Day 2 of SES San Jose closed with “Social Media: White Hat vs. Black Hat.” The description of the panel in the agenda indicated that the session would take a “hard look” at social media, and there was a lot of buzz from conference goers who were looking forward to attending the session and hearing an engaging debate/argument about the current perception of social media marketing. Alas, much like Guns n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy album, the panel was a lot of hype with little reward and no Slash.
A couple glaring issues with the panel were the moderator and the structure. A good moderator can set a certain tone for the session and knows when to move the discussion along and when to linger on a topic. This panel’s moderator seemed intent on killing the session right off the bat by starting with a random slide deck about social media before incorporating the panelists into the discussion. When the speakers would start to get the ball rolling and develop a good back and forth about a topic, he’d abruptly introduce a new topic and kill whatever momentum was being built. I also was not a fan of him starting every other sentence with “I talk about this in my book…” I don’t mean to be harsh, but we’re here to listen to what everyone has to say, not hear you shill some social media book you wrote.
I dug most of the panelists and felt they were a victim of bad pacing and poor moderation, but I felt some of them said some puzzling things to the audience. I disagree with a lot of the advice given during the panel, some of which is below:
“Marketers shouldn’t ghost write your content because they don’t know your product/brand the way your employees do.” I kind of see where this is coming from, but after working with many different types of clients, I can definitely say that there’s a difference between writing a white paper detailing the ins and outs of your newest product and writing a compelling piece of link bait about the X Most Iconic Moments in Television. Just because your employees know their product better than you do, that doesn’t mean they can create compelling blog posts or lists or linkbait or videos about those products. They may not have the writing skills, creative mindset, or social media competency to market successfully like you do, and that’s why they should let the experts either craft the content for them, provide an outline, or train them on how to create the content/help them hire someone who can.
“You shouldn’t tweet your blog posts; it’s better to have someone naturally come across your post and tweet it for you.” I call major BS on that one. There’s a difference between occasionally promoting yourself and your content to people who’ve elected to follow you and submitting everything from your site to a platform like Digg where there are millions of users who don’t know who the hell you are or care about your stupid blog posts. I tweet my posts all the time from both my account and from 10e20’s account, and they get retweeted a solid amount of times by our followers. Hell, one of my posts got retweeted over one hundred times after I tweeted it from our company account and from my account. People follow you for a reason, because they want to hear about you. Of course, you don’t want to pimp yourself 24/7 because your followers will probably start to get sick of how full of yourself you are, but don’t be afraid to promote yourself every now and then.
“I know someone who got banned from Digg…” This was meant to seem like a menacing cautionary tale about how Digg bans people for shits and giggles, but no further details were given about what the friend was doing with the account or provide any circumstances beyond “She got banned!” I’m sure there’s more to the story…
I could go on but my stomach is starting to rumble for food and I think you get the point. I just have an issue when people deal in absolutes, like “never” do this and “always” do that. Should you “never ever” submit your content to Digg or digg your content if it’s been submitted? Not necessarily — obviously you need to be smart about it (don’t have everyone at the office digg the same story from the same IP, don’t only ever submit content from your own site, etc), but if you’re fairly active on Digg and come across your content that’s being promoted, sure, digg it. Should you “always always” have one person managing your brand? No, not necessarily. Chris, Greg and I all manage the 10e20 Twitter account, and I don’t think anyone pisses and moans about how we’re misleading people or confusing folks with an inconsistent tone/voice.
Basically, there’s no black and white to social media marketing. Sure, there’s “blatant spam” and “not spam” (or maybe “not so blatant spam”), but a lot of it boils down to common sense and figuring out what your client is comfortable doing and how aggressive they want you to be. If they’re cool with you managing their Twitter account and crafting content for their blog and you can do it successfully, great, do it. If they’d rather handle the branding and just get some guidance on how to best go about doing it, awesome, that works too. If they understand how Digg works and won’t eff up a campaign you’re promoting for them, have them throw the occasional digg your way. If they can’t manage to stay on the website more than four minutes before getting their account banned, have them stay far, far away. There are no absolutes, just different circumstances and slightly different advice for different clients. A good marketer knows that. A bad one doesn’t.
Did I like the panel? No. Did I like the idea of the panel? Yes. I think that the concept can be successful with a better organizer and with a panelist of marketers who actually understand social media marketing and are actual experts. Hopefully that’s what we’ll see next time. The audience deserves to hear accurate advice from trusted individuals instead of being confused with information that’s either vague, a sweeping generalization, or just plain ol’ inaccurate.
Postscript: I’ve read some of the comments and remarks about my post and agree that the tone was unfair, and I apologize for that. I edited out the “being clueless” part and fixed some of the wording of this post because I didn’t intend for it to be a personal potshot. I do stand by my opinion that the panel was a disappointment and that I disagree with a lot of the social media advice given. Additionally, Beth said that some of the advice I attributed to her came from other people on the panel, and while I’m not positive that’s the case, I went ahead and removed direct association of the advice because I don’t want to misquote people. Lastly, I’ve contacted Beth about doing an interview to talk about the panel and other social media marketing topics, so stay tuned for an update.