This is the End, My Friend: Social Media is Dead, Sort Of

(All Hallows Church, Bispham, Blackpool, Lancashire. Photo credit: Belovedfreak.)

You hadn’t heard? Oh, yeah, Social Media died (sort of) on May 19, 2014, when Scott Monty of Ford announced on his personal blog that he’s no longer “of Ford.”¹ Actually, I guess the official day of death was the next day, when Adweek broke the news to the larger digital world.² Or, actually, it was the day after that, when the eulogies started rolling in (got to give guys a little time to mourn, think their thoughts, and write ‘em up): Here we have “Scott Monty is Leaving Ford: Is it a Trend?” by Robin Fray Carey in Social Media Today:

While I was not stunned to learn that Scott Monty is leaving Ford, I was more taken aback by Shel Israel’s view, which he’s been talking about on Facebook, that Monty’s departure is part of a larger trend, a trend of social media innovators and rock stars leaving large companies.

Indeed, that is exactly what Shel was to posit, at great length, in a eulogy, er, post, in his Forbes column, the day after the Social Media Today piece: “Scott Monty Leaves Ford: What it Means to Social Media”:

This is a great loss for Ford, in my view. It also heightens my growing fears about how big brands will handle social media in the coming years.

You might be excused if you miss Shel’s subtext here, although it’s hardly subtle and it was picked up expertly by the guy who created the URL for the post: will-big-brands-kill-social-media… This certainly wasn’t missed by Richard Binhammer, referenced by Shel as previously part of Dell’s “all star-team,” “the equivalent of the New York Yankees of big brand social media.” Richard’s piece, “The Social Media Road Trip: Right Turn at the Sign. See what happens next…,” very insightful in many ways, strikes the same mournful chord: Marketing has taken over Social and this is not good, at all.

In the Carey piece, “fellow rock star” Frank Eliason made his opinions (and predictions) known before penning his own lengthy, and more nuanced, post, “It is Time for Brands to Bring their Social Media Home.” I cannot forebear, however, from quoting some of the juicier bits from the Carey interview:

Eliason points out that the algorithmic changes at Facebook brings companies back to traditional media buys on what used to called social media. Eliason says that “there is a reason why the algorithm changed and it had to do with bad content. Having said that, I believe that by December Facebook for business will be out of vogue.” (my italics)

Is it a trend?  Eliason says, “By the end of this year, it will be surprising to see people with social media in their job titles. (my italics) There’s a much bigger thing going on. It’s no longer about mass marketing, it’s going to be about micro-marketing.”

If you detect the presence of a Mutual Admiration Society in all this, you would not be wrong. If you detect a strong whiff of nostalgia here, a bit of “those were the days, my friends,”³ you would not be wrong, either.

I hate to put this down to the oft-repeated claim that it’s all about “bad Facebook” and its “algorithmic changes” penalizing “bad (marketing) content” while simultaneously prioritizing on-site advertising, because while this is surely accurate, it’s really only half the story. What I see here seems to go beyond an idealization of the good old days — which we icons, we rock stars initiated! — to a real weariness fighting the good fight against blindered marketing: Social isn’t Social, anymore; it’s just marketing now, and Scott Monty leaving Ford — the last straw that breaks the camel’s back — makes the “trend” clear, for all to see and mourn.

But of course Social is marketing4, has been all along, and will continue to be “marketing” for the foreseeable future, i.e., as long as Social itself — what used to be called social networking — continues to exist as the pre-eminent “trend” that explains what we as individuals and as companies predominantly do on the Internet. Maybe, just maybe, what we see here is that as Social becomes more obviously Marketing and — though I would refute this — less obviously Social, we’re also witnessing the defeat of a mesmerizing and emboldening project: the humanizing of our companies and the “course of transparency and conversations with customers and prospects.”5 Of course, if that has been defeated so, too, have been its heroic initiators.6

Yet there are still, perhaps, great days ahead for social. Quoting Shel again: “Is social media dead in the enterprise? No, not quite yet. I will [sic] believe it will eventually get off life support in the intensive care ward and come back.” But, of course, only if companies realize “they need people who are already trusted. People like Monty, Binhammer and Eliason who are already trusted, who help the brand in ways that no corporate media campaign can do.”7

To which I say:

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh, my friend, we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same… 
(my italics)

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day We’d live the life we choose We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days Oh, yes, those were the days
La la la la la la
La la la la la la…

Or maybe those glory days, with marketers on the run, never really existed in quite the way (oh, “the magic’) heralded by this Mutual Admiration Society. Maybe Social never was this self-contained heroic thing rooted on by the Social Influencers and practiced by now fully-human and humanistic “social conversationalists” slaying the marketing dragons “walking in lockstep to a monotonous march.8 Maybe it’s always been a part of how companies seek to gain new customers and retain its existing customers; maybe it’s never been anything more than a single piece of the marketing puzzle. That may be deflating to “these social media pioneers,” but it’s really nothing to get all weepy-eyed about, either.

I don’t want in any way to minimize the ton of bad marketing we’ve seen, still see, and will inevitably continue to see perpetrated by tin-eared bad marketers. Will we ever live to see the day when good marketers outnumber the bad ones? Probably not, but I’ve already accepted Frank Eliason’s bet: I’ll be checking back in December and I fully expect to see Facebook business pages still very much in vogue and lots of people hanging on to Social Media in their job titles. And I expect that some portion of them — maybe a tiny portion — will be doing their jobs quite profitably for their companies.

 

Notes:

1. Scott Monty, “Driving into the Sunset,” Scott Monty, May 19, 2014, http://www.scottmonty.com/2014/05/driving-into-sunset.html

2. Social media icon @ScottMonty talks to Adweek about why he’s leaving @Ford: http://adweek.it/TqGWwj 

3. Once upon a time there was a tavern/ Where we used to raise a glass or two/ Remember how we laughed away the hours/ And think of all the great things we would DO/

Those were the days, my friend/ We thought they’d never end/ We’d sing and dance forever and a day/ We’d live the life we choose/ We’d fight and never lose/ For we were young and sure to have our way/ La la la la la la/ La la la la la la…

4. See my recent post, “Yes, Virginia, Social Media is a Marketing Channel!,” Insurance Innovation Reporter, May 23, 2014, wherein, quite ironically, I argued that social media is still a marketing channel when it appears that it is only now, when the Scott Montys have had their fill and just can’t take it anymore, that the marketers have assumed control.

5. Shel Israel, “Scott Monet Leaves Ford: What it Means to Social Media,” forbes.com, May 22, 2014.

6. “Social media strategist [sic] are the beautiful babies being washed down the drains of companies who have otherwise fouled their bath water.” Shel Israel, Op.Cit.:

7. Shel Israel, ibid.

8. Shel Israel, ibid.

Kenneth Hittel // Ken Hittel is currently Digital Strategy Advisor on the board of advisors to FairWinds Partners, a Domain Name Strategy and Services provider. Prior to joining the FairWinds board, Ken worked in a variety of positions at New York Life Insurance Company for more than 20 years, the last 12 of which involved running the Corporate Internet Dept., responsible for the Company’s Digital Strategy, its Web sites, online lead generation programs, and its portfolio of mobile and Social Media presences. Ken has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Political Science and a M.A. in philosophy and Economics from the Graduate Faculty of the New School University. Follow him on Twitter: @khittel or email him at [email protected].

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