I’m going to try something a little different this week. Instead of writing separate posts each day of the week, I’m going to continue this thought process in the comments below. Please feel free to join in the discussion.
I wrote this yesterday – Sunday, March 3.
A good part of traveling alone (the travel part of traveling) is getting time to think.
I’m on my way to the Houston Texas area to teach a two day session on Effective Social Media for Advanced Community Development.
That’s kind of a cool audience because these are offline professional community developers thinking about ways to build online community development.
I taught to this group two years ago. They were great then. I have no doubt they will be great this time too.
“Effective social media for Advanced Community Development.” I think about what this means in my own life constantly.
It’s truly a complicated, philosophically profound question. I’m teaching to a group of libraries in Toledo in April on this very same topic… How social media impacts the future of libraries.
I feel a certain amount of trepidation trying to tackle this topic. This isn’t really about learning how to use kik and Keek. I believe the question is: what do these tools mean to humanity? And how do we effectively use them in our organizations.
It’s not about how to use a tool. It’s about how to use a concept.
The answer now in March 2013 is different than February 23rd, 2011 and the entire online run up to that date.
First, the language can’t keep up with the changes.
A social media expert of today is more of a search engine optimizer than any SEO expert of February 23rd, 2011 and before.
As a person who works in search and social, I honestly don’t know what it means to be an seo or social media expert. How can they not be the same thing and therefore much more than the sum of their parts?
The Google Panda update that occurred on February 24th, 2011 changed the entire online landscape and ultimately caused these blendings between social and search.
In a nutshell Google was able to effectively weed out low quality content from its search results. This included much content that was written on the cheap by people who really didn’t have any business writing about the topics they were writing about.
Brokerage sites easily connected low priced writers from around the world with anyone that was looking for a solution to their lack of content that was negatively effecting them on the search engines.
To make matters worse, it worked. Google was ranking this stuff. It generated traffic cheaply that ultimately brought in sales. This was the crystal meth of marketing. A cheap fix that got the job done.
But the February 24th, 2011 Panda Update went a long way to clean that stuff up. Google said that update affected 12% of search results. That’s a massive set of data.
On top of that they are continually rolling out Panda updates to further clean up their results. Google continues to be refining their warpath to rid their index of low quality content. They seem to be getting better and better at it.
It’s the search engine optimizers that advocated these low quality techniques (driven by a client that questioned the cost of any action). A downward pressure on low price work helped force the hand of the search optimizer. Constant spam from India promising great search results had clients questioning why their American counterparts cost so much. So the American and European optimizers gave it to them.
Today, if you are doing anything specifically for the search engines you most likely will meet with failure. Techniques like content spinning, blog comment spam, reciprocal linking, buying links, 3rd world content creation… They are either already found out by Google or are short for this world.
Further, Google continues to put their trust in brand names and actual publishers. A small shop trying to get their products to the top of Google by shuffling around some words is likely to be disappointed.
A good social media expert solves that problem. Their focus is mostly on engaging visitors with a variety of content served in a variety of different media sets.
They are trying to tell a story that’s interesting to people. That philosophy is more in line with what Google is looking to achieve: serving the most relevant content possible.
But “social media expert” is a bit of an oxymoron.
What does that mean? Someone who is expert at navigating the tools of social media? That suddenly qualifies about a billion people on the planet as “social media experts.” If not more.
A good one of these people aren’t expert in the tools. They are expert at making the tools work for their clients. They are more like a liaison. “Client: this is what your audience expects from you. You no longer dictate the message. The audience tells you what and where they want to see you interact with them.
The other issue with a social media expert is that they rarely have any understanding of how search engines produce results. So their work is often not up to the full potential it could be.
And on top of all this, search optimizers and social experts typically don’t understand how to effectively use the paid sponsored opportunities in search, social and retargeting. This too limits the effectiveness of the overall results.
The language needs to stop being defined by the tools: search engines, social sites, and online advertising. They are quickly all becoming the same thing. Where is there not a search engine of some kind? And what search engine doesn’t want part of the social media phenomenon? And which of these sites does not want you to augment your presence by buying sponsorships?
The language needs to be defined by what the expert does. In this case the person is working online. Specifically, they are working on the web. They navigate the world Tim Berners Lee created: the World Wide Web. They are not working through ftp or Gopher. It’s the Web. Not the Internet. Not online. Those are the foundations of the web. The Web rides on the Internet.
Additionally, these people are in the Communications business. They are not trying to manipulate the search engines. They are not teaching the techniques of the latest tool. While today we lump many of these into the social media category, that’s most certainly just a temporary label. There will be another name describing another set of tools probably not in the very far future.
And finally, these people are in the Community business. The people we are selling to or offering services to are our constituents. They are the people who agree to pay our tax for the services or products we offer. We are all in the business of the charging a tax in exchange for products or services.
Web, Communications and Community. These are the areas a modern day search engine optimizer and social media expert, along with online advertisers guide our clients. I think the word could be: WebComm.
WebComm expert, WebComm optimizer. This is who we are in the world. This is a word that should withstand the next 10 to 20 years, if not longer.
Marketing, PR, seo, social media. These are all nouns that are outdated. We are stretching their meanings too far.
Marketing and public relations both have a meaning and implication of a top down manipulation of the message. That, plain and simple, does not happen on the Web anymore. If you think you control the message of your organization you have not witnessed the wrath of a wronged online hoard of citizens. Those stories exist everywhere today. From fallen governments in the Middle East, to brands worldwide.
To be a marketer or to say you are in public relations overstates your power and demeans your audience when you are talking about this WebComm environment.
That’s not to say marketing and public relations are dead. They certainly have their role, and especially in large organizations. But when talking with the Web audience they should be working with the WebComm director. Small businesses might not do much traditional marketing or PR at all. They likely might be totally focused in WebComm.
And we already discussed the inherent flaws of the words seo and social media.
The language is important. The words we use have undertones and history that taint the meaning. We simply can’t force an outdated language into a new world. We need new words to describe new concepts.
WebComm seems to do it.
I would also think that there would be an offline counterpart to the WebComm specialist.
This person has yet to even be thought about in the organization. But it’s only a matter of time that someone makes the connection that if we are building a community online that there would be value to do this in the real world. Barack Obama mastered this in the 2012 election.
But the words become harder to describe this.
To say offline or real world puts the language as a response to some other place. It is defining it as the opposite of the online world. Further, many people would argue that their online world is just as real as their offline world.
The difference is that those interactions happen in the physical world. They happen with our bodies. They happen on the earth, on terra firma.
These people work in communications and community on terra. TerraComm seems to describe these folks. Community and communications people who work with constituents on earth, not on the Web.
And finally, these people would be overseen by the Comm Director. Community communications. Real relationships. Real connection. Not PR stunts. This isn’t about giving to charities. This isn’t about sponsoring at NASCAR. This is about reaching, listening adding value to the lives of your constituents… your audience, your customer.
It’s tempting to simply use the word community or communications. But those are distinctly different disciplines. A community director is thought of very differently than a communications director.
The Comm people would be in charge of both communication and community. Communicating with the community.
So, WebComm. It seems to do a decent job of describing this Web world in which we work. That’s what I’ll be talking about this week in Texas and on the blog.