Over the last few months I’ve been watching an effort increasingly gain momentum in the online world. When I first heard about it I shared it myself because I thought it was really really cool, but then I found out that the person who started promoting it initially was doing so because this group was actually their client. That wasn’t the puzzling part, however. The puzzling part was that this person somehow managed to get lots of other people I was connected to to promote the cause too. There have been Twitter chats, blog posts, Facebook shares, and who knows what else. I have been scratching my head trying to figure out if these other folks even know that they are helping this person do client work.
Suddenly, lying around in my sickly stupor today, I figured it out. Of course they are aware that this is all for this person’s client. People in the online world tap their connections on the shoulder and say, “Hey, my client is doing this thing and I really want them to make a big splash. Can you help me?”
Would you believe that doing that has never occurred to me over the years I’ve been online? I feel yucky when I decide to let someone know I’m writing a post that they’re tagged in, so I try to do it in advance of the post being published or well after so they know I’m just letting them know and am not requesting that they share it. But this is really what people do in the PR and marketing world today, apparently. They say, “I’m going to be running a Twitter chat for this client – can you come and make it look like it’s popular?”
Transparency is a word that gets tossed around a lot in the online world, so I have to say that it is disturbing to me that this whole realization I just had is anti-transparency in two ways. For people who, like me, think that all of these people are jumping onto a cause just because it’s super cool, it is frustrating to realize that you have in a way been duped. These folks may not feel particularly passionate about the product or the project. They are scratching someone’s back – without revealing it to be so. But I wonder too if this is not also showing a lack of transparency to the client. If you are looking to make a report on how many times your chat’s hashtag was used in an hour, sure, getting lots of people to join in makes sense. Are those people ever going to buy your client’s product? Eh.
It is sort of sad it took me this long to come to this realization, which may seem completely obvious to you. I have always tried to do favors to people while I’ve been online because I thought I was helping out, being nice, even building friendships. But I realize now that in many cases the expectation was that I was doing that favor because then I would say to that person, “OK, now can you share this post I wrote for our agency blog?” I never do that, really. I have always figured if people want to read my content they will. If they want to share it they will. So, people took their favors, waited for the other shoe to drop, and when it didn’t, well – they were able to go on their merry way. I was not playing the game correctly.
Do I regret doing things the way I did? Not at all. At all times I have done my best to remain true to what I feel is right. I have never felt that begging for readers and shares was appropriate, so I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t feel right telling a client that their amount of Twitter followers increased because I messaged 50 of my friends and asked them to give my client a “like” or a follow. I don’t regret doing any of the favors I did. Every book review I have ever written I did from the heart with the hope that it would help the person in question. When I participated in this or that to support a friend, I did it as just that – a friend. I can’t have any regrets about that.
Having said that, it is bitterly frustrating to watch other people present the illusion of success, both for themselves and for their clients, when it so often is just a house of cards, a masterful disguise of what is really going on in the online world. Perhaps companies are experiencing such difficulty in measuring their Social Media ROI not because it’s difficult but rather because the numbers would reveal the truth – all of those impressions, likes, hashtag uses, and retweets are the function of behind-the-scenes back scratching and nothing more. Where does that leave these companies? Good question.
I don’t regret doing social media wrong. Not one bit. I would easily be able to defend myself before any clients, and I can look in the mirror every night and every morning and know that even if I am not on the surface the most successful person around, at least I have maintained honesty, integrity, and yes, even that famous buzz word – transparency. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. And to people like Kaarina Dillabough, Marsha Collier, and Brian Vickery, who support me without my ever even hinting at an ask – thank you. My appreciation knows no bounds.
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hkvam/148970581/ via Creative Commons