#Ferguson Shows Why Citizen Journalism Is Still Critical

If you’ve been keeping up with the news from Ferguson, Missouri, chances are a lot of the updates and photos are coming from individuals who aren’t journalists, posting live video feeds from their cell phones. When members of the traditional media were being arrested by the police, and the cable news stations were all kicked out or, in the case of Al Jazeera Television, fired at with gas grenades, it was often the alternative news sources and citizen journalists who fed us new information and updates.

I spent most of last Friday night, as well as last night (Monday), following what was happening in Ferguson through a variety of Twitter users, including Vice News, Alice Speri, Ryan Reilly, and Adam Serwer, as well as alderman Antonio French (who was arrested Friday night), his wife @Senka, and several LiveStream, Ustream, and Vine users. That’s not to say the mainstream media wasn’t there — they were. But on that first night, most of the video footage and images they replayed over and over on CNN were coming from people uploading them from their phones to Twitter and Instagram.

 

I won’t rehash what’s been happening this week — the militarized police response, the protests, the tear gas and the flash grenades. The fact that you know about it at all is thanks to the mainstream media, the alternative and non-traditional media (Huffington Post, Vice News, Freedom of the Press), and citizen journalists. (Update: The police kicked nearly all the media out of the area at 12:00 am CDT, often pointing guns, firing tear gas, and threatening to arrest them. One journalist, Tim Pool, allegedly had his press badge ripped off his chest and told by a police officer, he “didn’t give a shit.”)

Citizen journalists can range from anyone with a Twitter account and a cell phone to an independent news organization as complex as a large blog or an online news website, like The American Reporter (disclosure: I’ve been the humor columnist for the American Reporter since 1997). And anyone with that basic technology can record and disseminate news on a micro scale, or have your content seen around the world by tens of thousands of people.

While the term citizen journalists is often spoken with air quotes around that second word, especially by professional journos, they still play an important role in getting out early information. Ever since George Holliday recorded the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles 20 years ago with a Sony Handycam, private citizens have become citizen watchdogs against the police, the government, and in some cases, even the media themselves.

In many cases, they’ve been doing it without protection, at their own risk, and without the benefit of a publication’s legal team to back them up. They’re the people who find themselves at the center of the action and rather than run away, they pull out their cell phones, hit the button, and stand around a little longer than is safe or wise.

This means anyone can upload videos of things they think are wrong, or want to record for posterity and history.

Of course this means we also have to become critical thinkers and viewers, making sure that what we’re seeing is real, and not a hoax. That we’re re-sharing news from people we trust, and not just blindly retweeting everything with the trending hashtag of the day.

We Also Need to Trust Our Technology

But while we were watching Ferguson news on Twitter, it turns out Facebook’s algorithm didn’t even allow #Ferguson news to show up in our news feeds at all. On that Friday night, if you weren’t looking at Twitter, you didn’t even know anything was going on. (And if you rely on Twitter’s U.S. trending reports to see what’s happening, you were told that #ThatsSoRaven was infinitely more important than #Ferguson, as the tweens’ show trended that night, while the civil unrest in our own country was supposedly not even happening. The hashtag trended in individual cities like Indianapolis and Nashville, but not the country as a whole.)

Medium writer Zeynep Tufecki argues that this shows why not only is net neutrality important — what if Facebook and Twitter didn’t want us to know about Ferguson? They didn’t mess with the algorithm, but what if they had decided to play that card? — but even the technology used by both real and citizen journalists could be affected. California is considering legislation that will require “kill switches” in cell phones. While the technology is there to discourage violent cell phone theft, who’s to say an overeager militarized police department won’t force a wireless company to throw that same switch when they’re about to come down on a crowd of protestors?

Citizen journalism isn’t going away, despite the gnashing of teething and rending of garments by the professional journalists who look down on the amateurs with only slightly less scorn than a militarized police force. It’s here to stay, and as we’ve seen in Ferguson, it sometimes may be the only source of information we have for a while.

Free Download of My Chapter from Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems

About 18 months ago, I was asked by authors Markus Ståhlberg and Villa Maila to contribute a chapter to their book Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems.

The book consists of 35 separate chapters written by 35 different social media experts from around the world. Ståhlberg and Maila asked, pleaded, and cajoled all of us to turn in our chapters, which they then wrestled to the ground and turned it into a heavy book about the marketing ecosystem. It’s not just online marketing, and it’s not a lot of “you should measure Return On Engagement” or “I’m the Chief Awesome Officer!” bullshit that litters the social media marketing book world.

Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems coverThis is a smart book written by smart people, talking about marketing in general, as it develops and revolves around brands, whether it’s traditional media, online, mobile, and even retail point-of sale.

With dramatic changes in consumer behavior – from online shopping to the influence of social media – marketers are finding it harder than ever to coordinate, prioritize and integrate the latest interactive channels into their overall brand-building strategy. With the emergence of the truly interactive consumer, marketers need to scrap the traditional TV-centric strategies and build their own multichannel ecosystems centered around digital channels and supported by traditional media.

Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems examines a fundamental game changer for the entire marketing industry – the seismic shift from a single TV-centric path to an interactive multichannel ecosystem that puts digital technology at the core of marketing strategy. With separate chapters on the remaking of marketing, the rise of the digital brand, conversion optimization, m-commerce, searchability in a multichannel world and predictive marketing, this book shows how marketers and brand managers can react positively to changes in consumer behavior, building customer responses and loyalty via the full spectrum of digital media.

Co-authors include Felix Velarde, CEO of Underwire; Sundeep Kapur, Allied Solutions; Cam Brown, CEO of King Fish Media; and my good friend and Branding Yourself co-author, Kyle Lacy, ExactTarget.

The book finally came out this winter, and I did what every other contributor probably did — flipped to their own chapter. I read it, I skimmed through several other chapters, tried to find typos in Kyle’s chapter (sorry, force of habit), and tried to make sense of everything in the book.

Like I said, this is a smart book. It’s packed with information — not just long blog posts, but analysis, strategies, and ideas that mid- to upper-level marketers need to know to help their brands be successful in a fracturing marketing ecosystem. This is beyond “DO TWITTER!” cheerleading. It’s heady stuff, and it’s written by the leading experts in their field.

If you’re interested in a free chapter, Ståhlberg and Vaila have allowed me to make my chapter — “What Really Counts In Metrics” — available for free download. you can download it here.

Everything is NOT Content

We’re tossing “content” around a little too easily these days. It’s becoming another vague generic word like “stuff” or “crap.”

Not the adjective meaning fairly happy, but rather “items held within a larger container,” as the stuff in a book or a blog.

The Moz (formerly SEOMoz) is cheapening the word by telling us “Everything is content!”

Except it’s not.

In his latest blog post on The Moz Blog, “Why Local Businesses Don’t Need Big Budgets for Their Content Marketing, author Matthew Barby says, “Content is:”

  • the staff within your business.
  • the design of your shop/office.
  • your products and services.
  • the menus on your tables.
  • your company values.
  • your customers.
  • EVERYTHING.

Bullcontent!

As sick to death I am of the phrase “content is king,” I’ll tattoo that on my ass before I ever agree that “content is everything,” or even any of those things.

It is not, as Barby says, cupcakes, staff uniforms, foam art in your latte, or the barista’s smile as she hands over your cupcake and arty latte.

Unless you’re a writer, artist, videographer, photographer, podcaster, or musician, the stuff you do isn’t content either. And if you are, you probably don’t want to cheapen your work by calling it that.

Real creators it stories, art, videos, photos, podcasts, and music.

Most Things Are Not Content

Old Ovaltine magazine ad — Now THIS is content!

From the early days of “paper content marketing.” Or as those poor fools from the 30s called it, “advertising.”

Do you know what content is? Words, images, and sounds. Stories, pictures, movies, podcasts, and music.

Do you know what it isn’t? Everything else. Everything other thing in the world that are not words, images, and sounds.

If I can’t read it, watch it, look at it, or listen to it, it’s not content.

If I can eat it, it’s not content. If it’s a person and his or her clothes, it’s not content. If it’s the squishy feeling we all get from maximizing our company’s potential to provide mission-critical customer satisfaction, it’s not content.

Using the word this way will eventually just cheapen the word and make it as useful and nebulous as “stuff.” I’m certainly not going to coin the phrase stuff marketing.

The word “content” usually refers to material contained within another item — contents of a thermos, a book (hence the term Table of Contents), a speech. It has expanded to include video, audio, and photos, but that’s as far as I think people need to take it.

I’ll agree that the staff, their uniform, and latte foam art are features and reasons to like that business. But to call them “content” cheapens both them and the tenets of content marketing.

Do You Know What We Used To Call Content Marketing?

I blame the Content Marketing movement for starting this. They’re the ones who started calling “persuading people with information” content marketing.

Before then, we just called it marketing.

It was just a thing we did. It was brochures and trade shows. It was TV commercials and newspaper ads and CD-ROMs. It was corporate videos and scripts for radio commercials. Then one day, when I was as old as Kurt Cobain when he died, we started using this Internet thingy, and my company was the first in our industry to have a website.

The other companies laughed at us for getting suckered into this fad, until we started kicking their asses and taking away sales worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then they scrambled fast to catch up.

Do you know what we called doing marketing on the Internet back then?

Marketing.

And do you know what we called the text and the photos on our web pages?

Text and photos.

But we didn’t call customer service, uniforms, or any of that other stuff “marketing,” because it wasn’t. Our accountant wasn’t marketing. Our shipping coordinator wasn’t marketing. Our warehouse guy wasn’t marketing.

We certainly never would have called them content.

But now the latest jargony buzzword is Content Marketing, because we produce stuff to be consumed; Internet Marketing, because it’s marketing on the Internet; Digital Marketing, because it’s now happening via mobile apps and not just the Internet; and, urp. . . urp. . . barf.

Honestly, I don’t care if you debate the subtle nuances of calling it Digital versus Internet Marketing to 10 decimal places. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s still just marketing. It’s not special marketing. It’s not some new brand of marketing that no one has ever done before.

It’s still just persuasive words, pretty pictures, and pleasing sounds.

So can we just skip the happiness-and-rainbows “content is everything and everything is content” Zen koans, and stick with the areas we can control that actually persuade people to buy our, uh, stuff?

Because no one is going to walk into a content shop and ask the contentista for a half-caff content with light foam, and a chocolate content with extra sprinkles.

That would be bullcontent.

 

Five Things Miley Cyrus’ Tongue Can Teach Us About Business

My friend Casey jokingly challenged me to write this post:

Casey Valiant's Miley Cyrus Tweet

After Miley’s R-rated performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), including gratuitous tongue wagging and grinding on singer Robin Thicke, social media was ablaze with shocked reactions and stunned disbelief at what they had seen.

Of course, I’m never one to turn down a good “What _______’s tongue can teach” blog post, so I accepted the challenge.

There are a few business lessons, especially related to crisis communication, we can all learn from Miley Cyrus’ tongue.

Sort of.

1) Transparency and visibility are not always highly valued.

Photo quote about Miley Cyrus - Transparency and authenticity are the two big watchwords the social media hippies like to spout. But there’s such a thing as too much transparency. No one wants to know how sausage is made, and no one wants to see your Gene Simmons-esque tongue flapping in the breeze.

There is such a thing as too much transparency. Don’t air the company’s dirty laundry just because you think you should. Which leads us to. . .

2) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

We hear about the PR stunts and the corporate jackassery all too often in the business pages, and we read with the appropriate amount of shock and horror. And that should clue you in that PR stunts backfire, and jackassery, well, is not looked kindly upon by most people.

This means that while some things may be legal, that doesn’t mean they’re right — looking at YOU, Wall Street!

3) When your actions get in the way of your message, rethink your plan.

My oldest daughter used to love Hannah Montana, and I will grudgingly admit that she has a modicum of talent (“he mumbled curmudgeonly”). Which, I assume, is why she was invited to the VMAs in the first place. But I couldn’t even tell you whether she sang that night, or what song she did sing. And I’m willing to bet that in 10 years, no one will remember the song, but they’ll remember her performance.

Do I really need to draw this particular analogy out for you? Don’t do stupid stuff.

4) If you’re going to screw up, you’d better have a plan for recovery.

In a recent interview, Miley cited Madonna and Britney Spears as positive role models other singers who have made, um, questionable decisions about performances, and she pointed out that people forgot all about it.

Eventually.

Of course, you have to have a lot of star power to pull off a “screw you, I don’t care” recovery plan successfully. For the rest of us, you need to work on containment and recovery. You need to work on overcoming the issue. Don’t hide from it, don’t deny it, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The road to business failure is paved with bad PR advice.

Just cop to the problem, admit it, apologize, and move on. Assuming your problem isn’t legal or going to see you in court/jail, just shrug it off and promise to do better.

5) When that’s not even the worst thing people are discussing, you’ve got bigger problems.

All the photos I’ve seen of Miley are of her tongue sticking way out of her head. Not all of them are of her grinding on Beetlejuice, but they are all of her and her tongue. And yet that’s not what people are talking about. When every photo is of your tongue, and yet that’s not even the elephant in the room — though, given its size, it does give the elephant’s trunk a run for its money — then you have a problem.

Don’t lose your small problems in your bigger problems. If you’re going through a crisis with your company, you still have to focus on the smaller problems at the same time: deliveries, customer service, sales, etc. You don’t shut down. You don’t assume that your customers will give you a pass. You take care of business and deal with the crisis at the same time.

Five Things To Stop Putting In Your Press Releases

Press releases are one of those not-dead-yet tools that lazy PR professionals still insist on sending out to hundreds and thousands of journalists and bloggers. I still get press releases for movie releases taking place in L.A., inviting me to attend the red carpet rollout of some indie movie. Clearly they’re not culling their lists.

When I did crisis communication, we got a real sense of pride if one of our releases was published verbatim, or nearly so, by our state newspapers. That’s how we knew the real journalists were taking us seriously. That, and our success rate (it was an outstanding day if you could bat .500 on story placement). To do it, we needed solid, tight news stories, not a marketing puff piece.

Many releases I see are just abysmal. I don’t know if the agencies are teaching young flaks the wrong way, or if they’re teaching it in college, but there are some serious errors that are keeping your stories from getting published at all. Here are five things you need to stop putting in your press releases.

1. Marketing copy, especially in the opening paragraph

“ABC Coffee Stirrers, the leader in the coffee stirring industry since 1978 and the developer of the Turbo-Whoosh titanium stirrer, is pleased to announce the acquisition of Global Stirrings, a Canadian coffee stirrer manufacturer.”

Do you see all that dreck? All that extra crap about ABC’s history? That’s amateur hour. That stuff goes at the end of the press release in the <H2>About ABC Coffee Stirrers</H2> section. You know, the part nobody reads. It’s going to get cut out anyway, because journalists like real openings, not a copy-and-paste of your About Us page. When you write that, you sound like a flak, not a journalist, and the editor may pitch the release out of spite and loathing.

2. Adverbs, adjectives, and competitive language

“ABC Coffee Stirrers have proved to be 33% more effective at mixing a coffee drinker’s cream and sugar into their beloved morning java. And customers have eagerly demonstrated their strong preference for the Turbo-Whoosh by increasing sales by a staggering 12% every year for the last five years!”

Newspapers and TV stations are supposed to present the news in an unbiased, objective manner. That means they don’t get to express their opinion. They don’t get to say whether something is good or bad. They typically don’t talk about products, unless those products killed someone.

That means they’re not going to talk about how much better your product is than anyone else’s. They’re not going to publish the “news” written by your product manager. And they’re not going to talk about increased sales, customer preference, or improved performance.

You may get that kind of coverage in trade and industry journals, but you still need to avoid the adverbs and adjectives. If your press release sounds like a freshman English Comp essay, pitch it and start over.

3. Copyright and Trademark symbols

The company lawyer may have told you to put them in the release, but the ®, ©, and ™ symbols don’t belong in press releases for two simple reasons:

  1. They could interfere with SEO. While we can’t be sure how Google treats these, why risk it? Maybe they ignore those symbols, but maybe they treat it like a regular word. No one is going to search for ABC™ Coffee Stirrers®, so don’t make that a search term.
  2. Those don’t appear in news stories. The editors are going to delete them anyway, so don’t make extra work for them or you.

Unless the company lawyer also has a background as a journalist, ignore anything they tell you about writing press releases.

3. “We’re very excited” quotes

“We’re very excited about the merger between our companies.”

“We’re very excited about our laptop upgrades.

You can’t be equally excited about both things. Saying “we’re very excited” about every damn thing that happens is either lazy writing, or your CEO is off her meds. Find another way to express interest or enthusiasm. Better yet, don’t even bring it up at all. We all know you didn’t interview the CEO for this, and if you did, she probably didn’t say this at all.

Talk about the benefits of the news item. Is the merger going to add jobs? That’s your lead quote. Is it going to improve profitability by $10 million? Then that is. No one cares who’s excited; that’s not news. The jobs and profitability are exciting. Only include things that drive the story.

4. Business jargon quotes

“This new relationship will help us streamline mission-critical functionalities as a way to regenerate impactful niches.”

No one talks that way in real life. If they do, make sure they aren’t having a stroke.

But even if they do, preserve their reputation and avoid marketing words altogether. Make them sound like a real human being since, not a marketing textbook.

(Note: It’s easy to confuse marketers with real human beings, but do your best. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and translate their marketing gobbledygook into real words.)

If you don’t have good quotes, the journalist will either email you or call you for a follow-up quote that uses real words. Save them the time and give them a quote that sounds realistic and not one made up by the Dack.com Bullshit Generator (which is what I used to write that sentence above).

A press release is supposed to sound like a real news story written by a real journalist. Most PR flaks don’t know what that looks like, so they keep putting out the same garbage week after week. Then they complain that their stories aren’t being published and that their clients aren’t getting any traction. Start writing real journalistic stories and send out only newsworthy items. You’ll see your success rate — and self-respect — increase.

Bloggers Need to Act Professionally to be Taken Seriously

Yesterday, Deb Ng put a big smackdown on self-entitled bloggers who think that conference hotels need to fawn all over their guests or face the wrath of thousands of angry mommy bloggers armed with smartphones and hashtags.

I found a post filled with nothing but entitlement. The blogger, whose name is Jen, posted an open letter to the Sheraton Chicago who will be hosting BlogHer in a few weeks.  She wanted to prepare hotel management for what’s to come.

After explaining what a blogger is, because apparently hotel staff aren’t hip or in touch enough to know, Jen goes on to tell the hotel what to expect if BlogHer attendees aren’t treated super special.

Ng’s disgust is understandable. Bloggers want to be taken seriously as writers and journalists, and the problems Jen warns the Sheraton about make it that much harder. It doesn’t help when bloggers are on their worst behavior, not by being loud and obnoxious — every conference in every industry does that — but by being unreasonable and demanding.

If we want to be taken seriously as professionals, and not just a hobbyist with a laptop, we need to act like professionals. Here’s how:

1) Act Like You’re Supposed To Be There

Indy 500 Media Center

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center. I’ve covered the Indy 500 since 2009.

Don’t fawn, don’t gush, don’t geek out, don’t ask for autographs. Red Hot Mama, a baseball blogger, once told me the Cincinnati Reds won’t give access to bloggers anymore, because one blogger in the mid-2000s was given media access and instead acted like a total fanboy. He got pictures taken with players, asked for autographs, the whole works. He was the first and last blogger allowed in the clubhouse. Similarly, when I started covering the Indianapolis 500 for my personal blog, I was told the Speedway would yank the credentials of any journalist who ever asked a driver for an autograph or a photo.

Journalists don’t gush, they act like they’re supposed to be there. They have a job to do, and they get it done. Do the same. Act like this is your job, not a once-in-a-lifetime special treat. Because if you don’t, it truly will only happen once. Act like a pro and they’ll ask you back.

2) You’re Not Entitled To Anything

You don’t deserve the things you’re given. They’re not given to you because you’re special. They’re given to you as part of a media and PR campaign. You can’t march into a conference or special event and demand a swag bag or a VIP pass. (See “You’re Not A Celebrity” below.) Don’t act entitled, be humble. If someone gives you a gift, accept it in the spirit it’s given: it’s a gift. Be grateful for it.

This issue is a sticky wicket, because bloggers will often get free things that journalists are not allowed to receive. It’s one area of ethics that separates bloggers from the pros, and may need to change one day. But in the meantime, if you act like you deserve it, you’ll soon be blackballed by the people you’re trying to write about.

3) Don’t Tweet Your Tantrums

If you don’t get something you want, don’t be a passive-aggressive whiner. Don’t throw a Twitter tantrum. Be a mature and responsible adult. Speak to a real person about your complaint. If they don’t make it right, speak to a manager. If they still don’t make it right, then you can take it outside. Tweeting that a restaurant burned your meal or forgot to put cream in your coffee without giving them a chance to make it right first just makes you look like a brat.

There are a couple of times where going straight to Twitter is not a bad thing. Any company that has a Twitter customer service account can be more easily reached this way than spending 20 minutes on the phone. @Delta has fixed a couple of problems for me in the past this way. But publicly complaining about something that could have been fixed with a 15 second conversation is not the way to do it.

4) You’re Not A Celebrity

I’ve never known a journalist to play the “do you know who I am?” card. They don’t expect to be recognized. Many go out of their way to avoid it. Which means, they never threaten people with “exposure” in their newspaper or on their news program when they’re displeased.

Conversely, I’ve known bloggers and book authors who expect immediate name recognition, believing that people regularly peruse the blogosphere or study a bookstore’s shelves in the hopes that they’ll one day meet those writers. When that recognition doesn’t come, said writers will drop their job title or accomplishments about as casually as a college freshman trying not to act drunk, in the hopes of intimidating the other person into giving them free stuff.

You may have thousands of people who gush about you online or shake your hand after you speak at a conference, but until your face shows up on a gossip rag at the supermarket checkout, you’re not a real celebrity.

5) Don’t Be A Bully

When things don’t go your way, don’t be a bully (i.e. don’t play the “do you know who I am?” card here either). Don’t get all your friends to join forces and tweet someone else into submission.

I’m always amazed at the number of people who claim to be anti-bullying, but will gang up and publicly shame people who they think are deserving of their scorn. Companies that gave them a bad experience will soon be on the receiving end of several dozen, if not hundreds, of snotty comments on their Facebook page.

If you’re a consumer or social justice advocate, that’s one thing. But slashing people with the swift sword of Twitter justice just because you don’t like the coffee makes you a bully.

(No, seriously, that happens. The story Ng responded to included this little gem: “Don’t water down the coffee you serve us. Don’t. We’ll hunt you down and kill you with hashtags. #WheresTheCaffeineSheraton?” While Jen’s statement was supposed to be a joke, that actually happens way more than it ever should.)

We’re going to see a day when bloggers are seen and accepted as professionals, but that day is going to be a long time coming when they act like whiny little gits who expect the world to fall over themselves trying to please them. I’m not just picking on Jen or BlogHer, I’m talking to any blogger who has ever thought their 2,000 readers a month made them A Force To Be Reckoned With.

Treat people with respect, be kind, be polite, and act like you know what you’re doing. Everyone else knows what that should look like, and when you don’t, you just make the rest of us who are actually doing the work look bad.

Social Media Stars Killed Social Media

The days of the social media rockstar are drawing to a close.

We’re starting to see the end of social media as a standalone, magical mysterious thing that we do — something every startup embraced, every small business resisted, and every corporation fled from in fear — and we’re seeing acceptance, and even love, from those who previously spurned it.

Amber Naslund’s recent post, The Begrudging Death of the Social Media Superstar, plus a recent Jay Baer podcast episode with Dorie Clark, has got me to thinking that the end is in sight.

Social media will no longer be a viable standalone career path.

In the last six years, I’ve seen positions like Director of Social Media Marketing, Online Community Manager, and even VP of Social Media created to take advantage of this growing communication phenomenon. (I will not dignify positions like Social Media Wizard/Ninja/Guru with any response greater than a sneer.)

But I think we’re going to see those positions pulled into their respective departments, and they’ll become part of the general rabble.

Everyone in marketing and PR is going to be expected to be good at social media, much in the same way you need to stop listing “Proficient at Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer” on your résumé.

History Is Repeating Itself

Olivetti Typewriters - these things went away when computers became widely adopted.It’s always interesting to see what happens to an entrenched communication channel or business method when a new upstart shows up.

Newspaper people panicked when radio showed up, and the radio folks were the stars of the day. Radio panicked when TV showed up, and the TV people were the stars of the day.

Newspapers, radio, and TV all laughed and laughed when the Internet showed up. Then they ran around, screaming like they were on fire when the Internet started playing songs, streaming TV, and posting classified ads.

In the business world:

  • people turned up their noses at computers in the 1980s, but now we no longer have typists, because everyone does their own typing.
  • The postal service got worried when telexes showed up. . .
  • . . . and those people freaked when fax machines showed up.
  • Fax manufacturers peed themselves when email became the main method of communication.

Every step along the way, the new people were the stars, until everyone calmed down, and they were absorbed into the general landscape.

That’s happening with social media.

The social media people have been rockstars, writing books in a whirlwind of publishing activity, speaking and attending conferences. The ones who were doing it first are now considered the godfathers and grand dames of the industry, and the upstarts aren’t finding any real room to shine. There are no unexplored frontiers.

It won’t happen right away. There are still plenty of companies that aren’t doing social media. Hell, depending on which stats you see, anywhere from 40 – 60% of companies don’t even have a website. That means there are still plenty of people who aren’t adopting the Internet, let alone all the cool stuff it can do.

But when PR and marketing agencies are folding social media into their day-to-day offerings, and not a special add-on, you know things are settling down.

Social Media Experts Were Too Good At Their Job

That’s because, thanks to the social media evangelists who preached the gospel of engagement and relationships, everyone started doing it. And we all got good at it.

Eventually the executives who made the decision to create social media departments are going to start wondering, “Even my kids are doing this now, what makes these people so special? Why do they get the rockstar treatment?”

And the decision will be made to fold social media back into the regular marketing department. Or PR. Customer Service. Sales. R&D.

This is good news for people who are already good at marketing, PR, customer service, sales, and R&D.

But if you’re not good at it, you’re going to have a problem.

If you were only good at using the tools — you were “good at Twitter,” “good at Facebook” — you’re going to have a hard time fitting into your new role. If you thought that social media was all about using the tools, you’re in for a shock.

You need to get good at something else too. You need to get better at the departments and functions you were supporting.

You’re going to have to redefine yourself as a content marketer, a marketing strategist, a PR practitioner, a customer service professional. Social media is only going to be a part of what you do, not the actual thing you do.

Just like writers don’t have to be “proficient at Microsoft Word,” being “good at social media” will not be enough.

Photo credit: eat more toast (Flickr, Creative Commons)