Why current theory about social media for professionals is misplaced

by admin on July 28, 2011

in General

Regular readers will know that I have had a long running discussion with Mark Lee about his approach to new media as it applies to the profession. Before launching into my critique of Mark’s position I want to be very clear: Mark believes he is addressing professionals where they are at. That’s a good position if you want to make the comfortable feel comfortable. It is valid in stable times. I don’t see the world that way. I prefer to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable at a time where I see turbulent change on multiple fronts. I believe that if you want to make change valuable to clients then you have to demonstrate a different path – regardless of how uncomfortable that might seem.

I base that upon an understanding of where I believe the future lays. You can easily argue something along these lines: ‘But Howlett, you represent a tiny percentage of the profession – why should we listen when Mark presents a picture that is more palatable to the vast majority?’ It’s a fair argument if you don’t see change on the horizon. But then I have never suggested I represent the profession as a whole – only those that will survive and prosper in the 21st century. In other words I do not represent the professional entitlement community who think the past represents the future. That may sound harsh but it is a reality that is easily evidenced by those who choose accountants based upon their current understanding of the business landscape rather than as glorified book-keepers that ha;pen to have letters after their name.

All of those qualifications aside, why am I saying this right now? Earlier in the week, Mark Tweeted a link to a post he wrote last October comparing Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and ecademy. It’s a solid analysis – or at least it was at the time. Things have moved on. We now have Google Plus. I suggested to Mark that his Tweet was out of touch. His response:

@dahowlett Nowhere in the current consciousness of target audience for the slides. Would welcome your take on what to put for G+ on slides.

And therein lies the problem. Appealing to the ‘current consciousness of target audience’ means playing to the crowd, not taking them somewhere new. It’s a legitimate strategy if you want to provide comfort to incumbent, entitlement people but  does nothing to encourage professionals to think about the future and the way they could benefit. It merely describes one view of the status quo. I’d go further.

In Mark’s analysis, he says that Twitter provides an ‘almost impossible’ quick ROI. He is plain wrong. Chris Maslin has shown a different position born out of a need to communicate with his target audience. Chris Maslin was trying to create a new practice out of nothing but it was when he turned to Twitter that his business came alive. In fairness, Mark acknowledges Chris’s success but wants to see more examples. That’s a fair point but if Maslin can go from nowhere to a thriving business by tapping into the power of Twitter then what of others? There are plenty of examples but I will leave readers to do their own research,.

What Mark fails to understand is that Chris Maslin and others represent the future. His analysis is based on past perceptions and not the business trajectory.

I have no idea whether Mark has tried Google Plus. I have been active on it since the launch date and find the interactions to be WAY more enriching of the knowledge I want to discover than anything I can find on any of the platforms Mark suggests. How can I prove that? Yesterday I held a call with Jim Snabe, co-CEP SAP. I talked about it once on Twitter and once on Google Plus. Regardless of how relevant you think SAP is to your professional business, SAP is extremely important in the technology landscape. The 30 minute recorded conversation has been accessed more than 240 times in less than 12 hours. That is not insignificant. Stick with me on this….

I then followed up with a call via Twitter and Google Plus to people I know are interested in what happens with SAP. These are people I have corralled into Google Plus ‘circles.’ It wasn’t a general call to the 7,000+ people who follow me on Twitter or the 1,300 people who follow me on Google Plus. I suggested a time for what Google calls a Hangout. Bear in mind that G+ has only been live for something like four weeks though it has garnered huge attention. The number of people in my ‘SAP circles’ is 59. Four people turned up straightaway. That’s an immediate response rate of 6.7%. It would have been more but I subsequently discovered that others were tied up in business meetings.

Try get that same response rate from any message you might pose into any of the social networks of which Mark speaks without a significant amount of work. Why was I ‘successful?’ Google Plus allows me to create tightly defined networks of people I know are trusted and who trust me. I can do that because I have been active in these kinds of network for some years but it is just as easy to find others, put them in ‘circles’ and then post material that is interesting enough to capture attention. So when Mark talks about the fallibility of quick fixes he is right. But…to ignore the long term power of these networks is foolish – at least in my opinion. Why? Because 80% of the people I have in Google ‘circles’ are people who already followed me on Twitter. Google Plus is therefore a force multiplier beneficiary of what Twitter and other social networks have already achieved.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the definitions of trusted networks are being redefined and not just through the way we expect people to interact but where the people we wish to interact with are located. As a tech guy, I expect that to be on G+, Twitter and all the other places Mark mentions. But – to assume those interactions are fixed in place and time is fundamentally wrong. The interactive world is moving much faster than many of us can keep up with. Assuming the network you regard as valuable today will be valuable tomorrow represents wishful thinking.

That is why I believe Mark’s theory is misplaced and why, despite he wrote his seminal piece last October, it sounds stale.

And just to bring things fully up to date: Facebook just launched Facebook for Business.

This debate will, no doubt, continue…


Comments on this entry are closed.

martin_english July 29, 2011 at 12:58 am

Technology changes beget business model changes (yes, I know, there’s a lot that goes on between on and the other).  The next image I saw after my first reading of  this post was on @gapingvoid’s newsletter of the day - http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=028de8672d5f9a229f15e9edf&id=4d3f6485b4&e=aa498b712d

dahowlett July 29, 2011 at 1:54 am

Funny you should say that. Tomorrow morning’s post has been in the hopper quite a few hours. You might well say” great minds think alike

Mark Lee August 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Happy to provide you with more fodder Dennis. 

I aim to write for the widest possible audience likely to be interested and to benefit from my musings and advice. You do the same. We address different audiences in the main so it’s no surprise that we have a different take on what is important to them.

I adopt a similar approach when I am engaged to speak. I consider who will be in the audience and how can I best communicate my message and information to ensure it is understood and acted upon. Talking about things that I think they should know more about would be a turnoff unless packaged so that they know I understand where they are and how far they are likely to go.

Having said that, my stance is changing as I perceive a shift in the level of interest of my target audience.  Here’s what I posted last week at the end of a blog post titled:
How many accountants are interested in social media?

The post referenced an ICAEW event at which I spoke and where the level of attendance was pretty low – given the extensive promotion across a range of social media.

“I ran my own seminar/masterclass on the subject ten days after the ICAEW event. I was pleased to attract a similar sized paying audience. The attendees and feedback made me realise that the level of interest is growing. At last. Whether this translates into greater USE of social media by accountants in established businesses reamins to be seen.”

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