What I Hate About the Internet – Everyone is a “Social Media Consultant”

Already you can tell this will be a different kind of post for me. Before I begin my curmudgeoned polemic, let me state for the record: Overall I LOVE the internet. I love how it empowers, entertains, enables, etc. I believe it is the most powerful communication and civic tool since the printing press.

BUT – I also love playing devil’s advocate and anytime I am in a room filled with ‘yes’ people – I instantly want to consider the argument for ‘no.’ So while my overall views remain the same, certain things have been bugging me lately about “social media” and other buzzwords that are constantly shoveled into my internet experience.

In fact – the term “social media” has begun to irk the piss out of me.

I’ll start with a story that has re-occurred every day for the last three weeks. I wake up to new Twitter follows.

“Hooray,” I think to myself. What wonderful new people will I be exposed to next? Or – what long lost e-friends have found me on Twitter (I shudder the day old highschool acquaintances find me).

The answer: The person following me is also following 8,624 billion other people. They are being followed by around 200-300 back. In fact, these Twitter accounts are nothing more than an attempt to spam an RSS feed or get social capital behind some lame social media consultant.

Of course I understand that some entities, blogs, newspapers, etc, are going to use Twitter as broadcasting tools. I have no problem if the NYT follows me in an effort to make sure I realize they have a Twitter account. But I’m OFFENDED when a person, a real human being, decides to follow me along with 10,000 other people.

What does this act say to me?

  • Does the person really want to follow my conversations? Obviously not – they are on a blind follow-fest and I am an appetizer.
  • This is no different from the heydays of MySpace when some people collected 10K plus friends. Aside from Tila Tequila who now has an absurd and annoying reality show – it’s an obnoxious and futile attempt at social media stardom.

I use this as an anecdote. My beef isn’t with Twitter, but with the shameless self-promotion that occurs 24/7 on the web, to which Twitter is another tool. Conversation is being comodified – and people think they can become ‘experts’ in online conversations.

Guess what: “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.”

How much of the internet is produced by social media experts re-hashing what others have already said on the web in their own words? Better yet, how much do they charge to teach you how to re-hash those same words?

I understand the allure of being an A-list blogger but the blogosphere needs to put its tongue back in its proverbial mouth and stop drooling – it’s unbecoming. We are oversaturating ourselves with conversation for the sack of money or e-fame. The blogosphere needs to mature on several levels.

1. There needs to be space for successful blogs beyond Tech and Politics. I know there are lots of mommy-bloggers and food blogs, etc – but the most successful blogs right now are either tech or politics. Just take a look at the Technorati top 100 and try to disagree with me. Then consider this: Half of those tech-blogs are navel gazing, writing about either
A. Tools that enable + empower new media.
B. Other A-list bloggers.

Now: I’m not trying to knock what the top 100 have going: In fact, I’d argue that they are at the top because they are so damn good. The problem is that EVERYONE thinks they are so damn good – and they probably are good…. at something. But the tone set from the top is that the only means to success is to copy and “do as I do.”

Okay: End rant. Tomorrow’s post will be more cheery – promise.


17 thoughts on “What I Hate About the Internet – Everyone is a “Social Media Consultant””

  1. So what makes you different when you add a follower to your list of people on the Twitter? Also, I argue that a lot of “social media consultants” are a bit more savvy then the average Joe, considering that Twitter’s not that big yet (Though it’s getting there.)

    Yes, I’ve seen a few people try to abuse Twitter…Just recently caught a guy plagirizing self-esteem quotes from various books on his account, but honestly, it doesn’t bother you unless you follow them.

    And besides, SM Consultants aren’t the only re-hashers. Look at every self-help guru, hell, look at David Allen! Those stages of GTD look an awful lot like a basic brainstorm/processing session….

  2. @J.T. excellent point re: “SM Consultants aren’t the only re-hashers.” — I guess I have an issue with Re-hasing in general. Still, I’d like to think the Internet could rise above that tired old routine.

    Aso for what is different when I follow someone on Twitter: It is a choice – I could have just as easily not followed them: I am following them because as an individual, I think I might get something out of it one day – ie: A conversation or exchange of some sort. I am not following them because I think I might be able to get more social capital out of it, sell them off (as the guy from Rocketboom is doing via eBay), etc.

  3. I feel compelled to respond as I recently tried following about 1400 people, so I’m kind of guilty of doing what you said. I’ve done some socializing, some self-promotion, some exploring… It was a bit like throwing out a net to see who or what I could catch.

    Having said that, I’ve trimmed my Following list considerably. I’m almost at parity, following 761 and being followed by 739 as I write this.

    I’ve certainly come into contact with some interesting people through Twitter that I would not have otherwise talked to. I probably haven’t honestly connected with all of the people that I follow, but I’m trying to do that over time.

    So, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a completely altruistic or social gesture on my part, but it’s certainly had those aspects to it.

    I’d just feel a bit hypocritical about criticizing someone for mass adding when I’ve done the same.

    Also: I used to hate the idea of self-promotion, but I’ve come to believe that some promotion is necessary. Shrug. I’m just trying to find a balance between too much and not enough.


  4. Hey – There are no wrong/right answers here – so no worries.

    Besides – to some extent I’d be guilty too. I have more followers than I follow – but I do have more people on Twitter that I follow then I could really keep a conversation with.

    I don’t know what the “right” amount of self-promotion is – but at the extreme degrees I think it’s safe to say that it hurts, rather than helps, conversation.

    Overall I say go with your gut. I’ve interacted with you before Mark – so I can say that I think you are a real/genuine person.

    So — keep on rolling.

  5. Amen, brother.

    In some of our email discussions about what we, the MTV Street Teamers, were going to get out of this assignment in the long run, professionally, I said at the very least, we might be able to get invited to all manner of future new media conferences as panelists or “new media experts.” A couple of my teammates wondered if this one assignment would really qualify us as experts, and I said after a few of these conferences and all the business cards I’d collected from people claiming to be gurus in a field that’s being invented as we go along.

    Since I’m in the nonprofit/politics realm, I venture on into the internets, see exciting things, and turn around to shout down the line of people trailing behind me, “C’mon in! The water’s great!” The prototypical New Media Douchebag finds some corporate type who’s so terrified of the unknown that they’re willing to pay anything to anyone to tell them it’s going to be okay, and they tell them, “Hey, I’ll save your internet virgin ass for an ungodly hourly rate and all expenses paid, because I have a blog and dress the part!” When really, they could ask their 14 year old kid for as much advice, if they were smart.

    I’m sure there are some fine people doing this sort of thing, and I’m sure some of them really add some value to the situation, but I sure think a lot of ’em are charlatans.

    It’s late, and I’m ornery, so if that wasn’t the gist of your post, I didn’t mean any of that.

  6. Fwiw, I do social media consulting and spend hours with clients providing technical and strategic advice that their 14 year old kid could not provide. There’s plenty of good social media consulting to be done.

    Nice interview with MG btw.

  7. Hehe, I love it when you get on these rants, Dave. 🙂

    Agree that when some social media folks follow 20,000 and get followed back 20, they could have used some tact.

    Still some people do get it. The key to marketing is to be subtle. People don’t even know that they are being marketed to. In fact, they might even enjoy it.

    The simple fact that you were in fact offended shows that they did not follow that basic advice. Good for you in pointing this out, and happy unfollowing!

  8. You make some good points, which is why I’ve been pragmatic about keeping my Twitter follows to a manageable minimum.

    By the way, if you want to check out a different kind of blog, take a look at fourreasonswhy.com. You may like it.


  9. Interesting post and I agree. When I first got into Twitter I decided to add my name to a list of Online Marketeers using Twitter which was compiled by Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim. Ever since I’ve been getting friend requests from people who I have no idea who they are and they all follow many, but are hardly followed.

    The shame as that a lot of these people probably have a lot to offer, but due to the way they set out to build their netwerk on Twitter, they will be ignored by a lot of people.

    I just tend to add people who’s blogs I read, who I know personally, or people who’ve added me and who have a healthy balance of following/followers.

  10. I’m a huge fan of Twitter, and love it’s capabilities for syndicating content, but I completely feel you about the spamming. I just got followed by a twitter account that is a repost of a squidoo page feed on coronary heart disease (http://twitter.com/heartdiseaseinf) jeez!

    Also, self-promotion has to be corralled for sure. It’s so easy to go overboard with it, which can end up alienating people who might have been fans of you and your content. I’ve been guilty of over-promoting my own stuff, too. The number one lesson I’ve learned about social networking online and offline, if all you’re doing is talking about yourself, you’ll turn people off. You have to offer useful and/or interesting information/insight to others to stay engaged with their conversation.

    One last note, I think there’s tons of blogs not in the top 100 that are successful. It’s all about the niche audience. A blogger may have only 100 subscribers, but those might be all the people interested in that topic, and that’s enough to be a top blog.

  11. Dave

    As my Twitter experience really started by following you and Ryan Sholin, it has been an interesting few months where initially my following/followership numbers did not change much, but recently have been going up in a sort of managed fashion.

    I share your frustration with the aggressive building of followers as at first glance it seems ill-considered. That may be unfair on some of those people, particularly if they are engaged in some kind of study or desperate to get as quick an understanding of various uses of the medium as possible. But I’ve not come across those types yet, as far as I could tell.

    On the positive side, I’m hoping that Twitter is emblematic of a maturing of the internet and the development of some neat heuristics for how we learn to trust online and learn to manage some of the related risks. Not sure yet, but encouraged given how skeptical I was a while back.


  12. I should have been a bit clearer, of course. I meant the aggressive building of followed, rather than aggressive building of followers. I’m not sure how you would go about the latter, without sending “the boys” round.

  13. Ahh but you see, you’ve captured the essence of why Twitter rocks, right in this sentence: “Hooray, I think to myself. What wonderful new people will I be exposed to next? Or – what long lost e-friends have found me on Twitter? ” — and that’s the thing, right there. As long as I don’t get too excited seeing the new followers in my inbox, and wait to make sure they’re not a Sony Bravia TV that only posts the same popurl link over & over, then I’m fine. There are some other folks who fall into kind of a grey area — you see that they have followed thousands and been followed back by, say, hundreds, and you wonder.

    The beauty of Twitter is you don’t have to go to great lengths to figure out if your new follower is a multi-faceted person or a one-dimensional bot-creature with a single, annoying purpose. You can scan a page or two of tweets and get a really good indication of what they’re about.

    And (I tend to repeat this quite alot) as Chris Pirillo said, “Twitter is serendipity squared”, and not following people back is anti-discovery. If the new follower seems interesting, I follow back. If they’re questionable, well, i check my twitter karma often to reconsider. I want to be pro-discovery, and Twitter is the perfect platform for this.

  14. Excellent rant! I think that all this social media discussion is getting repetitive (or has been repetitive for awhile), and as with any cycle, will wind down soon. Perhaps tech and political blogs will get replaced by some other niches? It seems like the loudest still get the most attention on the Web. Things sure seem to cycle quickly in Web 2.0 land, but I can’t tell what’s next.

    Thought you’d find this article interesting. It’s related to some of the issues you bring up in your post. Some tweeted out the link this morning, but as I can barely keep up with the 155 people I follow, I cannot remember who sent it out:

    “We’re All Stars Now: Reality TV, Web 2.0 and Mediated Identities”

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