How a Social Media Evangelist Became a Social Media Realist

When did I become the guy who gets tired of social media? I haven't blogged here in more than a month. I'm substantially less active on Twitter than I used to be. How did I go from annoying everyone around me by my incessant yammering about social media to the guy who grows increasingly annoyed when people talk about everything social media will do?

I'm not suggesting that I'm no longer excited about social media. I'm not suggesting that social media is dead (imagine that link bait, though). Quite the opposite, actually. Social media is not only not dead, it's so alive that it's become ubiquitous. There are Google+ master classes. You can read multiple books for marketing your business on Pinterest. You can go out and get a social media certification. You can buy thousands of Facebook likes. There are more than 125K social media experts on LinkedIn. There are more than 5,000 books on social media marketing. If you're looking for a job and you don't have the words "social media" on your resume somewhere, you aren't even trying. Social media is where it's at man. Everyone's doing it.

And maybe that's the problem. Everyone, from the government to big brands to schools to my parents, feels like they have to be using social media. And there are all too many social media experts, ninjas, and gurus ready to help them get on Twitter, start a Facebook page, and check in on Foursquare. When I first started using social media professionally back in 2006, it was because I recognized that these new tools could fundamentally change the way organizations communicated and collaborated. Back then, using social media in the government was like being among the first cavemen to discover fire. I was part of a small group of people who recognized this and committed to using this newfound knowledge to help the government become more efficient, more open, more transparent, and more collaborative. It was not only fun, it was incredibly rewarding as well. We were helping change the way government worked. We were effecting change that people said wasn't possible. We just happened to be using social media to do that.

Obviously, things have changed since then. Where I used to have to fight tooth and nail to get my clients to use social media at all, social media is now viewed as the first option. Social media has become almost a cure-all for an organization's problems. Suffering from negative media coverage? Start a Twitter account! Poor Q1 sales? Get on Pinterest! High employee turnover? Create an internal blogging platform! Whatever problem you have, social media will be there to solve it! And, there are literally thousands of social media experts out there ready to provide that solution to you (at a low low price if you sign up right now!).

I love getting a senior-level client up and running on Twitter or Yammer, not because I'm getting paid to do it or because these tools are just sooo cool, but because most of the time, it represents the first time in years that he or she communicates with the public without a PR or legal or compliance filter. I was able to give them the confidence, knowledge, and tools to actually talk with people – their customers or employees – like a human being. The only thing that made me happier than seeing a senior executive read an unfiltered feed about their organization and start participating in the conversation was seeing those conversations manifest themselves in actual changes in how the business operated. Now, all that's given way to marketers, consultants, and gurus whose only goal is to get people using social media.

My goal is never to get someone blogging or Tweeting – that's just the means to help them understand how to better communicate and collaborate. Simply using social media should never be the goal – social media is just the means, not the end. For years, clients have been asking me to develop "social media strategies," and for years, I've been telling them that they don't need a "social media strategy." What they need is strategy to help them solve whatever business problem they're looking to solve. Maybe they'll need social media, maybe they won't. I guess it was never about social media after all. It was about what social media enabled people to do, and increasingly, the only thing it's enabling is jamming the same old business practices into Tweets, blog posts, and status updates.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • Brilliant post, thanks for summing up what a lot of us have been thinking.

  • This post resonates with any of us who were early movers in the digital democracy movement. Things have changed; in a sense, we won. But now we have to use entirely different muscles. I know I didn’t think about that consciously enough, which is why my own blog suffered. We no longer have to advance; we have to protect and defend. There are people out there taking what people like Steve pioneered, and using it to mix Dr. Democracy’s Wonder Potion for Everyone Involved in Government to claim there’s a magic cure out there for what can go wrong in public policy. This post goes a long way to help someone think deliberately about the need to change approach.

  • Thanks so much Walter. I think you said it very well – time to adjust and protect and defend. It’s not so much about getting buy-in any more, but about thinking strategically about the long-term and fending off those who wish to take the easy way out.

  • DK

    “I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
    Jack Kerouac, On The Road

    Time to pivot maybe sir: http://justadandak.com/piano-grades-transitioning-out-of-social-media/

  • Nice post DK – thanks for sharing!