The Walls of the Social Media Bubble Are Getting Thicker

I’ve spoken before about the social media “bubble”. You know, this warm and cozy place where all us Twitter-loving, high tech super early adopting thirty and forty somethings spend a good chunk of our lives. We have our own gurus, our special buzzwords, and our own geek-a-paloooza assortment of Dungeons and Dragons inside jokes and bad 80′s references written on t-shirts. Even though we pride ourselves on “openness” and “transparency”, you have to admit, it’s kind of a secret club. Oh sure, anyone can join, but they have to know the secret password (it’s “social media d-bag”).

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

You see, the whole POINT of social media is to create online communities of people with common interests. It just so happens that the common interest many of us have happens to be social media.

We sit inside the bubble, but it’s only one of thousands of bubbles. It just so happens that what goes on inside our bubble isn’t dog breeding, or photography, or banjo playing..it’s social media. And ironically, we’re using the very tools and strategies we love, to talk about the tools and strategies we love.

To an outsider, that must look pretty weird, eh?

There are a lot of people outside the bubble looking at us sort of cock-eyed, I think. They wonder why we yammer on all day about ROI, community building, and measuring sentiment. They visit our blogs to try to understand more, but the backstory isn’t there. It’s on 15 other web sites we’ve linked to, and if they haven’t been head-down reading Mashable and Gizmodo for the past three days, then the point is lost on them. Back to dog breeding, then.

The thing is, do the people outside the bubble care? Not as much as we think (and maybe hope) they do.

While we sit around discussing the merits of having a Fan Page on Facebook, they are probably opening up their flower shop for the day. While we have blogchats and webinars, they are building a house. While we debate iPads and Androids, they are creating policies for health care reform. See what I mean?

We live this stuff, because for many of us, it’s part of our job. My clients come to me because I know a lot about video, web design, and online marketing/social media/whatever you call it. They pay me to help them understand this stuff, just like I’d pay a contractor to build me a new fence when I need one.

There is one problem I have with the bubble, though. Some people are treating it like Fort Knox. They are doing this because they think that by keeping the walls high and inaccessible and staying inside of them, they get to have easier access to the money. And they figure, if they can keep their clients in the dark long enough, about “mysterious” things like Search Engine Optimization, RSS and WordPress, then they can milk more cash out of the wallets of the unsuspecting neophytes. It’s shameful behaviour and it needs to stop.

As my friend Kneale would say, social media ain’t rocket surgery. Yes, it’s a new way of communicating. Indeed, there’s a sea of information to wade through. There are myriad tools and new things to learn. But ultimately, the whole point of social media tools is that the tools are supposed to be easy to use. And they are. Just ask my Mom. She teaches me stuff about Facebook.

If you want to really help your clients, don’t try to convince them that this stuff is complicated. It’s not. Your clients shouldn’t be hiring you to teach them how to use LinkedIN. Nobody needs a $1000 weekend retreat to learn how to tweet. Social media consultants are a passing fancy. Your clients need your expertise in how to use all media to more effectively tell their stories. That’s it.

As for us bubble-dwellers, the best way for us to understand more what our clients need is to step out of the bubble once in a while. There are a lot of cool people doing a lot of neat stuff online, and many of them don’t even know that what they are doing is “social media”. They are just doing it. Social Media isn’t an industry. Social media are a way of communicating.

The bubble is a valuable place for us. It’s where we hone our craft, learn from each other, and geek out. That’s a good thing, my friends. But remember, there’s a whole other world out there. We should try to be part of that one once in a while, too.

[photo credit: Jeff Kubina on Flickr]

15 comments
rebeccahappy
rebeccahappy

Excellent discussion you have going on here. I have been immersed in this SM bubbble for going on 2 years. It certainly is a bubble. Nobody in my day day to life ave anything to do with most of it. Some are just opening FB accounts now. Firstly I must say I am shocked to hear that people pay 50K for some of this. SM is big and multilayered and complex and simple all at the same time. From what I understand about marketing however, it is just a tool in the tool box for communicating. If the people we want to communicate with are not using it, then other tools are needed in the mix. If you left your head up a little you will see that other things still are going on all around us. I also understand that people who become more knowledgeable in a field will share with each other to garner greater understanding. In these circles it may not be of any interest whatsoever as someone who just wants to use the tool whatever it may be. Humans all have egos and belonging is a strong drive so no matter what the field there will be groups of GURUS or early adopters that bond along those lines. The important point here you raise Sue is that it is essential to go beyond specific bubbles if we truly want to build a better community.

Robin Browne
Robin Browne

Great post Sue. I suspect one reason companies pay 5K for someone to teach them to Tweet, or whatever, is because they don't have anyone in the company who can. Companies need to hire people who have learned social media through using it in their own lives. These people can then save the companies thousands by telling them what, if any, social media advice they should pay for.

Fiona
Fiona

BRAVO! There is a strange perception when I speak to prospective clients that SM is an appendage to be tacked on to existing marketing. Some of this is because they've been offered piecemeal and overpriced solutions by "consultants" claiming to be SM "experts". It always surprises me that so many overlook or miss the concept that SM is a tool, or a platform for engagement, that should be integrated into existing marketing strategy... this approach bursts "the bubble" though because it involves teaching and empowering our clients and their employees. I love seeing the look of amazement when a client realizes the wealth of information they can glean from SM and when their engagement as a brand starts to pay off. I'm a bubble buster ;)

Maggie McGary
Maggie McGary

The thing that gets me about social media consultants (or now PR firms or web developers and/or whoever else is adding social media to their menu of services) is that they clearly see it as a cash cow and push it as such. $10k for a blogger outreach that involves having a well-connected blogger ask her network of blogging friends to cut and paste information into a post? $9k to set up a Twitter account and a totally un-customized Facebook page? Meanwhile, the same firm is charging us $3k to do traditional media outreach? It's like the world has issued permission to upcharge anything involving social media because it's "new." It's gotten to the point that consultants we're talking to about totally unrelated projects will just throw a totally unsolicited proposal to do "social media strategy" at us....for $100k. I guess they're finding that if they throw it out there it's sticking at least some of the time? What's most annoying to me is that it's such a feeding frenzy that nobody is even stopping to question prices--the sky seems to be the limit, and as long as companies are dumb enough to pay $10,000 a month to have someone tweet for them and not even ask questions when, a few months later, they've still got no followers (true story, again). Are people really that scared of/awed by/disgusted by Facebook/Twitter that they just want someone else to handle that whole distasteful business...at any cost? But I digress...this is a great post and a good reminder to me to step outside the bubble when it frustrates me this much!

Suze
Suze

It's unfortunate that these stories exist. Though there are many consultants (who do not tout themselves as strictly "social media" consultants) out there whose rates are well in line with the value they bring to their clients, but all too often people are being swindled by unqualified hacks. As Shawn pointed out, this is not a phenomenon unique to social media - hucksters exist everywhere. Perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on educating people, and less on shilling.

Kat Jaibur (@katjaib)
Kat Jaibur (@katjaib)

You make some excellent points. First is that so many social media people sit around just talking to each other about social media. YES. It does get tiring. Boring.Narcissistic. Frankly, a lot of social media "big shots" (who like to call each other "rock stars" LOL) are making asses out of themselves by only engaging with each other. (I could name names, but that would be bad manners.) Don't tell us about how it's all about creating community and being engaging, and then refuse to talk to anyone who isn't part of your inner circle. Don't ignore people who respond to your tweets. Don't act like someone invaded your diary when they comment on one of your "wondering out loud" moments. Seriously. Second, about the consultants who overcharge and make things seem impenetrable to the average lay person ... they will be exposed soon enough. Your post is one of many helping to do that. What people who sincerely want to be social media consultants need to realize is that there will always be clients who -- no matter what -- don't want to put the time into doing it themselves. They will gladly pay a reasonable price for workshops, courses and hired hands to show them shortcuts or help them get set up. Heck, I know how to clean my house -- but I don't want to be the one doing it. Same with my taxes, my oil changes, and when I finally get it together, my own wordpress site. (Yeah, I'll write it, because that's my profession... but I'm not going to build it.) So folks: Be honest, be fair and seek to be helpful. And you will have clients. In fact, you'll develop such a good reputation that you will have to subcontract or turn clients away. And remember more than anything, people are watching, so walk the talk. Because it doesn't take long to see who the real deals are.

Shawn McCormick
Shawn McCormick

Interesting points. I think one of the key reasons why social media is so powerful and unlike other tools that have come before is that they enable a level of community-building (tribe-building) that hasn't been seen in online tools before. You said "Your clients need your expertise in how to use all media to more effectively tell their stories" which I fully agree with, but I think they really need help as well with "...how to use all media to more effectively build their community". As an outsider (I don't work in Social Media), I definitely see people trying to profit off of other's ignorance, but that happens in every segment of every market. It's no different here. Those people will be the first ones to dump social media and run to the next profit-making fad as soon as SM loses it's lustre. Hopefully they find some new & shiny object soon.

Suze
Suze

That's a great point Shawn. "Shiny Object Syndrome" is not unique to social media. What's important is that people can make the distinction between the snake oil and the authentic. That takes education and information, of which there is plenty out here.

Judith Cane
Judith Cane

I've been in both camps recently. As someone who spent a few hundred $$ attending a "SM weekend" and as someone who benefited from the generosity of a professional in the SM world. Having done both, I learned much more in that afternoon than I did the whole weekend. The weekend was a pitch fest that had "expert" after "expert" up on stage touting their "expertise" that could be yours for the special weekend price of hundreds if not thousands of $$. And you know what? As a client the weekend was not worth it. I learned way more than I needed. I have no desire to become a "SM expert or guru (oh how I hate that word)". I just want my business to include it in the marketing I do. So Suze, thanks for spending the afternoon with me. I would much rather spend my marketing $$ on marketing my business, than someone marketing to me.

Suze
Suze

Thank you, Judith. You don't need the "gurus". You're already doing a lot of things right. I'm happy we got a chance to hang out.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

I've seen companies charge up to $50,000 for a socially-optimized website. I've seen entrepreneurs charge $5k for a morning seminar that shows you how to set up a Twitter account and start tweeting, and I think... WTF? I remember when Web 2.0 first became all buzz-led, and so many companies jumped on that and started trying to hoodwink folks as to what it all meant, and why they needed to pay the big bucks. I suppose if businesses and individuals are happy to pay that price, more power to those charging it. Yet a little self-work and research will show you how to at least work the basics yourself. I'm no baker and I'll pay money for a unique cake, but why pay for dough when I can buy a loaf of bread and butter it myself? The folks that make it look more complicated than it is definitely have their pockets in mind. One way to do business, not one I prefer though ;-)

JayTurn
JayTurn

Glad you just cleared up your beliefs about charging people for teaching them about social media Suze. You have my full support for getting rid of the "snake-oil" salesman on Facebook and the "Twammers" (Twitter spammers) advertising the followers or friends they can 'buy'. This is about the third time I have mentioned this in three days but we are seeing the same trend being carried out that occurred when search engines first came on the scene. "SEO experts" using all manner of tactics to game the system but fortunately the search engines wised up and brought that dodgy community down. Marketers seem to be doing the same thing with social media, all sorts of "SAO"(social account optimization) which doesn't work in the long run.The humorous part is that all the people buying the followers and using the seedy tactics end up following everyone else using the seedy tactics. So in a way, they effectively end up pitching their scam sales pitches to other people doing the same thing. Talk about the bubble! It is easily evidenced in a lot of the group pages. Go through the wall of a small business group and it is filled with people simply trying to spam their products. They are kind of missing the whole point of social media.

Nick Desbarats
Nick Desbarats

Yes, the social media community is like the dog-breeding community and the house-building community, except that it isn't. Social media can (though does not always) make dog-breeding and house-building more enjoyable/effective for members of those communities, whereas the opposite is not true. There are blogs about dog-breeding, but not dog-breeding meetings about blogs. That's a big difference. I'm not a social media fanboy (I'm rapidly tiring of Twitter, and blog once in a good month), but thinking that social media is just like any other "enthusiast group" is a mistake, because social media touches a small portion of almost every other community, and acts as major enabler for a fair number of them. That makes it unique. It is also complicated. In that sense, it's like any other enthusiast community in that you have to spend some time getting to know the jargon, mythology, etc. if you want to be seen as credible. For a neophyte, that could mean weeks of research, and if they want to spend $1000 for someone to teach them what we all consider to be "the basics" in few hours, then that's a good investment by the client. I'm not an SM consultant and am not defending the unscrupulous ones. Just saying that telling someone that "it's complicated" is not a lie, and charging them to help them get up to speed is not necessarily unethical.

Suze
Suze

Hi Nick, thanks for your comment. Really great points. Just to be clear, I am definitely not opposed to people paying to learn about social media and how it can be used effectively in their business/organization. Heck, I teach workshops on the stuff. Where I get my back up though, is with the so-called "snake-oil" salespeople who make it seem like it's all a complex mystery and the ones who try to sell people on how to get 50,000 followers in a week. They miss the point and are only focused on making a quick buck. We DO need to teach those who want to learn. But we also need to realize that it's about techniques and strategies, there are no quick wins, and it's not about the tools.

Bill Wren
Bill Wren

I've argued about this sort of thing in the past too. There is world outside this bubble that is indifferent to it and manage quite nicely without all the social media we use daily. The thing is, they are often the people businesses are trying to reach. So if you don't get out of the bubble and into the real world, you'll never know how to speak to them. There is also another aspect to the communities we create: they are as much about being exclusive as inclusive. For what it is worth, years ago (2004!) I had a post about this kind of thing (Language as a barrier to communication). http://writelife.net/2004/06/22/language-as-a-communication-barrier/ It was fascinating to see how much of the traffic it received came from outside North America - Pacific Rim countries etc.