There’s been a lot of talk and controversy recently within our online media realm and specifically with one, Chris Brogan. He came under heavy fire from a sponsored post he did on his Dad-O-Matic group blog on behalf of Kmart, which seemingly only caught wind after Jeremiah Owyang posted this tweet over the weekend. It undoubtedly yielded a flurry of responses (good and bad) on Twitter that led to people questioning his authenticity and trust (which is absurd to begin with if you know anything about Chris and his contributions to his community). I won’t get too deep into the controversy as you can get a better understanding of it from Chris’ post and recent interview with Mitch Joel, along with several other great responses.

The issue that’s really bugging me here is the mob-like mentality that Twitter seem to get when a disagreement comes into play. We’ve seen this before with Motrin and their ‘controversial video’ that mommy bloggers created uproar over. Now with Chris’ recent episode, Twitterers began questioning his transparency and trust, all from this weekend – a solid WEEK after he originally posted on Dad-O-Matic. Do we as Twitter users feel we’re being held on a higher ground than everyone else and should question every little bit that goes on in our digital media world? It certainly seems so.

Social Media, Twitter, Blogging – they’re all for transparency and allows us to voice our opinions for the world to see, regardless of any reputation we may or may not have. As Geoff noted in his post:

There’s an increasing lack of common sense and a mad rush to bury people online.

Is that what Twitter’s becoming? Because we have the ability to knock down brands or people’s choices that some of us may not agree with – we do so without understanding the entire situation? We preach conversation and transparency on a daily basis but we have to remain vigilant and take responsibility of having such power in our voices as well and not jump on every bandwagon that comes into town. Chris was upfront from the get go and has the facts/links to show for it. Motrin might not have had an ear to social media but did that mean we had to massacre their campaign because a dozen or so mommy bloggers led the charge?

I understand that we feel social media is sacred ground and that ‘everyone’ needs to understand it but lambasting big brands and especially a proven thought leader that’s leading the charge within this industry of ours, is not the way.  These are separate cases but at the heart of it remain the same issue. We want to see social media grow and evolve into a viable business strategy but not at the expense of jumping on the back of every little controversy. What kind of example is that going to show businesses weary of social media and looking for case studies and rather, see negative spats like these? Instead, let’s talk to that person or brand and learn from one another instead of spewing out negative rants about the person or brand.

We’re all learning from one another every day, as this industry is constantly evolving, so why not continue educating and learning w/o the mobs? We need to get a grip on reality and step down from our social media pedestal and realize that the conversations we have and the tools we utilize, in the end, are not there to tear one another down, but about bettering business and bettering one another.

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15 responses to “Get Off Your Pedestal”

  1. Well said Sonny. A couple things I’ll add.

    I don’t believe Twitter is any worse at mob mentality than anywhere else, it’s just easier to jump on the RT bandwagon. America likes to build up, tear down, and then forgive. Brittney?

    Second, as to the original controversy, it reminds me of when I first started working as an online marketer – when there wasn’t any advertising online. Coming out of a government and education arena, early users HATED the concept of ads online at all. Working on some of the first-ever online banner ads was not for the faint of heart.

    I’m getting that same sense about blogs and other social media outposts. That somehow because they AREN’T traditional media, that they shouldn’t be commercialized in any respect. Well that’s just stupid. Bloggers have to eat too, and to suggest that they are compromising their integrity over a gift card is misguided. The problem is, the rules and norms haven’t been thought through and established. Until we all agree to the “new ground rules” these firestorms will continue to occur.

  2. Sonny – excellent post. As much as we collectively try to pretend that new social tools can transcend and solve the common problems inherent in communities – they can’t and don’t. Much like the bulletin boards of the 1980′s and the forums of the 1990s and early 2000′s, Twitter and other social networks suffer from a mob mentality. In part, it’s because the bullies are everywhere and they enjoy conflict. And we stupidly reward these bullies with traffic and exposure. They gain followers, and they get bolder. It’s far easier developing a following by being an asshole today than by doing good. That’s a short term advantage – because nobody sticks around with bullies long term. But it’s a problem that’s inherent to communities of all kinds – whether in a sandbox, or on Twitter. I certainly share your thoughts that we should better business and better one another. And I would add that we should look at those who would detract from those goals for what they are – weeds in an otherwise robust garden.

  3. Sonny, good stuff, I would like to add that I feel the worst for Chris. His intentions were noble and yet some take umbrage. I guarantee that those that had the biggest problem with it, would no doubt be the first to jump all over a $500 shopping spree. They probably would have done it for a $100. The point being that there are so many other “big ” picture things that we should be focusing on, don’t you think? If anything it was an exercise in how to hang the people we admire out to dry…

  4. Sonny,
    An insightful post. We need more rational, peace-loving people making a case for social networking environments that are positive and educational. I especially loved your closing remarks – “We’re all learning from one another every day, as this industry is constantly evolving, so why not continue educating and learning w/o the mobs? We need to get a grip on reality and step down from our social media pedestal and realize that the conversations we have and the tools we utilize, in the end, are not there to tear one another down, but about bettering business and bettering one another.”

    People try to spark controversy by criticizing and finding fault where bloggers and companies mean no harm. And then the retweets fan the flames. It turns our generous, educational space into a negative gossip session controlled by shrill Twitter-harpies. Is a possible outcome that we live in fear of our community and self-censor in order to avoid being attacked?

  5. Great post Sonny. We were just talking about this at a tweetup today…the fact that people place other people on pedestals and some of those people DON’T want to be on a pedestal. Doing so sometimes sets people up for the ever watchful and intrusive eye. And some of those eyes just want to see failure for some. It’s a shame really.

    “Because we have the ability to knock down brands or people’s choices that some of us may not agree with – we do so without understanding the entire situation? We preach conversation and transparency on a daily basis but we have to remain vigilant and take responsibility of having such power in our voices as well and not jump on every bandwagon that comes into town.”

    This is exactly what happened to Motrin. The day when a traditional marketing campaign comes under such an attack online is sad. But I won’t rehash my thoughts there.

    I don’t think social media is a sacred ground…if that’s the consensus, I’d like to know who made those rules. Saying social media is sacred is like saying PR is sacred and we know how the rules of church and state are always broken there (i.e. editorial space for advertisers).

  6. There’s a big difference between what happened with Chris Brogan’s sponsored post (which I missed, a positive part of not being in the “in” crowd) and the motrin ad campaign fiasco (which I got involved, more for analytical purposes on why the ad generated such a visceral reaction, although admittedly I am a babywearing mom).

    Chris Brogan is known, and his track record and consistency and transparency is – er – visible on the web in every way. Through his blogs, tweets, and online projects. Moreover, his post was clearly marked “Sponsored Post”.

    The motrin campaign was a soundbite-chocked web video fertile for misinterpretation, and misinterpretation of manufacturer’s intention was unfortunately what happened. There wasn’t a spokesperson or an identifiable web presence here, the way Chris Brogan has a personally identifiable presence.

    God forbid anyone online, on Twitter, or considered “a thought leader” shouldn’t accept clearly-disclosed sponsorship, make money, or otherwise accept ads to :Drumroll: MAKE A LIVING.

  7. @Jason – You are right on that America does it all the time – it’s just human nature, unfortunately.

    I’m glad to hear your insight on traditional means of advertising online and how similar both scenarios are compared to the recent controversy. I, for one, am thankful I didn’t have to take part in some of the first banner ad campaigns! Although Chris was targeted here, thought leaders such as him and many others that are leading the charge in SM will hopefully help guide the community and build & affirm these new ground rules.

    @Ross – You nailed it as the majority of us within this large community are part of a robust garden. There’s enough of us that we’re able to overtake the negativity of these situations and show the positive n backup the people or companies (in this case, Chris) that were thrown into the fire. Where forums have moderators, the entire community becomes the moderator in these types of situations – but as Jason pointed out, once we have ground rules in place, it will make things a bit easier.

    @Marc – Chris definitely took the brunt of it while the ones who questioned his motives sat back and types away, 140 characters (or more) at a time. You’re totally right – there’s no doubt about it that they would gloat about winning the shopping spree if it were them. We were always told to think before we speak – I think people need to think before they tweet.

    @Chris – I don’t think we’ll be censoring what we say or do from our community anytime soon. That’s definitely not the way to go about it but what will happen is that the people who continue to instigate these fiascoes will be called out more often than not.

  8. What? Humans rush to judgment? You’re post reminded me Geoff Livingston’s post comparing it to the French revolutionary mobs.

    Twitter is the closest thing I’ve seen to the human mind. Each person fires off a tweet like a neuron firing a synapse. Sometimes these storms lead to brilliant ideas and discussions, while other times they lead to instinctual reactions.

    This weekend’s uproar was helped by the fact it started on a Saturday – when we have more breathing room to read, track, and add our thoughts. Same thing happened with Motrin. Good lesson for any company or individual – set twitter & Google alerts and assign someone to be “on call” over the weekend (said half-jokingly.)

    I’d encourage you to visit my post from yesterday – had some great comments including Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang (both work the entire weekend dealing with the uproar)

    http://blog.mediasauce.com/2008/12/14/why-chris-brogans-kmart-moment-matters/
    @scottyhendo

  9. @Beth – It’s definitely not sacred but too many people are tricking themselves into thinking it is. Either they’re confused by all the shiny toys or fun times – but they need to realize it’s a lot more than that.

    @Jane – Agree on your points that the presence of the brand vs. Chris’ online identity are different and that the transparency of Chris should have been seen from the start. Motrin, however different, was attacked in a similar manner from mommy bloggers that led to them taking down the ad. For what – a fast acting, internet-savvy group of moms that were a small % of total moms. Different scenario but another ‘tweeting before thinking’ situation as well.

    Appreciate your thoughts, as always, Jane.

    @Scotty – hah ok your human mind analogy had me cracking up. So true though. I’ll be sure to check out your thoughts as well and am glad to see new faces around here!

  10. Great post and good point. This sentence should be put on almost every social media site and blog in the world

    “We need to get a grip on reality and step down from our social media pedestal and realize that the conversations we have and the tools we utilize, in the end, are not there to tear one another down, but about bettering business and bettering one another.”

    I’m @waynesutton on twitter and I want to make you better.

  11. Chris took the criticism, rolled with it and spoke his peace. If nothing else here we should see that we’ve learned from Chris yet again. This time the lesson was dealing with controversy head-on. Community managers face this type of thing from the public ad nauseum. I know I do. It is simply not common for people to look at the facts themselves and judge accordingly. I would say that the prerequisite for lambasting anyone publicly should be the acquisition of at least two forms of independent research.

  12. I’m going to take a different path on this one: I’ve read a few blog posts and comments on this topic. Though I’m new to the social media (SM) community and was not there to witness the storm, this reminds me of the music/band community. This SM flare up is along the mentality that we’re supposed to be in this for the love of the music and not profit. AKA= Don’t sell out.

    I see a lot of irony in these reactions from the above mentioned Twitter folks (not all of them of course). Think about it. SM moguls like Brogan coach the general population on the finer points of SM via blogs and tweets. Then charge companies money for seminars, coaching sessions and strategic planning of their social media endeavors. As he should. He has to make a living. All that seems OK until he accepts sponsorship to write about a specific topic and company. Suddenly he’s “selling out.” Personally, I don’t believe that. Not from someone as prominent and transparent as he is.

    Why does Social Media have to be a not for profit affair? Aren’t most of us using SM and networking tools as a way to advertise our brand, connect with people, find work and make a living? I think Brogan handled this controversy well and we can all learn something from that…..

  13. I felt very shocked and surprised, as has been mentioned, what part of “Sponsored Post” didn’t they understand? I suspect that it is more about jealousy and more-followers-than-thou that drives this sort of inane activity.

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