Social Media, you need to get your head on straight, and right quick. You’re heading for a wall that will not bounce you back into a nice place with lovely grass to sit on and delicious treats to eat. You’re heading for a wall that will turn you into a pancake (and not the kind that tastes good with syrup).
It’s weird to see this kind of sentiment pop up on my screen in this context as I type. After all, for a long time, probably a year (hey, that’s a long time in the world of social media) I had REALLY rosy glasses on. If a well-known person in the online space offered advice, I assumed it was solid. I was talking to my friend Jeannette Baer (@myagenda) about this the other day in fact. You wrote a book? Let me read it pronto! You say that I should focus on this more than that? Cool, I’m listening.
It’s not to say that I was a mindless robot, here to absorb you. It’s just…there seemed to be an air of credibility, intelligence, maybe even kindness.
Have I changed, or has the space changed?
Taking advantage of the desperate and ill-informed
Last year, when some well-known folks announced that they were writing books and doing webinars about Google Plus shortly after it launched, there was a lot of controversy and vitriol in the social media space. I have to admit, the back-and-forth got too personal and too ugly for me so I stayed away from most of the conversations. We talk about attacking the idea, but we know that doesn’t really happen. But having read some of the stuff recently that came out shortly after Google Plus launched, I realized it was, by necessity, very half-baked. This is simply a by-product of trying to make money educating people on how to bake a cake before your new cake is out of the oven. I spent a minimal amount of money and sort of knew what to expect, but it was disappointing nonetheless.
Then, I started noticing more stuff. I watched a few webinars that had really good titles – titles that seemed to promise actionable advice – but what I got was a book promotion. Same thing for blog posts I’ve read. I haven’t spent money on these things, but imagine if I had? Imagine if I said, “I’m going to teach you today how to best use social media if you are a B2B manufacturer. “Great!” You might think (assuming you’re a B2B manufacturer). What if you paid me, I don’t know, $50? $67? $291.22? And all you got was me talking about a book that was only loosely related to what you wanted to learn? You’d be a bit peeved, right? Especially if money was tight.
Then, Pinterest happened, and I have seen notifications for webinars on how to use Pinterest for your business. One such webinar costs you $139. This while there are copyright concerns and while many people are deleting their accounts rather than building them out. It’s entirely possible that everything in that webinar is great, but we just don’t know yet. It’s too early.
So why are we doing this again?
Gettin while the gettin is good versus taking advantage of people
I fear that the world of social media is being overrun by people who are more towards the snake oil salesman end of the spectrum. This makes me really sad. I’d love to go back to a year or two ago when I thought that everyone in the online world was just out to give me and other people a boost. But something is off. Something is different. Whether it’s in me or in the online world I’m not 100% certain. But it seems like there is confusion between tying money and sales to social media versus absolutely ripping people off. This is not sustainable for individuals or for social media as a means of marketing and communication, right?
Why can’t you wait to write that book? Why can’t you wait to charge $139 for that webinar? Is it because you might get beaten to the punch? It could happen, but isn’t it better to offer advice that is based on reliable information? You might not get the earliest of the early adopters, but things take longer to evolve than we might think. There will still be plenty of people who want to learn from you. Heck, there are still people who want to learn Twitter or Facebook. Did those earliest books and webinars stave off future adopters? Nah.
Sadly, we live in a time when people will be enticed to spend that $139 or whatever it is because they feel it’s an investment in the future of their brand or business, and it’s hard to talk yourself out of that kind of investment, isn’t it? It’s a mode of optimistic thinking. It’s a symbol of hope. It’s you being confident and self-assured. Is it a coincidence that these for-pay educational “events” are increasing as the economic recession continues? Maybe not. Maybe the folks offering those items see a fertile garden of people hoping and praying for that big silver bullet. Maybe that’s capitalism. But if it is, it’s capitalism’s ugliest side by far. And we should call it what it is – taking advantage. It’s not really educational if you can’t *possibly* know everything about what you’re talking about. And it’s only impossible to know everything about what you’re talking about because it simply does not exist yet. Simple as that.
What do you think? Is it right to jump in and charge people for information as soon as you have any? Is that the way to tie social media to hard dollars? Or are we heading towards a rather corrupt mode of communicating where “information” is short-cut-laden language masquerading as something more credible?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluerobot/5490728061/ via Creative Commons