Todd Defren is an insightful social media and communications commentator and professional, as one can certainly ascertain by reading his blog PR-Squared. He recently wrote an intriguing piece predicting that the next 50 years of public relations work will no longer focus on media relations, instead shifting to a role as “facilitator” between customer service and social media.
Rather than comment on the content of Defren’s post, I would like to use it as an example of a particular challenge regarding social media today. In discussions with colleagues around the country, the vibe we see is that so much of social media commentary is taking place in the social media echo chamber. In other words, social media types simply talking about social media with others who are deeply interested in the topic.
I am certainly not the first person to discuss this topic. Jonathan Trenn wrote an interesting blog addressing the point last year, not only critiquing the “clubby” atmosphere of social media experts, but questioning whether that group can gain access to clients guided by large ad and PR agencies. My good friend Bill Sledzik at Kent State recently deleted his blogroll based on the assumption that having one set the stage for an “us vs. them” mentality where the “cool kids” are listed and other excluded. Sledzik explains, “In fact, I read only about one-third of the writers on my blogroll. There isn’t time for more. But their presence on my personal ‘A’ list implies endorsement.”
One sees evidence of the social media echo chamber in Defren’s post, which weighs in at a paltry 129 words and contains no contextual information to back up his assertion (though the graphic is interesting and that alone probably says something about the issue I am raising). This morning, the “Tweet count” on the article stands at 118, with 8 “Other Comments.”
Basically, Defren is approaching a tweet-a-word. Not surprising, given the limitations of Twitter, most of these merely repost a link to the article. Who knows how many people these tweets reached. Defren’s 129-word post could have reached 1,290 or 129 million readers.
The challenge with this is that social media commentators are talking among themselves, with readership dinged around the Twitterverse like a pinball game — thus the social media echo chamber rolls on. As I mentioned earlier, I think Defren is an insightful guy, so I don’t want to peg him as evil or something, rather an example of how the echo chamber works. In other posts, he has provided deeper thinking and context necessary for a broader, informed discussion.
Why point any of this out? The answer is twofold:
1. From the perspective of an educator, students and young professionals are looking to social media “gurus” like Defren to gain a deeper understanding of social media and as a role model for how they should conduct themselves as budding social media experts. As such, they learn that mimicking such posts — more or less devoid of higher order thinking — is okay because they will get tweets and comments, essentially playing up the narcissistic aspect of social media at the expense of knowledge.
2. Defren’s post reads to me like a soundbite. Unfortunately, social media has the potential to elevate the soundbite to even greater heights — think about it, Twitter is creating a whole generation of young people who don’t want to think in chunks larger than 140 characters. Since most soundbites bank on gut reaction or emotion, not asking the listener to use critical thinking skills, I do not see this as a positive. If social media really is changing communications, then perhaps social media experts should provide the depth that clients need in understanding why the change is happening and their place in it.
Forwarding or Tweeting 129-word soundbites is not going to enhance the social media discussion. I wonder how many Defren readers, like me, were left wishing that he would have provided a deeper discussion of his intriguing idea about the next 50 years of PR?
(Photo credit: wiselywoven/Flickr/Some rights reserved)