I’m watching with interest today a post written my my friend Danny Brown yesterday about a fake Twitter site. You can go read the post, and the comments if you like (WARNING: some of the comments contain some off-colour language).

This isn’t a post about the fake Twitter site, and it’s not a post about the silly comments it generated from the fake-Twitter site creators and their friends. This is a post about you.

In his post, Danny asks a very pertinent question – what if suddenly, someone took over your personal or professional brand (or your client’s) and started posing on social networks, saying all the wrong things, treating people badly or spreading untruths about you and your brand?

Think about it. You’ve worked for months, maybe a year or more, on creating a “social media” marketing strategy for your client. (Forget that you shoudn’t be creating marketing strategies focused on only social media, but that’s another post.) Then one day, a few Google searches reveal that someone is trying to damage you or your client through a fake ID, or a fake site. As Danny points out in his post, it would be pretty easy to do with the kind of thing the fake Twitter site was doing (it’s since been shut down, but that’s another story too).

The smart marketers are building contingency and damage control plans into their media strategies to counteract these kinds of threats. I’m not too worried about them. But the whole idea’s got me thinking on an even larger scale.

Forget impostors. What if suddenly, Twitter was gone? Or Facebook? Ning? WordPress? Sure, it’s unlikely these tools will just disappear. But what if?

Companies, agencies and individuals are putting thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and a ton of blood, sweat and tears into building their marketing strategies around a bunch of free tools, created by a bunch of people they don’t know. What strikes me is that people put all their faith into the tools without a second thought, but when it comes to each other, it’s about building trust and relationships over the long term. Shouldn’t we be subjecting the social media tools we’re using to the same kind of scrutiny to which we subject each other?

Why do we have so much faith that these tools are even going to be around next week, let alone next year? Who is to say that they don’t crumple under their own weight, get eaten up by some giant corporation, or simply, that something better comes along? All of these things are happening now – yet people still continue to focus all their efforts around the tools.

So what’s the solution? How do we stop relying so much on these tools and get on to the real work? Well, the good news is you don’t have to hire some fancy consultant to figure it out, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Social media is not about the tools.

7 Responses

  1. “Social media is not about the tools.”

    Well said. What would happen if Twitter suddenly died? Well, I suppose I’d have to find a new way to keep in touch with the awesome network of professionals I’ve cultivated there.

    The important thing isn’t the tool, it’s the strategy behind it. Too many so-called experts seem to have forgotten that.

    Joe Boughner’s last blog post..A paid-media success story

  2. Hey Suze,

    Funny you should mention this post today, because something strickingly similar just happened to a VH1 TV show star: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1609113/20090413/story.jhtml

    A crazed fan got inside Tila Tequila’s home, got on her twitter and began telling the world that Tila Tequila had been murdered. She was able to call the cops before he did any real damage, but she did have to reclaim her twitter account.


    Brian Schuster’s last blog post..Be a Nice Bully to Promote Yourself

  3. Great post, Sue! 🙂

    I’ve never been a fan of the latest widget or gadget. Nor have I understood why people get so bent out of shape about what people say or don’t say on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    All of social media are merely tools to help us connect with other people. I podcast, for example, but I’m not a podcaster. Or at least, I don’t think of myself in that context.

    I’m a consultant who specializes in the fields of Information Architecture, Usability, and Human Factors. Podcasting is merely a tool that I use in an effort to provide greater context to content.

    It’s disturbing to see the huge number of people who call themselves “Social Media Experts”. Mostly b/c many in the field have few to no social skills; (Perhaps the label “social” media needs to change) and what’s worse is they have no understanding of how these tools are used by others.

    Social media tools can be a powerful means of connecting people; unfortunately, until we start seeing them as a means to that end, they will continue to be ignored or mocked by decision makers in business and government.

    Jeff Parks’s last blog post..You’re All a Bunch of Tools!

  4. Any industry should always be about the people – social media probably more so, because there’s less tangible results (so far) that can be shown.

    If you don’t trust the people you work with, why bother in the first place? Tools are like any physical thing – they can be manipulated because they’re generally static. People, on the other hand…

    Great thoughts, Sue, cheers 🙂

    Danny Brown’s last blog post..Does Twitter Monitor Its Brand? Fake-Twitter.com Suggests No

  5. There are two issues here “corporate identity theft/masquerading” and “usurping a brand/identity.” The former is the result of deliberate malicious activity. The latter can be the result of cyber squatting, which takes on new dimensions in the world of social networking where the myspaces are replaced by the facebooks and twitters very quickly. It can also be accomplished via corporate identity theft/masquerading. Both can destroy hard work developing trust through traditional or more modern forms of marketing. Trust believe it or not, still shows up on the balance sheet as an asset. It’s called good will.

    Yes, social networking services are tools and the bottom line is developing a believable profile for potential customers, but these services, particularly twitter, are demonstrating innate weaknesses. They are owned by individual groups and operated through single data centers. They have the same weakness that saw the Blackberry service fail in past years: single point of failure. Since all communications are threaded through the data center at RIM HQ (Waterloo, Ontario), a botched upgrade there resulted in outages across the continent.

    Just look at the effect of the twitter worm mikeyy (aka: stakdaily worm). It spread like wildfire exploiting a somewhat simple cross site scripting vulnerability that web-application developers are now trained to prevent by rendering inert all input from the client side. Why did it happen? Twitter is built on a platform by a small group of enthusiasts we don’t know. These people put together a concept, which quickly caught popularity. Was the software built robust enough to handle its skyrocketing load? Are the developers trained to build safeguards to ensure its integrity or availability? Do Twitter’s owners have any idea how attractive the tool has become because of its sizable end-user base? More than likely “no” to the first two questions. Regarding the third, if not before, they are now.

    The point is that no one is paying for the service to be robust. It is free and it has amassed a large number of users that has businesses salivating. In my humble opinion, for responsible businesses to use social networking services as they stand today, they need to take care in doing two things: 1. monitor the latest and greatest social networking services and fight for their brand and 2. build some redundancy by putting together contingencies to maintain consistent and continued contact with customers. This means such things as setting up a content management system, building or employing a service to automate transferring content from it to a social networking service (e.g. Twitter), and continuously mining correspondence to feed a customer relationship management tool. Such a setup means that all content on Twitter originates from a trusted source and contact can be maintained if the service falls.

    As Sue points out, it’s not about the tool. It’s about the people.

    It’s also about seeing social networking services for what they are.

  6. Suze,
    Tools can be wonderful – it really does depend upon the person using the tools. Twitter is a stepping stone for me — an introduction to the people I want to meet (like you).

    I’ve added going to conferences, tweet ups, phone calls and emails — all to meet and have conversations with the people my tools have brought to me.

    I”m not a clone in the corner — I’m a human being with a need to talk to others. Tools get me to the conversations quicker.

    See you at SOBCon!


  7. Picture the difference between a hammer and a rock for example. Yes, I can bang a nail with a rock if I’m stuck but I wouldn’t built a house that way.

    Tools are created to allow people to do things more efficiently. Sometimes though, they allow you to do things in a completely different way which can change the paradigm entirely. Individuals can now get the attention of the entire world. That is a big deal and a massive paradigm shift.

    I think we are in an era that makes many things possible that were impractical before. Twitter allows me to meet so many amazing people, all over the word, and this has actually led to new ideas and even business.

    Yes, it is in part about people connecting with people, but it is also important to know how the tools work and use them properly.

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