I have a problem. Actually, let me rephrase that… the problem is not mine. It’s our industry. It has a problem. A real attitude problem. It’s been bothering me for a while. The problem is this – the Australian social media industry simply doesn’t live up to its name. And it certainly does not live up to its nature. Indeed, to me it often seems like the word ‘anti’ should be placed in front of the word social. Because anti-social is the only way to describe a fair proportion of the behaviour I’ve observed lately…
First, a little bit of background to give some context to my rant. I started playing with social media towards the end of 2007 as a tactic to support an agency blog I was managing. I increased my efforts further in 2008 upon creating my own personal blog. I’ve been a regular ever since. From the beginning, I gravitated towards global networks. My blog didn’t have geographic boundaries, so why should my social networking? In particular I spent a lot of time within a network called Sphinn.
The international experience
Sphinn is a social news network dedicated solely to the Internet marketing industry. Think of a niche version of Digg where search and social media marketers congregate. Sphinn is predominantly a network of North American marketers, with a smattering of Europeans for good measure. I was one of just a handful of Australians participating regularly. Sphinn attracted some of the highest profile participants in the industry, including:
- Matt Cutts from Google
- Danny Sullivan & Matt McGee from Search Engine Land
- Maki from Dosh Dosh
- Lee Odden from Top Rank
- Rand Fishkin from SEO Moz
The thing that immediately struck me about the community was the general rapport amongst members. From a practical perspective, everyone within the network was a competitor. Yet they were sharing tips and intellectual property freely. And while lively debate often ensued around topics of discussion, interaction was almost always conducted with a healthy dose of mutual respect and maturity. Of course, conflict did occur from time to time, but it was the exception rather than the rule. The same sadly cannot be said of the Australian social media industry…
The local experience
Over the past 4 months I have spent an increasing amount of time reading and engaging within Australian marketing communities such as Mumbrella. It’s fair to say the experience has been markedly different. If I had to use a couple of terms to describe the general style of behaviour within Australian marketing communities it would be arrogant, snarky, uncollaborative and petty. Unlike our international counterparts, many participants within Australian marketing communities seem to be unable to put competitive considerations aside to discuss industry issues in a constructive and unbiased manner. Conversations consistently turn into slanging matches:
- Social media happy families
- Spiral Media & Gaytime utilsing social media
- Naked boss rubbishes Papworth
- Cadbury’s gorilla remix gets the thumbs down
The irony of the situation is that the arrogance we Australians display in critiquing each others social media initiatives is largely misplaced. Because despite the level of noise, the number of corporate social media success stories is severely limited. Sure… we’re heading in the right direction. More and more brands are testing the waters with social tools and technologies. But how many local initiatives are roaring success stories? In 2009, we’ve probably only had Tourism Queensland’s ‘Best job in the world’ campaign, which was more viral than social. So where does the arrogance come from…?
Undoubtedly it’s because we all use social tools in our personal lives. But so what? We all use email as well. Does that make us email marketing experts? Knowing how to use the tools for personal reasons is far different to utilising them to achieve defined business objectives. I use social technologies to support this blog. I also recommend social initiatives to corporate clients as part of my agency role. Many of the tactics I employ for this blog are simply unfeasible for a business environment based on issues such as time frames, ROI, resourcing, legalities and management hesitancy. But alas, many of our casual armchair users have annointed themselves as ‘experts’.
Which means that agencies that attempt to lead clients down the social path are left open to public ridicule by our army of ‘experts’. Amnesia’s recent campaign with Aussie Home Loans is a case in point. By all accounts the results of the campaign seem to be modest. However, ridicule does little to help the industry. Australia needs agencies like Amnesia to lead high profile clients (such as Aussie Home Loans) down the social media highway. Ultimately, their success will make our job of convincing clients of the benefits of social media far easier. Most Australian businesses are inherently conservative and it is only once we see some high profile success stories that mindsets will begin to shift.
Where are the real experts?
Or perhaps the real question should be is there such thing as a social media expert? And if so, what are the relevant criteria to qualify? This post is not meant to undermine the quality of talented individuals within the Australian community, but rather the general nature of interaction. Indeed, I’ve met some fantastically smart and savvy individuals in the industry such as Jonathon Crossfields, Ian Lyons & Nathan Bush. According to my good friend Lucio Ribeiro, Melbourne’s chapter of the Social Media Club is teeming with talented individuals. And others such as Mark Pollard are certainly embracing a colloborative approach by offering free educational session on Twitter. So the professionals are out there. Interestingly though, I can’t remember seeing any of them engaging in industry slanging matches.
As perhaps Australia’s most recognised expert within the social industry, I think it’s appropriate to close the discussion with the words of Gavin Heaton on the topic.
“Social media is not about you. It’s about your clients and their customers. It’s about finding win-win outcomes for products and services and the people who use and consume them.”
Touche. It’s time to forget the egos Australia. Forget the competitive pissing contests. If you have to criticise a campaign, why not make it constructive? Use your ‘expertise’ to open a real discussion about how it could have been improved. Share your knowledge in a manner that is constructive rather than destructive.
Many of us are out there preaching the virtues of participating within social communities in a responsible and respectful manner. Many of us talk about using social tools for effective collaboration. Isn’t it time we actually started practicing what we preach…?
* Special thanks to my good mate Lucio Ribeiro for contributing his detailed thoughts that helped to shape the post prior to publishing