An open letter on social media evangelism

Social media provides a set of tools and channels that enable people to discover, share and engage in new ways. This creates a whole set of pretty exciting opportunities for organizations and individuals alike.

I’m sure you’re all with me so far.

Great business begins with well-defined and agreed objectives, which coupled with insight into your audience enables you to build your strategies and execute and measure your programs.

Social media is a component of the tools and channels we use to execute those programs. It often challenges us to think about how we are communicating and engaging with people, there’s no question it can deliver great benefits, but – and you knew there was a but coming – it is not a standalone discipline. It is not a department. It is not a simple replacement for a host of other activities that continue to be important. Instead it should be carefully and thoughtfully integrated into our daily jobs where it makes sense.

This is common sense to me. Yet some people – many with a clear vested interest – feel the need to make social media appear far more complex and sometimes more significant than it actually is.

I’d like to take a few moments of your time to address that issue.

Before we begin let’s all agree that social media isn’t complex.

Even I understand it.

If you agree or disagree feel free to let me know. The comment section is open – or feel free to send me an e-mail, call me or send me a letter.


Stop socializing

We all know it’s often easier and more glamorous to create something new than focus on what’s already working, but it doesn’t always make sense and frankly it has become an epidemic in social media circles. I should also point out that I’m using the term ‘create’ in its loosest sense.


Can you please stop adding the word social to each and every noun in the dictionary? Really. Stop it. It’s not thought leadership.

Can you stop with your social tautologies? What is a social consumer? I would have thought with the exception of 500 hermits currently living in caves spread around the planet every consumer is social.

I can’t wait to see what you folks do with social disease and social unrest – which may occur if you keep doing this.

Addenum: Stop with the silly terms like tastemaker. Lord above.


A feature does not make a product category

Connected to my previous point is the apparent compunction people feel to change the names of things to make them more ‘social’. Let’s look at Customer Relationship Management. It’s a pretty well understood term, and widely practiced. Why do we need to change it into Social Customer Relationship Management (SCRM) or Social Relationship Management (SRM) or Relationship Management (RM)? And before you start with the Salesforce acquisition of Radian 6, that just proves the point. They are integrating better insights into how customers are using social channels.  Integrating into the CRM functionality. It’s not a reverse takeover.


You need to check with the patent office on some of your inventions

Just to be clear. Just because you’ve just thought of something doesn’t actually mean that other people haven’t thought of it before you, or that thousands of people haven’t been working on it for forty years before your epiphany.

Research and the importance of understanding your audience is a great example. I hear people talking about research and insight into social media like it’s something brand new. Folks, companies have been using customer research for decades. Yes, there are new channels and habits to be measured, but you didn’t invent the importance of research. Sorry.


Please do let ignorance get in the way of your thought leadership

I know this will be distressing for some people, but a knowledge of social media doesn’t qualify you as an expert on everything. I am amazed at the number of times I read and listen to people pontificating about the impact of social media on disciplines from CSR to finance, sales, customer service, HR and of course the tried-and-tested fields of marketing, when they clearly have no idea about these areas beyond a quick read of Fast Company. You don’t start with the tool, you start with the problem, or ideally the objective.

Of course I think we all agree that social media can be productively used in a range of business areas but stick to what you know or you’ll do even more damage to you credibility.


Stop with the pithy meaningless trite phrases

I’m willing to admit that this may be my personal bugbear, and it’s not restricted to the world of social media, but really enough is enough. I sometimes wonder if people come out with these things to bamboozle their audience and hide their lack of insight in how to apply social media to reality. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I hear things like, and I’m paraphrasing:

  • Authenticity is the new authority, but it’s not a strategy.
  • Social media is the cultural epicenter of <<insert person, place or thing>>.
  • The world has moved on, it’s not about lead generation, it’s about lead acceleration.
  • It’s not about getting their attention, it’s about getting their intention



Stop trying to make social media complex

I know that if people actually found out that the fundamentals of social media aren’t that difficult we may be faced with the appalling vista of everyone doing it, but really why do we insist on dressing social media up like it’s open heart surgery.

You can spot this as people insist on making constant references to science. Think physics, psychology, sociology, genealogy and biology. (No points for spotting the obvious)

I’m sorry it’s really not that hard. Common sense, creativity and an understanding of your business and your audience will get you up and running quickly. Insights are important but you don’t need a PhD.

Fear is not your social media fertilizer.


Stop contradicting yourself, a lot.

When social media first emerged blinking into the bright sunshine, the North Star (yes I can mix my metaphors thank you – this is my blog) was the Cluetrain Manifesto. Now the Manifesto is a little too heavy on the whole peace, love and happiness vibe, but it did a good job emphasizing the need for organizations to talk to people as humans. Everyone agrees this is a good thing. However, people often go on to talk about how social media is a ‘paradigm shift’.

I’m not making this up.

Stop it.


As Dale Carnegie mentioned to me…

If you’ve ever attended a sales or networking seminar you’ll probably have learned about the positive impact of suggestion. For example instead of saying “Oh yes I was at <<insert event>>” you say “It’s funny you ask that because as I said to Hugh Heffner at <<insert event>>” and then throw back your head and guffaw.

There’s too much of this in social media circles. My personal view is it doesn’t make you any more impressive to me. Show me your ideas, your strategy, your insight. I really don’t care who you had coffee with or met in a lift. Well unless it was Elvis.


So there you have it.

Social media is important, interesting and has great applications in business and society, but let’s not overplay it. Often a phone call, a face to face meeting, a press release or an advert can be very effective tool, and most often it’s a well thought out combination of tactics combined with a clear focus on your objectives and your audience that delivers the best results.

We should all embrace social media where it is useful, makes sense and has a practical use, but the baby needs to remain safely in the bath.


24 thoughts on “An open letter on social media evangelism

  1. It’s about time more people stood up and started declaring that the ’emperor has no clothes’. Enough of the people who ‘get’ social media. Yes we ‘get’ that you ‘get it’, but it doesn’t make you an authority on HR, marketing, PR, R&D, market research and definitely doesn’t qualify you to pontificate on ‘social business’. Stick to what you know and get on with integrating social into it. Let those who know other specialisms get on with integrating social into their specialism. And above all let’s have more doing and less pontificating.

  2. Tom,

    That was an amazing read! The word the very wise. Thanks so much

    Stop dressing up social media like it’s open heart surgery- that was wickely funny. You just summed up exactly how I feel. Let’s stop creating a mystique around social media — and stop offering multi-day courses in how to use it. I’ve been a corporate communicator for 20 years and I’m just integrating it into my PR strategies as another way to reach stakeholders.

  3. great stuff, I have been banging on for a while now about how SM is just another channel, granted the significance could prove to be something akin to the invention of the printing press but let’s not get carried away

  4. Tom, Good post some thoughts, where I have differences.

    -Not a department: Not sure I agree here, while I agree that we don’t want to create another silo. I think there are tactics and skills used within social media that are unique to the medium and as such its helpful to have someone who can help an organization along with advice. I’m not suggesting big bucks, but give someone some time to focus on social media and how useful each technology or social network is to your audience. That said, I think it makes more sense to spread social media usage around the company, evangelism if you will. :-)

    -Social word usage: I hear you brother, though I think it’s a bit of a wasted effort to try to convince the community to use a word or not. I found this in trying to suggest that blogger relations only applied to engagement within social media, and not pitching. My experience in SEO land has taught me that you use the words the community is using, and not to worry about meaning too much.

    -Social Media 101: I’m not sure people have taken onboard the fundamentals of social media. Content marketing seems to be more of an effort to create content, than engage. I bet you can tell me any number of companies that are doing well at content creation, but how about organic community outreach, not just pitching? Social media is simple, but I’m really not sure people understand the simple idea of relationship building within mass media. Obvious for sales people, but not so for marketers. You may disagree.

    -Cluetrain: I don’t think it was peace, love and happiness. Rather people would bother to get involved without pay. I think we’ve all sobered up on that point.

  5. Hi John,

    thanks for the comments. This area continues to grow and evolve as you know, so I think everyone’s opinion is worthy and valid :-)

    One your comment regarding a social media department, I don’t necessarily disagree, I think we’ll have community managers and people focused on social media but they will be part of existing departments, I don’t think there’ll be a social media department per se.

    On complexity, I actually agree with you. The tools are simple but as always great execution is hard. It’s the same for PR and most marketing.

    Thanks John!


  6. Tom, this is probably the best letter or post I have written on social media in a long time.

    I realise that when social media started out it was the techies that understood it but now it has been around a while more and more people know how to use it for business benefits. I see so many Social Media Tutors and this depresses me. I just think software training isn’t a strategic discipline.

    Social media is simple that’s why most of it is free. However, the clever executions of campaigns using it as a tool to achieve an objective can still be difficult. It’s easy to set up channels and write a tweet but its far more difficult to create an online community that moderates itself and becomes self serving.

    So I totally agree with you. Once again a brilliant post!

  7. Thanks Chris and Brendan,

    I’m heartened to discover that a growing number of people are stepping up to acknowledge that while social media is clearly important, it’s not the end of ‘marketing’ as we know it :)

    Thanks for taking the time to post!

    Thanks Brendan.

  8. I really enjoyed your thought-provoking post, Tom. I whole-heartedly agree with you on just about all your points, but your section on research gave me pause. I think social media is a huge game changer in this highly specialized and elusive arena. After stewing it over for a while, I wrote a post about it at I hope you’ll let me know if you think my analysis is way off. Thanks again for your great post.

  9. How funny! I’ve never heard of most of the terms you used, so I must be hanging around in the wrong circles. But I agree with you, adding “social” to everything is ridiculous. Kind of like 10 years ago or so when everyone started adding the word “paradigm” to every phrase, if you remember those days.

  10. Thank you. I couldn’t agree more. And yes, social media is not complex but so many don’t use their common sense as you suggest, making it impossible to be successful with their endeavors.

  11. Thanks Monica, I’ve posted a response on your blog, I agree social media opens great new opportunities, my point was that people talk about elements of social media as though they are brand new when in fact I they’re not. I’ve spent over half my career working with and for start-ups (and with nonprofits) and they’ve always had a focus on customer insight – but I do agree potentialy social media gives them great opportunities to do so – it’s just not new :)

    Thanks Mitch, I am obviously spending far too much time on Twitter :)

    Thanks Lisa, I agree wholeheartedly. Just the fact we’re having this discussion is a great start – IMHO!


  12. I genuinely think you could have, with some effort and more self-discipline, condensed these thoughts into 150 words or so, and in so doing avoided preaching to the choir: long form blog readers. * enjoys own joke while heartily agreeing with all you’ve said, of course. *

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