Thursday, July 9, 2009

Social Media Consulting Du Jour

Great piece today at by Anthony de Rosa about social media consulting ( It rightly shines a light on the important and often very lucrative role played by consultants these days as corporations realize the necessity of strong social media connections with customers. The point is that during these transitional days, more traditional corporations without ready audiences through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and the like can rely on individuals who do. Whatever the origin of their audiences and followers, the individuals can profitably leverage those numbers in consulting.

Two comments. First, de Rosa does open the piece noting we are in a transitional moment: "New media clout scoring old media dollars." His piece dwells on the example of the Vaynerchuk brothers, one of whose allowed the generation of vast follower lists that he's been able to leverage in social media consulting with corporations from industries far away from the world of wine. The question of relevance is not so directly posed here but it might be: how do the new media, and the consultants shaling them, re-make the old brand and message? Do the new voices offer a healthy and overdue wake-up call to old brands and organizations or will they ultimately prove blips in brand development that will be ultimately irrelevant in the long-term?

Even more, I think of a possible cautionary tale from a decade ago in the university world. In the late 1990s, when technology was promising a quantum leap in distance learning, many schools contracted outside vendors to develop the requisite technologies and services. Other schools or consortia formed for-profit start-ups, believing that technology-supported distance learning would be a sure money-maker. In most cases, particularly following some rather public failures in the latter group (think Fathom), universities quickly moved beyond their initial exuberance and have pursued in-house development of distance and e-learning resources. This more course has still, in many cases, proven quite ambitious -- consider MIT's open course offerings or Yale's webcasting of classes -- but it relies less and less on the outsourcing that relied on individuals who perhaps knew more about fledgling technology than specific institutional cultures or offerings.

A second issue here releates to the so-called Twitter or social media revolutions claimed for Moldova and, more recently and prominently, in Iran. This is not as much of a stretch as it may first appear. With the same regimes against which the partly Twitter-driven protests were organized still firmly in charge in these countires, we should rightly ask two related questions: what did the revolutions (better: protests) actually achieve? And what role did Twitter play in those protests? Both deserve fuller answers than I'll offer here (for a likeminded skeptical take, see Trevor Butterworth at ). Briefly, though my concern is that the questions, while related, remain importantly distinguished and that the latter one be put in context. If Twitter had a "multiplier" effect in Iran or elsewhere, what did it multiply and why? And further, how will that effect persist over time, particularly as regimes themselves upgrade their own understanding of technology and engage in what David Bandurski of the China Media Project called "Control 2.0"?

While I am not at all suggesting an (economic, symbolic, moral) equivalence between corporate control of branding and governmental control of dissent, I do believe the multiplier effect in play in politics globally is also relevant to the current and dynamic role played by social media in corporate branding. We need not only to develop a better, more nuanced and in ways more data-driven understanding of that effect. We should also appreciate the role of social media consulting in fostering and managing that effect. We likewise should acknowledge how fleeting the phenomenon, at least in its current form, might be. It's not only a matter of co-optation and control but of the inevitable integration of this new, exciting and potentially powerful set of technologies into longstanding patterns of social and organizational behavior.

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