This is the End, My Friend: Social Media is Dead, Sort Of

You hadn’t heard? Oh, yeah, Social Media died (sort of) on May 19, 2014, when Scott Monty of Ford announced on his personal blog that he’s no longer “of Ford.”[1] Actually, I guess the official day of death was the next day, when Adweek broke the news to the larger digital world.[2] Or, actually, it was the day after that, when the eulogies started rolling in (got to give guys a little time to mourn, think their thoughts, and write ‘em up): Here we have “Scott Monty is Leaving Ford: Is it a Trend?” by Robin Fray Carey in Social Media Today:

While I was not stunned to learn that Scott Monty is leaving Ford, I was more taken aback by Shel Israel’s view, which he’s been talking about on Facebook, that Monty’s departure is part of a larger trend, a trend of social media innovators and rock stars leaving large companies.

Indeed, that is exactly what Shel was to posit, at great length, in a eulogy, er, post, in his Forbes column, the day after the Social Media Today piece: “Scott Monty Leaves Ford: What it Means to Social Media”:

This is a great loss for Ford, in my view. It also heightens my growing fears about how big brands will handle social media in the coming years.

You might be excused if you miss Shel’s subtext here, although it’s hardly subtle and it was picked up expertly by the guy who created the URL for the post: will-big-brands-kill-social-media… This certainly wasn’t missed by Richard Binhammer, referenced by Shel as previously part of Dell’s “all star-team,” “the equivalent of the New York Yankees of big brand social media.” Richard’s piece, “The Social Media Road Trip: Right Turn at the Sign. See what happens next…,” very insightful in many ways, strikes the same mournful chord: Marketing has taken over Social and this is not good, at all.

In the Carey piece, “fellow rock star” Frank Eliason made his opinions (and predictions) known before penning his own lengthy, and more nuanced, post, “It is Time for Brands to Bring their Social Media Home.” I cannot forebear, however, from quoting some of the juicier bits from the Carey interview:

Eliason points out that the algorithmic changes at Facebook brings companies back to traditional media buys on what used to called social media. Eliason says that “there is a reason why the algorithm changed and it had to do with bad content. Having said that, I believe that by December Facebook for business will be out of vogue.” (my italics)

Is it a trend?  Eliason says, “By the end of this year, it will be surprising to see people with social media in their job titles. (my italics) There’s a much bigger thing going on. It’s no longer about mass marketing, it’s going to be about micro-marketing.”

If you detect the presence of a Mutual Admiration Society in all this, you would not be wrong. If you detect a strong whiff of nostalgia here, a bit of “those were the days, my friends,”[3] you would not be wrong, either.

I hate to put this down to the oft-repeated claim that it’s all about “bad Facebook” and its “algorithmic changes” penalizing “bad (marketing) content” while simultaneously prioritizing on-site advertising, because while this is surely accurate, it’s really only half the story. What I see here seems to go beyond an idealization of the good old days — which we icons, we rock stars initiated! — to a real weariness fighting the good fight against blindered marketing: Social isn’t Social, anymore; it’s just marketing now, and Scott Monty leaving Ford — the last straw that breaks the camel’s back — makes the “trend” clear, for all to see and mourn.

But of course Social is marketing[4], has been all along, and will continue to be “marketing” for the foreseeable future, i.e., as long as Social itself — what used to be called social networking — continues to exist as the pre-eminent “trend” that explains what we as individuals and as companies predominantly do on the Internet. Maybe, just maybe, what we see here is that as Social becomes more obviously Marketing and — though I would refute this — less obviously Social, we’re also witnessing the defeat of a mesmerizing and emboldening project: the humanizing of our companies and the “course of transparency and conversations with customers and prospects.”[5] Of course, if that has been defeated so, too, have been its heroic initiators.[6]

Yet there are still, perhaps, great days ahead for social. Quoting Shel again: “Is social media dead in the enterprise? No, not quite yet. I will [sic] believe it will eventually get off life support in the intensive care ward and come back.” But, of course, only if companies realize “they need people who are already trusted. People like Monty, Binhammer and Eliason who are already trusted, who help the brand in ways that no corporate media campaign can do.”[7]

To which I say:

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh, my friend, we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same… 
(my italics)

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days
Oh, yes, those were the days
La la la la la la
La la la la la la

Or maybe those glory days, with marketers on the run, never really existed in quite the way (oh, “the magic’) heralded by this Mutual Admiration Society. Maybe Social never was this self-contained heroic thing rooted on by the Social Influencers and practiced by now fully-human and humanistic “social conversationalists” slaying the marketing dragons “walking in lockstep to a monotonous march.”[8] Maybe it’s always been a part of how companies seek to gain new customers and retain its existing customers; maybe it’s never been anything more than a single piece of the marketing puzzle. That may be deflating to “these social media pioneers,” but it’s really nothing to get all weepy-eyed about, either.

I don’t want in any way to minimize the ton of bad marketing we’ve seen, still see, and will inevitably continue to see perpetrated by tin-eared bad marketers. Will we ever live to see the day when good marketers outnumber the bad ones? Probably not, but I’ve already accepted Frank Eliason’s bet: I’ll be checking back in December and I fully expect to see Facebook business pages still very much in vogue and lots of people hanging on to Social Media in their job titles. And I expect that some portion of them — maybe a tiny portion — will be doing their jobs quite profitably for their companies.


[1] Scott Monty, “Driving into the Sunset,” Scott Monty, May 19, 2014, http://www.scottmonty.com/2014/05/driving-into-sunset.html

[2] Social media icon @ScottMonty talks to Adweek about why he’s leaving @Ford: http://adweek.it/TqGWwj

[3] Once upon a time there was a tavern/ Where we used to raise a glass or two/ Remember how we laughed away the hours/ And think of all the great things we would DO/

Those were the days, my friend/ We thought they’d never end/ We’d sing and dance forever and a day/ We’d live the life we choose/ We’d fight and never lose/ For we were young and sure to have our way/ La la la la la la/ La la la la la la

[4] See my recent post, “Yes, Virginia, Social Media is a Marketing Channel!,” Insurance Innovation Reporter, May 23, 2014, wherein, quite ironically, I argued that social media is still a marketing channel when it appears that it is only now, when the Scott Montys have had their fill and just can’t take it anymore, that the marketers have assumed control.

[5] Shel Israel, “Scott Monet Leaves Ford: What it Means to Social Media,” forbes.com, May 22, 2014.

[6] “Social media strategist [sic] are the beautiful babies being washed down the drains of companies who have otherwise fouled their bath water.” Shel Israel, Op.Cit.:

[7] Shel Israel, ibid.

[8] Shel Israel, ibid

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6 Responses to This is the End, My Friend: Social Media is Dead, Sort Of

  1. Mike Wise says:

    Great post, Ken. SO glad you finally started a blog. Keep it up. Hope others subscribe and Comment. They’ll be the better for it…

    “…I fully expect to see Facebook business pages still very much in vogue and lots of people hanging on to Social Media in their job titles.”

    Facebook is simply too big to go away. Sure, US Millennials seem to be fading out. But they are among the smallest user groups in the network, right? There’s still plenty of opportunity. Fastest growing segments are Boomers. Good opportunity, not to mention global adoption and the opportunities there in.

    Once we make the jump to #SocBiz, so about 3 years from now, “Social” this and that will surely fade out, just like we rarely say “e” this and that today, now 10-15 years down the road from those days. My opinion, of course.

    “And I expect that some portion of them — maybe a tiny portion — will be doing their jobs quite profitably for their companies.”

    Isn’t Social human nature – a natural extension of our lives, especially the combination of #SoLoMo? If you do it right, isn’t it capable of trumping all other suits?

    Like

    • khittel says:

      Yes, Mike, I wholeheartedly agree that social is baked into our nature and that it will not be so easily vanquished in our businesses simply because certain individuals have, like Scott Monty — momentarily? — left the fray. I well know how discouraged one can become faced daily with uncomprehending executives and old and now discredited communication models still largely calling the shots. (See my “Meetings” series here if you doubt that.) I also know that sometimes you have to leave the fray and its daily frustrations to recognize more clearly what progress has actually been achieved and what promise remains.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ken, enjoyed your perspective and thoughtful piece. I’m less concerned about “those were the days my friend” than I am about the significant running room that remains to achieve the business benefits of social media across a business– and how that will happen across organizations if marketing is the “defacto” social department, so to speak. For example, there are huge untapped opportunities for Communications departments to realize more out of social than they currently do. That’s not mournful as much as to say business adoption is a journey. Hope someone has the bigger roadmap

    Like

    • khittel says:

      Thanks much for your comment, Richard — quite gracious given the sarcastic nature of my tone. I couldn’t agree more “about the significant running room that remains to achieve the business benefits of social media across a business.” In fact, it’s precisely because of that significant running room that I was so dismayed by the hand-wringing and, indeed, mourning occasioned by Scott Monty leaving Ford. If and when original leaders move on, it’s not necessarily because their cause has been fatally traduced, or that there are no new leaders waiting in the wings — well-armed with both bitter and sweet experience — to carry on the fight, so to speak.

      That there are “huge untapped opportunities for Communications departments to realize more out of social than they currently do” will go unargued by me. That they are the most likely people to realize those opportunities — well, I’m less confident about that. I don’t know that most communications professionals have appreciated as much about social as, I believe, many marketing professionals have over these past few years, but whether it’s communications or marketing people — or, good Lord, both together — who conceive that “bigger roadmap,” is less the point than conceiving that roadmap itself. And I have some faith that a newer generation of professionals is ready and able to take that up.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What’s funny about this is that I have actually written lyrics for a social media song set to “Those Were the Days.” I haven’t shared it because a friend wants to get some folks together to record it, but the chorus is…

    Those were the days my friend
    We thought they’d never end
    We’d tweet and pin forever and a day
    We’d post our ads for free
    With authenticity
    Our brands would win and never have to pay
    La la la la…

    Liked by 1 person

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