our areas of expertise to accommodate the incoming cash flow. It's hard to sell someone on a creative idea, but when you also understand how to market, promote and support a finished product, *that* becomes your employable skill.

    And now that the traditional marketers and tech mavens have taken command of the social media ship, those who once considered themselves creatives (like me) are torn between a desire to make a living and a desire to do something truly fantastic. The tools are becoming more mainstream, the public awareness is growing, and the time may soon be here for those of us who refuse to play by systematic rules to finally swing the pendulum back in the other direction. Instead of careers in sales and marketing, we may be able to leverage audiences and investors to create the artistic revolution we all originally believed would come first.

    And perhaps then all the tech conferences will have more clearly delineated dress codes, so you can tell your creatives from your techies from your marketers. ;)
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