Apologies in advance because this post is going to piss some people off, but I want to make a point. I've had many a conversation in the past few months with fellow social media consultants, social media managers, and even conference organizers about the 'state' of social media.
One of the recurring themes I keep hearing is how the 'kool-aid drinkers' have 'screwed' this space by pushing the idea that 'social media is free'. Or at least that social media is cheap and easy to use.
I've been guilty of doing this as well. I think up till a year or two ago, many of us said something similar to this, because we were trying to make companies understand the potential of these amazing tools.
Now they get it. But the problem is, they assume that social media is cheap, or FREE. Because that's what we told them.
Another trouble spot is that because social media is 'free', that means anyone trying to monetize their social media efforts is a meanie. @ChrisBrogan is everyone's Whipping Boy of the Day on this topic. It also means that people that ARE smart in this space, often don't want to promote themselves, because that's not what social media is about, social media is about 'the community', right?
Lisa Hoffmann nailed this issue earlier this year, if the smart social media people stay silent, then companies will reach out to the hacks, because they are the only ones promoting themselves.
Folks, social media isn't free, and it isn't easy. I'm preaching to the choir here, but I think we need to be VERY careful in how we represent this space and these tools. And unfortunately, the Genie may be out of the bottle at this point and the damage done, but I think we need to carefully consider some key points here. These are my opinions, feel free to agree or disagree:
1 - It's ok for Joe Blogger to monetize his content. If Joe is creating great content, then he deserves to be compensated for that great content. Mainly because the more compensation he gets, the more great content he can create.
2 - It's ok for Ann to promote her social media writing/speaking/consulting services. If she's build up expertise in this space, it's ok for her to try to make money off her talents.
3 - The world will not stop spinning if Clark calls himself a 'social media expert'. Really, the sun WILL rise again tomorrow. And this is doubly true if Clark is a complete idiot when it comes to social media that's out to make a fast buck. Somehow the world survived hucksters before the advent of social media, I think we'll be ok.
4 - If I don't like how Jessi is promoting herself on Twitter, then I can UNFOLLOW her. But I think it's silly for me to tell HER how SHE should be using Twitter so that it's better for ME.
Something else I've been doing in the last few months is talking to more people outside of the 'social media fishbowl'. And most think that 'social media people' are complete idiots. 'How do you guys expect businesses to take you seriously if the space is all about being free and easy?' is a question I was asked once. @AmyAfrica sent me a link to a blog post recently and added " I think people believe social media experts should not make $."
And I think there's a lot of truth to that. But again, before we start blaming others for that attitude, I think we need to look in the mirror. We create content on our blogs and give it away for free. Nothing wrong with that and I *love* doing this. I love sharing with others and learning from them. But when someone tries to monetize their blogs, a lot of people crinkle their noses. Why? Because social media is supposed to be 'free' and 'pure', right?
Another analogy that Amy had is being a library versus a bookstore with your social media efforts. Many people are trying to make money off social media, but they position themselves as being a library that gives all the value and knowledge away for free.
But what's wrong with being a Barnes N Noble? A place where everyone comes to hang out, read good content, drink coffee, have a snack, meet with friends, and still MAKE MONEY? When did wanting to be a Barnes N Noble become an evil thing? Why can't 'social media people' do the same thing?
Again, let me be clear before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion in the comments, but I *love* how open and sharing the social media space is. Seriously, the best people in the WORLD are in this space, and I really do believe that. But at the end of the day, bills still have to be paid, and I don't think it's a crime for people to want to make money off their efforts. I don't think it's a crime for people to want to promote themselves.
And I think *we* need to stop acting as if it is. Bad promotion is still offensive, but we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If this space is going to move forward and be as successful as it can be, then money has to follow and flow through this space. That's just a fact of life and for the 'purists' that think that bloggers should only write for the 'love' and 'passion', well that might work for some (and definitely does), but you shouldn't begrudge someone else wanting to make a few dollars off their efforts. Why is Jim 'selling out' if he decides after 5 years of blogging for free, that he wants to sell a sponsorship on his blog? Does that make Jim a 'bad' guy? Why is it wrong for me to expect a company to pay me to deliver a social media presentation that took me 20 hours to prepare?
Is it? Should it be? Again, when we frame social media as being 'cheap, easy and sometimes even free!', then we have to deal with these issues.
And this even extends to the tools. What happens every time rumors crop up that Twitter is going to start charging for accounts? Many people say they will leave. Yet when ads via tweets are suggested as a possible alternative to keep Twitter free, people balk at that as well. How many people hate Facebook ads? Do they hate the way Facebook does ads, or that they do ads at ALL?
It seems many people want everything in social media to be completely free and on THEIR terms.
I think I'll stop here because this rant is getting way too long, and I'd like to hear your thoughts.