Monday, December 21, 2009

Catching a CEO with his social media pants down

When it comes to the world of social media consulting and so forth, I love when I can tell a good "emperor has no clothes" story. I've been sitting on this one for awhile because I didn't want to black-eye this particular CEO. Yet as I see more and more people advocating for outsourcing social media efforts to "virtual assistants," underpaid interns, and the like, I can no longer keep my mouth shut--as my experience is a particularly good cautionary tale for those who believe outsourcing their social media is a good thing to do....

Back in '08, I put together two panels for the BlogWorld Expo--a pretty decent conference catering to bloggers and those wanting to make some money from blogging (my impression anyway.) Conference organizer Rick Calvert was happy that I was able to put together two excellent panels on the state of citizen journalism--a topic that hadn't been fully explored at BlogWorld. I was elated that I'd be able to bring in some of the great people I know and to be part of the conference...

Meanwhile, on Facebook, I got a friend request from a particular CEO-who-shall-remain-nameless who I did not know. He's a marketing guy who has a method for explaining the ROI of blogging that makes sense to business owners. We had a couple of friends in common, so I figured what the heck. But just to make sure, I sent him an email asking why he wanted to friend me....

The reply said something about the two of us being at BlogWorld. So I figured, ok, no biggie, and mentioned that I'd be looking forward to meeting him at the conference.

Now, it's fair to mention that I know a number of influentials in New Media, as well as a whole bunch of CEOs and other execs across marketing, p.r., etc. and a whole bunch of Very Influential People in journalism. I'm something of a "niche product" myself, partly because I don't have a formal background in either marketing nor journalism, but have been able to work on a number of great cutting edge projects...and hold my own...

In other words, I'm no piker in this new media/blogging stuff. I'm no starry-eyed newbie looking to start my company blog or learn the basics of Twitter. So, I best not be patronized, patted on the head, nor treated in any other way except as a peer (as we should treat one another anyway--it's just common respect. Esp. when I'm presenting two panels at the same conference where you are sitting on only one....

So, when I introduced myself to said CEO (who I couldn't get hold of after the panel as he was rushing off to his booth--understandable) I was greeted with a real fish-eye. "Um, you friended me on Facebook?" I said. I got a "oh, yeah, yeah, that's right..." that sounded as if he had no idea who he had/hadn't "friended."

Before I'd even thought that someone else might be keeping this guy's Facebook page, I thought that he might have given the list of conference presenters to one of the people in his office and said "Friend these folks for me, why don't 'cha?" while perhaps having a second list for those who would be approached on LinkedIn.

Yeah, I know a bit about how "strategic" some people are in their use of Facebook and LinkedIn. I have my own strategy, although it's probably not as mercenary as some others. Yet if I'd stuck to my strategy, I wouldn't have taken this guy's "friend" request in the first place. (little did he know...)

Well, as if it wasn't bad enough getting the brush off, after the conference I received an email from someone in his office--not offering me, perhaps, the possibility of being an affiliate for their company, BUT TO CONTRACT WITH THIS GUY'S COMPANY FOR BLOGGING CONSULTING AND TO (POSSIBLY) PURCHASE HIS PRODUCT!

Bloody Hell!! I've been blogging longer than this guy'd been blogging, I've spoken at conferences this guy couldn't get himself into in a dog's age, and he's handed my business card over to some flunkie in his office to send me a pitch for his product?!?

Talk about your social media #FAIL!

I immediately sent the flunkie an email informing him of my background and that I was a "friend" of his boss on Facebook, and that I'd worked as a professional blogger as well as a social media consultant/strategist. And that perhaps his boss should look at people's business cards before he hands them off to someone in his office for "follow-up."

Yeah, I know the boss jargon. I've been the flunkie. I know how it works. And I know that even though social media is supposed to be personal (as in managed by the person who has the accounts) there are some people who are just hooked on the idea of handing off stuff to someone in their office (or to outsource it.) They're hooked on the idea of someone else talking for them, doing their correspondence for them, and someone keeping track of their contacts for them. But times have changed. The era of the "I'm too important to be captured" (as Madame X said to Fred Flintstone) is slowly going the way of Sean Connery as James Bond.

It's simple: if you don't have the time for social media, don't be part of it. If it's important to you and to your business--esp. if you're business IS social media, then you should be the one participating in it. And if you can't, then set up a business account for business-related social media. Don't try to be the "boss" in a social media environment--because many of us will not care how important you are. We care about how well you will connect with us.

In other words, there are alternatives to pretending that you are doing your own social media management, and that you actually "know" the people you're friending, emailing, tweeting with, etc.

Now, I know there are a whole bunch of people, including this CEO, who believe that Corporate Blogging is different from "Personal" blogging--and that because of this, the work of both corporate blogs (and probably corporate Facebooking/Tweeting) can be done by others. Corporate presences in Facebook and Twitter managed by a team or group of individuals are fine--as long as they are not directly identified with an individual, such as the company's CEO or any other person's social media profile. Especially if these accounts are going to be used to disseminate only information about products, or other kinds of marketing, or serve as a channel for customer service.

HOWEVER--when it comes to Corporate Blogging....well, frankly, lots of corporate blogs are putting out a lot of search-tweaked content that's working to bump up their search results, yet isn't the best content in the blogosphere. That's the kind of content companies like Demand Media are supplying for corporate clients that blog. Sure, it's great for the companies: it gives them more results in search and an edge over their clients. But it's hardly "social"...

Yet, there are those who believe--and advocate-- that the whole idea of corporate blogs as "social" is an "unrealistic" notion perpetuated by "blogging purists" who simply don't understand business (as one corporate social media guy once said to me--prefaced with "well, you don't understand corporate blogging." oh, really???)

IMO, and in the opinion of a whole bunch of folks I know who are doing great things with corporate blogs on a "relational" level, I'd say that the corporate bloggers are the ones who don't fully understand what has made blogging valuable to companies beyond search....

But back to the CEO: needless to say that after this experience, I've never been able to give this guy nor his product a positive endorsement. I've said "sure, he's got a great methodology for explaining ROI, but that doesn't mean he knows the landscape of social media." And, in fact, his attitude and actions towards me proved, to me anyway, that he certainly wouldn't be able to help his clients if they had to deal one-on-one with a person in a social media context.

To me, it proved that he was in the "broadcast" mode of social media thinking, and that everything should be delegated down to the lower levels--that he, as a CEO, was much too important to be engaging anyone in social media.

Especially a purist like me ;-)

Go figure.

So, the lesson to take away from this is: if you are going to engage in social media, no matter what your level in your company may be, make sure that you plan to be social--really social. If you're going to friend someone you're going to be at a conference with, make sure that you are prepared to say something positive when you meet him/her, not give the glazed over fish-eye. And please don't hand over a stack of business cards to someone in your office and tell them that it's these folks who get "x" email. Because the person who gets that email might end up catching you with your social media pants down....

update I received an email from the CEO that this post is, in part, based on (there is another CEO quoted here--the one who referred to me as a "purist." ) He offered a very gracious and sincere apology, which was very nice. He handled the criticism very well. I'm sure it was tough to hear. It wasn't easy to write, either. But I'm glad he heard it, and I am looking forward to having a further conversation with him in the near future. In this way, we can both grow from the experience.

8 comments:

John McElhenney said...

Okay, so since you are catching the CEO with his pants down, what about your sidebar? You've got speaking engagement badges from 06! Love the post but I think you should get real yourself and either get your sidebar up to date or take the badges off.

Tish Grier said...

Well, John, I leave the badges up so that people know that those are some of my past speaking engagements (if you couldn't figure that out.) They're kind of nice, and some folks put a lot of time into making them. It's kind of like the old Girl Scout merit badges, if you get my drift?

My sidebar also serves as a small introduction to who I am and what I've done. Those speaking engagements tell people a whole lot about my history as a speaker, so why take them down?

If anything I'm guilty of it's not updating my speaking engagements in a timely manner. Then again, I'm actually *doing* social media, so spending time on updating my sidebar is a bit time consuming--and I don't hire that work out...

Or is it that you're just jealous that I've been (a) blogging longer than you and ((b) have been a featured speaker at some really cool conferences? ;-)

Tish Grier said...

oh, hey, John...just found your work blog, and your old speaker's badge from this past BlogWorld...pot, could you also be a tad black?

John McElhenney 2.1 said...

I guess it wasn't like I wasn't looking for a fight. (grin) But of course I wasn't the one writing the post about somebody puffing up their social media prowess. I can see I touched a nerve with the vitriolic response you posted. Yes, you found one of my several blogs that had an old blogworld badge, from this Fall. I'm not actually using that site as my consulting practice evolved back into a full-time position. (for that I am grateful)

And BTW I don't hire out any of my WordPress work, and I don't do it on a pre-built platform either. However I would not use "spending time on updating my sidebar" as an excuse. As you point the elderly finger at CEOs, you might update your own blog and the sidebar which shows up on every page. I mean, event appearances from 06? That's a bit far back to be saying you've just been too busy *doing* social media.

I wish you all the best, and wasn't looking to get into a shouting match, I just found the incongruity of what you wrote to what I found on your blog to be funny.

Rock on in the *real* world. --JMac

Tish Grier said...

John,

well, guess I should have used more emoticons for you to get that I wasn't really "picking a fight" nor a shouting match inasmuch as stating my position...

Or is it that you're not totally sure how to read someone's tone to know when they're *not* picking a fight with you just yet ;-)

Funny thing, too, is that the CEO took the post a whole lot better than you, just an observer who's never read me before, took it. The idea of the post was to actually open up a dialogue with said CEO, which it did. And for the better....

So, I know you're probably itching to get into a serious pissing contest over this (there's a tone of the self-righteous and need to be right in your comments) so I'll leave it at that. You say potato, I say french fry ;-)

John McElhenney 2.1 said...

There you have it.

Tish Grier said...

hmm...why do I hear Pee Wee Herman saying "infinity!"...;-)

Tish Grier said...

(and why do I have a feeling that if I were a guy doing the same thing, I'd be patted on the back for it...)