Social Media Rules? Not really, norms is a better concept

I continue to spend time thinking about the impact of social media, while I believe it IS the newest and increasingly most important marketing channel, a more effective way to understand market requirements and drive innovation, sometimes I think I’m not the average blog reader/user.

This rings home when I get caught twittering in the car or some other place and my wife says something like “how are your internet friends doing today” or if we are in public with others she just goes ruthless with something like “have you heard of twitter? It’s this weird voyeuristic way of pimping your blog and communicating with followers – this whole whole web 2.0 stuff is just a little too egotistical for me and God knows I need a bigger ego! On twitter they aren’t called friends – they’re followers – bring on the geek Kool-aid.” So while I cringe at these comments, I think she may be right and that’s not just because it makes my life easier to agree with her.

In the interest of full disclosure, most folks have no idea they are part of this whole phenomenon and do look at me a little strange when I start talking social media. Most have a myspace account, browse [tag]YouTube[/tag] and may have just abandoned [tag]LinkedIn[/tag] for this new thing – [tag]Facebook[/tag]. Most folks who use these communities are passive and don’t embrace them as those of us who are more or less geeks. So I went searching to better understand how Social media is being used and what is the expected mode of operations for an engaging community, so I started at Mukund’s blog and found a great set of additions to Chip Griffen’s post on Social Media rules and I couldn’t agree more with the following statement:

Several self proclaimed pundits of social media, claim many things that I tend to agree initially but on further evaluation, notice its not the reality.

There are three other observations from Chip which make me again re-evalute how I should start thinking about the use of blogs from a marketing perspective:

It Isn’t a Blog Without RSS. Go ask someone outside of the tight social media circle you play in and ask them if they use an RSS reader. If you don’t get a blank stare or a quizzical look, count it as a victory even when they say “no.” The fact of the matter is that RSS belongs to the uber-geek set.

It’s All About Conversation Not Messages. The word “conversation” has a very nice ring to it. It sounds egalitarian and idealistic, especially when applied to corporate marketing behavior. But ultimately social media campaigns are – and should be – about the message.

Audience is a Word of the Past. Somewhere between 1 and 10 percent of people who read blogs comment. It’s not a true conversation if more than 90% of the people just listen. What you have, friends, is an audience still. That’s not to say that new media isn’t more conversational than old media, but just as a small percentage of folks call radio talk shows or write letters to the editor, the same few comment on blogs. That means there’s still a vast audience to communicate to in a more traditional way.

While immutable truths of social media may not exist and I do agree that many in blogosphere create an overly cumbersome set of expectations on what is authentic and real, undoubtedly there are norms developing in the space. While I’m not sure blogging is a commerce driver, it is driving a new cultural reality which is well beyond the buzz word of community. As businesses engage/embrace social media it is important this new communication platform is used within an acceptable framework, which I look at as a set of norms – not just for the geeks and those who comment, but also for the passive reader who is there to consume knowledge. So the only norms I think I can identify so far are:

  • Relationships are not just a click away – This norm embraces the reality that as you participate in social media, add value and it will all work out in the end or not. It’s not enough to just throw up a video or have a big list of followers. Sarah Wurrey validates this cultural norm with the following comment on Chip’s post: “The rule I would toss out is the idea that you have to “follow back” everyone who follows you on Twitter. I got a bunch of new followers lately and followed them all back….and a good number of them don’t contribute anything I find all that useful or engaging”.
  • Activity does not equal anything – This norm represents a tenant which means just because you post a bunch or actively participate in a given community, doesn’t mean anything. This might just be something I’ve noticed, but Sarah’s comment above and the reality that social media is as much an art as anything – just like marketing in general, make me believe activity is just that – activity. I actually find myself increasingly ignoring content from “over posters”, as an aside I know Jeremiah is smart, but geesh can’t he figure out the whole tiled logo thing on twitter?
  • No one likes a lemming/search pimp – this is the general apathy that is evident with many blogs which are just out there because they have to be into this whole web 2.0 thing, most commonly seen in corporate blogs and those link love blogs which are basically a single sentence praising or denouncing a post looking for ad revenues. Let’s see how many keywords I can appeal to and let’s see what happens. Sometimes lack of comments actually means lack of influence and that’s good thing. It’s ok to be a link blog or to do link posts, but just be cool about it and own up to it. Not sure what I mean? See how it’s done right by Edward and the rest of the Ann Arbor cabal.

Maybe these aren’t norms, but at least they are my musings and how I’m starting to see this whole blog thing – a sub-culture which will continue to move towards the mainstream, but at this point it’s mainly a bunch of geeks with a set of expectations which may or may not be commonly held by the larger audience, which is the real opportunity in social media – the larger audience. Education, awareness and insights are emerging as key deliverables inside the 3 boundaries above which continue to help box in this whole social media thing. I know a shape with 3 sides is a triangle, but boxing in isn’t really about 4 sides – no really.

While I know I’m right about this geometry thing, I could be completely wrong about every other assertion which ultimately represents my preferential bias as a marketer, but I feel better now that I wrote this post.

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