The Challenge of Social Media Authenticity

Online networking requires authenticity. I have clients who come to me saying, “This social media phenomenon is interesting. We want to play but don’t have the resources. Can you do this for us?”

The whole notion of online networking is based in authenticity. Social media is about engaging with others in an authentic way. As long as you disclose who you are and your intent, then you are being authentic. It’s when you start trying to hide who you are or deceive others as to your true intentions that you run into trouble.

Which is why corporations looking to harness social media to drive their brand need to be cautious when they turn online networking over to marketing. Marketing experts tend to want to control the message, which runs counter to the open nature of social media, and they often want to present the executives as experts. That often means ghostwriting posts for the CEO or the VP or Sales or other busy executives who don’t want to take the time to engage. You can argue that executives find ghost writers for books all the time, but ghostwriting for social media engagement is something else.

Ghost blogging, for example, runs counter to everything we know about social networking. And yet, I know that PR firms and others are offering comprehensive social media programs as a service to clients – turnkey social networking. But is it right? Jane Fonda defends her blog as being written exclusively by her, without benefit of publicists. Kevin Spacey also explains to David Letterman why he has embraced Twitter, without the benefit of third-party writers.

So can PR take a role in social media on behalf of its clients? Of course we can. We need to advise them, help them find the right connections online, and guide their social media activities. We also can post stuff on their behalf, but only if we continue to disclose our role in the process.

It’s about authenticity. And the ethical thing to do is to reveal the man behind the curtain.

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Friends for Sale: Social Media Clashes with Conventional Marketing

I spotted an interesting item on SFGate today. The Scavenger blog reveals that a company out of Australia, USocial, is selling friends. No, it’s not a white slavery ring. It’s a scheme born from conventional marketing that lets you buy “friends” for Facebook and Twitter campaigns just like you would buy a mailing list. It’s strategies like these that will co-opt social media and create new opportunities for the social media equivalent of spam.

The concept is fairly simple, and apparently has already been tried by everyone from the U.S. Marine Corps to the Church of Latter Day Saints to the Jackson family. You identity a special interest group and USocial will scour the social networks looking for matches and friend-request them on your behalf 1,000 users at a time (with discounts for 5,000 or more). Of course, USocial is never revealed as the source of the requests, and their clients get to build their online following by leaps and bounds.

USocial has been dinged by a number of social media sites for this practice. Apparently Digg sent them a “cease and desist” letter. But founder Leon Hill told AP, “We’re really only doing for our clients what they could do in their own time if they put their minds to it.”

So what’s wrong with this picture? Everything. The biggest outcry I hear from companies trying to figure out how to harness social media is that the marketing people just don’t get it. The concept is to engage online in an authentic and open way; to create a dialogue. Social media is not just another channel for one-way marketing messages, and spamming social media services with friend requests to increase the number of followers runs counter to the spirit of social media. Granted, I have already seen some blatant violators on Twitter and Facebook, including the Twitterers who have nothing more constructive to say than “buy my product,” or the follow requests from thinly disguised porn sites. You can manage those requests on a one-by-one basis, ignoring the idiots and reporting the violators. But when you have commercial spam generators trying to get your attention it’s a different story.

As with the early days of e-mail, we will find ways to address the emerging social media spam problem. I recall the early days of spam-free e-mail when I had some confidence that every message received was from a friend, client, or colleague. Now with two spam filters in place about one in 50 incoming messages are relevant. And so the next wave of social media technology will be spam filters for Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.

 As they say, in cyberspace no one really knows if you are a dog.

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PR Pros Need to Practice What They Preach

When I launched this blog a few weeks ago, I cited the problem that many marketeers have finding the time and resources to service their own marketing needs. It’s interesting that Marc Hausman, founder of Strategic Communications Group, cited the same issues a few days later, and even used a similar headline, “Fallacy of the Cobbler’s Shoe-less Children.”faucet_Full

As Marc notes, there are a number of agencies out there that fail to practice what they preach. They deem social media and networking as a business strategy, as long as they aren’t too busy doing something else that makes real money. Marc cites two agencies who let their blogs languish while they were pursuing paying clients. As many agencies (and clients) have discovered in this economic recession, you can’t abandon your marketing strategy or your pipeline will dry up.

One commentator to Marc’s blog noted that the best agencies have a dedicated marketing team to make sure that marketing the agency’s services doesn’t fall between the cracks. I have seen that work in some settings, but most agencies are resource-constrained and the rank-and-file has to find a way to build agency marketing into their daily routine. I have worked on the marketing committee for a few agencies, and we managed to build in web redesign, collateral updates, social networking, and other tasks into the day-to-day routine – it’s all part of the MBOs. In fact, it should be part of your DNA.

In fact, I am writing this blog while I take a lunch break from developing a new business proposal. You can always find time to market yourself if you make marketing a priority.

So thanks to Marc and those other PR professionals who walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.

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Social Media? Sister Marta Kagan Explains It All For You

What the F**K is Social Media: One Year Later

View more documents from Marta Kagan.

Interested in social media? Don’t understand social media? Trying to determine the real market value of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn? Well welcome to the club.

The pundits abound, and everyone is trying to make sense of the online media phenom. Which is why I wanted to share this presentation from Marta Kagan of Espresso. She calls herself a bona fide marketing genius, and she admits that she swears like a sailor, but she has a fresh (albeit off color) perspective on social media.

Is the revolution coming? Is it here already? And who will be the first against the wall? I’m adding social media to my client recommendations, for the obvious reasons that Marta highlights here, but it’s only one component in a comprehensive PR/marketing program.

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