Social Media: Beyond The Echo Chamber


A recent Twitter exchange compelled me to examine how well we, as a communications strategists, experts and practitioners, are serving other industries in terms of social media.

My question to myself and others was: are we becoming too esoteric in our level of debate, and are we making social media knowledge sufficiently accessible to those outside of our sphere? You know, like potential clients?

Because while many brands have successfully harnessed social media – whether through early adopters, big budgets or just a really social mindset – I see a lot of B2B organisations struggling to find their entry point, and I’m not sure how easy we’re making it or them.

For those of us who do this stuff day in, day out, we’re united by the fact that we love it, get it, super-use it and live and breathe it. We talk about it plenty, and are often (and sometimes rightly) accused of creating an echo chamber effect.

So I’d like to make an open invitation to industry, business and those who are still navigating social media:

Join in the conversation, and tell us how we can help you. If we’re being esoteric or circular in our discussions, tell us. If you want to understand something better, ask. Because really, we’re doing this for you. Even it it may look far more self-serving at times. Challenge us to open the door to our world wider, to make our thinking clearer, and to understand you better.

I’d love to hear from those who are social media non-users, non-believers or simply those doing their job, but for whom a little more social media knowledge would help.

Welcome in. What do you need to know?

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19 Responses to “Social Media: Beyond The Echo Chamber”

  1. Great piece. And I’m in total agreement. As a “social communications strategist/expert/practitioner” I encounter many people who are almost scared of social media. It’s painted to be more complicated than it is, in my view. We do get very esoteric in our conversations but, as much as benefiting US (and in turn our clients) that can can scare off others. I would love LOVE to see business owners responding to your call. Unfortunately though, I can’t see it happening.

    • Thanks for commenting Paul. What do you feel we can do to open things up? Should we as an industry be more proactive in taking our discussions beyond the echo chamber? Do we have a responsibility to do that? And how could that look?

      • That’s a set of HUGE questions, Kate! Questions that I don’t currently know the answers to. Yes we SHOULD be more proactive in going beyond the echo chamber and yes we DO have a responsibility to do so, even if only for our sake to ensure that business comes our way! But HOW we do that…I’m honestly not sure.

        BUT…I think this is worth further thought and investigation…

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kate Spiers, Kate Spiers. Kate Spiers said: Social Media: Beyond The Echo Chamber: http://wp.me/pN3pZ-nQ […]

  3. A timely post Kate; and the points you cover are so valid right now.

    As someone that is, and has been, completely immersed in the social sphere for some years now I have watched the echo chamber grow. I have always believed that as professionals, we have spent too much time on the social channels, talking about social. No wonder the label “guru” gets bandied about!

    I have always advocated spending more time in the real world selling and promoting the benefits of businesses adopting a social mindset. We don’t need to convince our peers – let’s face it, it is only self-serving and actually does nothing to open the industry up to adding value to real corporate communications.

    There is a fine line between us building our personal brands and expertise, and balancing this with providing real world results. I have tried to concentrate on the latter. If we are worth our salt, and truly believe that what we are peddling is the answer, we need to do the hard bit and get in front of the sceptics and the brands that are still struggling to understand how these can even fit within their comms strategies.

    I don’t think businesses will come forward though, and ask for this expertise (as Paul mentioned above) because many still don’t even understand how or why they should even consider a social mindset. It is up to us to go to them; to put ourselves in front of the harshest critics and educate.

    So yes, going beyond the echo chamber is vital. I would go further and say critical, or we are in danger of self implosion and further ridicule.

    • Jo, the voice of reason as ever. To be honest, I was expecting a bit of a backlash from the SM industry for calling us out on this, but its interesting to note that there IS a desire in some quarters to balance this and move beyond navel-gazing. I hope that we can do it. I’m going to be giving it much more thought. I feel strongly about this.

  4. Paul – re your “how we DO that” comment…. It isn’t rocket science! Just get out there. Then bring the bacon back to the table and share the learning and results with your community. It is THE ONLY WAY.

  5. Firstly, the fact that the first three comments on here (mine included) are from social media types is ironic, yet unsurprising. Would be great to see some less social businesses sharing their views on here.

    I’ve had a bee in my bonnet for some time about this. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that we (perhaps unconsciously) create cliques on these platforms, social groups made up of those in the know that could seem impenetrable from those outside of these cliques that have a real need, and a desire, to learn this stuff. Twitter is a good example of this where we see far too much mutual backslapping, discussions about social media and banter (yes I know its fun) between social media types. I’ve even seen a few people (they shall remain nameless, I’m not a ‘namer and shamer’) poking fun of mistakes ‘newbies’ have made. All of which is bad form.

    I dread to think how many people view these interactions and are completely put off by it. Yet I KNOW many of them just want to understand how to make social work for them.

    I spoke at an event run by Prevista last night, targeted at new and small businesses. It was refreshing to see, and speak to, an audience not full of social media professionals. I got some real feedback about the issues they face, which is invaluable insight to me.

    One of the responses I received today on Twitter from an attendee was “I went thinking what will I learn that I don’t already know?? OMG I learnt so much!”. Surely this is the sort of response we should be looking for online too? Not validation from the echo chamber.

    I also agree with Jo, people won’t always come to us to ask for this help. We need to go to them. The best way to do this is to speak their language. Apply our thinking to their challenges. Show them how they can get the results they need to achieve business goals. You know, apply good business sense.

    • OK, so here’s a response from beyond the industry that I think is really interesting – “sell the format before the execution”:

      The irony of this is that I twice tried to post a comment and couldn’t even get that to work ! See we are not all pros here…

      For what it is worth my view is that too many specialists assume the rest of us get it and accept social media as a successful and proven channel. For most of us “layman” it is another new and somewhat experimental channel full of traps for the unwary, especially if (like me) you don’t regularly blog, twitter or facebook. There is no new marketing money around so you have to remember that any money spent on social media is not being spent elsewhere. It is therefore a competition between channels and you have to sell why use social media vs. other alternatives (which have more longevity if nothing else). Sell the format before the execution !

      You can quote me if you like 🙂

      Rob Staples
      Global Head of Telecom, Media & Entertainment, Capgemini Consulting
      Head of International Markets, Capgemini Consulting UK

  6. Hi Kate, a great discussion going on here! First off, we’re an accountancy business, so not a “natural” fit with SM. However, I’ve had a personal interest and have developed by understanding and knowledge over the past year. I’ve also encouraged my team to get involved, and several of us are now online. It would be fair to say that SM is now transforming our business, both in terms of HOW we do business and in generating NEW clients.

    However, 90% of the people that I speak to locally are not “ON” SM. They don’t get it, or they see it as something that’s only for “online” businesses. Frankly, today we’re ALL online businesses!

    There’s an amazing business opportunity here for you SM types to get out there and evangelise about the benefits. Businesses like mine make great case studies for what CAN be achieved – you can’t get much more traditional than accountancy after all.

    Alasdair

  7. I didn’t have time to read through the responses, so apologies if this has been covered. This is my view from a ‘large brand’ point of view, not sure how to define that, but hopefully it makes sense.

    I believe this is just a ‘social media’ industry fallacy. All clients are becoming educated more and more because they have had to, the chasm has closed massively in the last 6 months due to this obsession with social media and the new world it opens up to brands, which again in most cases is a fallacy.

    What we are finding is most people are there and have taken the first step, but have no real idea how to make it interesting, engaging and campaign-able, to create brand engagement rather than just the old school awareness.

    Just my opinion as always..

    Jon

  8. I am working in the pharmacy sector and the vast majority have limited opportunities to get involved in social media – if they work for a big employer they work off an intranet with whitelisted sites. For those who work in an independent pharmacy,the issue is access to an available terminal (although mobile devices are helping) and inclination. I do think that forums are useful as pharmacists tend to work in isolation and chatting to colleagues in other stores is a good way of sharing experiences from a continuing professional development point of view. But my observation is that it’s early days for the vast majority (v few are even on linked in) so it’s a matter of getting to the young ones – the students and newly qualified pharmacists that have grown up with social media and are using it outside work.

    Fawz

  9. Chris Hall Says:

    I used to be part of this problem. An echo chamber vessel using my time, and allowing others to use their time, to talk talk talk about social media. The problem with my approach was that I was only talking to social media people.
    Now my focus is very clinically talking to businesses about how to improve their reach to potential customers. That is all that matters. There is very little money out there & the more time people spend talking about the echo chamber, the less value we are giving to the people who matter – the client; and of course as a result of this the bigger the echo chamber becomes.
    Social media advocates are better using their time working out how to improve organisations marketing issues and ensuring they deliver an excellent ROI. Find niche markets where you can show exactly how you can improve a business – not by selling social media but by showing that your skills will bring a return bigger than their investment.
    The likely truth is that businesses aren’t reading this. They’re too busy focusing on delivering to their customers than worrying about what social media thinks of itself.
    I know I’m not going to make any friends saying it but seriously everyone the talking has to stop and the delivery of quality marketing & communications strategy, and its execution, has to begin.
    I learned the hard way and wasted hours not focusing on the important stuff. Don’t make the same mistakes. Social media is full of smart, intelligent & forward thinking people…now go show them what you can all do.

    • Thanks for commenting Chris. It’s interesting that lots of people have responded to the echo chamber reference. Of course a debate about that was not the intention, as that’s counter productive. So I’ll draw this back to the original point:

      We’ve heard some views from outside our industry and I’d be interested in a response to those. For example:

      – do we have a responsibility as an industry to be more inclusive?
      – how can we do that?
      – how well do we understand the barriers people encounter “in real life” to social media use ( not well enough, I suspect)
      – is the case for social media time and spend clearly enough demonstrated
      – have we honestly, as an industry, been able yet to provide some kind of totally open way of sharing knowledge with those who most need it? And if not (because the point of this is to be constructive) how might we do that?

      Perhaps you could share some of your experiences in more detail? Or better still, encourage your clients to do so?

      That would be valuable and very interesting.

  10. Great reply just now Kate. Can I add one more question for you to consider please?

    As a small business, with limited time & resources, once they “get” the benefits of SM, how do they make sure that any expert they use can get their message across properly? How do you guys, as the experts, get “inside” our business and then be our voice?

    • Ali

      In answer to that, my response may vary from other SM professionals but here’s my ethos:
      If I do my job properly, within 6 months you – or any other SME – would barely need me on a general basis. My mission is to help businesses develop a social mindset – which means understanding how social impacts the world, behaviours and decision making – and embed that in the way they do business. Not the way they market themselves but in all layers of the organisation. To me, that’s how the future looks. Social is a way of being, not a channel owned by marketing or PR.

      So to respond in more specific terms:

      – any social media provider should be committed to understanding who you are and ideally start before social media – rather, start at who you are,what you are about and what you want to be known for – in my view, you can only plan great SM with that knowledge
      – a great social media provider helps your business become self sufficient on a day-to-day basis (understanding social media, knowing how to use it practically, understanding a plan, objectives and how to monitor results against that)

      To me, it comes back to leaving the door open so that SMEs in particular feel happy to ask these questions and step over the threshold, as it were. Every business is different and will have different and distinct needs. It’s our job to be recognise that and to be committed to understanding that better.

      • Alasdair McGill Says:

        This is EXACTLY what I hoped you would say! Your pitch to the SME market is pretty much your answer verbatim. You’ve answered most of the main objections, just need to get out there and convert the masses now Kate!

  11. From someone who works in a B2B provider, here are my thoughts on why most companies are reluctant to participate in social media. We/They believe that if we/they are already providing excellent service to clients within the confines of a closely-knit ecosystem (we/them and clients) then adding other channels of communication like social media would just make it complicated to maintain and would expose them to situations that could potentially damage the credibility, brand and subsequently, the balance sheet, too. Most companies do not know how or would like to deal with the legal repercussions of such untoward situations so the risk is avoided.

    Another area that hinders the adoption of the social media is its unproven cases of increasing sales for a B2B environment. The proofs presented to date are in a B2C environment. To this, most SM professionals would argue that social media isn’t a sales channel. I agree but if it won’t bring new contracts to a B2B business, then why bother with it?

    So if social media is not considered the best avenue for client support and has not proven to increase sales, then what is it for?

  12. Having dithered for over three days now about how to phrase a response I think I’m an excellent example of how and why SM strangers like me find it difficult to integrate it into their marketing strategy!
    As a coach specialising in unlocking creativity, I observe clients plugging into and then expressing their thoughts in all sorts of ways. Some put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and that’s the thought out there, others cogitate for days and the thought will morph a dozen times before finally being exposed to its audience. Then add a layer of corporate risk-averseness on top of that and it seems to me that one of the barriers to SM is it’s demand for immediacy clashing with the marketer’s demand for perfection in everything that goes out in the public domain.
    So how do we let go of that piece of ourselves that believes communication on behalf of our company has to be perfect if it is to be effective? And even if we believe in the value of SM – how do we get the rest of our stakeholders to believe it?

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