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Cluetrain Manifesto Co-Author Doc Searls recently observed that the Web has moved from personalized postings and unique micro-publications to an over-commercialized web. Perhaps Searls point is indicative of a larger trend of amateurs losing power online. In the professional Internet communications market, we see a similar movement away from amateurs, too. As someone who straddles both sides of the fence, this professional evolution is welcome.
For a good long period, the amateur has been able to bluff their way into the wallets of corporate clients. Large follower counts, content marketing expertise, social media trailblazing guidance, all yours for $9999.99! Desperate companies that wanted to take part in social media hired these people, many with mixed results. Consider that in 2011 most CMOs still don’t understand how social media fits into their communications mix.
The result has been a burned business and nonprofit marketplace that rightly questions the bejesus out of its independent online practitioners, and demands answers for measurement and ROI. The answers are not necessarily forthcoming either. It does indicate there may be a social media marketing extinction event.
Over the past five years, there have been many teaming opportunities with social media (or even more specialized) communicators. Some have been great while others struggled. Invariably, though great at making themselves famous, the strugglers lacked the communications fundamentals necessary to build online communities that actually want to do things with the company or nonprofit.
This is not an isolated talent management issue. The back channel is full of stories about big A-List names, New York Times bestselling authors (note the plural) that when hired crashed and burned. These personalities trade on what their microfame can bring to the engagement, and their ability to build follower counts and momentary attention. But the emperors have no clothes. What happens? The engagement ends, the client pays out tens of thousands of dollars, and real communicators are called in. Some of us jokingly call ourselves the plumbers that clean up the social media ninjas’ messes.
This brings up the Before Social Media (BSM) problem. What did these so called professionals do BSM? Were they journalists or marketers or PR pros or some other media-related professional? Did they have an understanding of the basic fundamentals necessary for communications success before hanging their social media shingle?
Zoetica recently posted a job description. Note the focus on writing as a primary skill set, and an ask for journalism and prior agency/consulting experience. Without an understanding of basic fundamentals in communications and business (for or non-profit), it is hard to imagine success. Communicating with people from an organizational standpoint requires deep understanding of motives, the media forms themselves, and an organization’s role as a media presence within larger Internet communities.
Doc’s point is a sad one. Strong amateur content from the Fifth Estate has and continues to play a great role holding traditional media and companies accountable, creating real social movements, and yes, forming fun, interesting content niches to dive into. However, let’s hope that amateur hour is over, and that unknowledgeable social media communicators go the way of the dodo bird. Unfortunately, while some will be forced to shutter their doors, the real answer lies in educating the marketplace and upcoming professionals about the basic fundamentals and ethics of communications.