Evangelism is a Slog

IStock_000002056841XSmallI am lucky that my circle of friends includes many of the Social Media industry’s most enduring innovators.  We meet for coffees, dinners, brainstorms, dealmaking, etc. 

Inevitably the talk turns to the state of Social Media in general, and its adoption (or lack thereof) within large corporations.

At this point in the conversations, opinions start to diverge.

Some thought leaders are encouraged to see that Corporate America is no longer ignoring Social Media, and look forward to seeing seismic changes happen – even if they occur incrementally.

Other brainiacs are discouraged because Social Media COULD (and maybe SHOULD) bring earth-shattering changes to the hidebound hierarchical thinking of corporations … but instead, they see Social Media being relegated to silo status: it’s being viewed as “a marketing thing,” akin to a media buy.

Meanwhile, some folks are simply ready to move on all together.  My pal Geoff Livingston exemplifies this thought process.  For Geoff, the shine is off the apple. As a dyed-in-the-wool early adopter, he’s looking for the Next Big Thing and is also a bit discouraged to see some of the hail-fellow-well-met camaraderie of yore give way to competitive professionalization in the space.  

Of course, on any given day, moods change.  On some days, these evangelists are all charged up to give that “Social Media 101” presentation for the umpteenth time … Other days? Not so much.  Let’s face it: evangelism is a slog.  Given the massive changes represented by the new modes of marketing, these early evangelists will probably need to present on “Social Media 101” topics for the next DECADE.  It’s an uphill climb. 

IStock_000001724270XSmallAs for me?  I fall in the middle camp, but do skew towards optimism. 

I am not happy to see Social Media viewed as “a marketing thing,” but let’s face it, it ain’t a bad place to start — Social Media is primarily about having genuine & relevant dialogue with all stakeholders, and that’s historically been where PR/Marketing rule the roost.  (And, yea, that’s also the arena where I make my living.)

And, I think that if marketers do a good job of demonstrating how/why Social Media is positively impacting the corporation, overall acceptance of its tenets will allow the Social Media seed to grow into an unstoppable weed — one that finds its way into every crack in the hierarchy. 

That would be a good thing.  But it takes a while.

Posted on: June 26, 2009 at 9:42 am By Todd Defren
43 Responses to “Evangelism is a Slog”


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  • Mike Spataro says:

    Wow Todd, I’m surprised to read this post given the stunning growth of companies like VT and R6, to name just a few. Perhaps because you sit so close to the marketing side of the house you don’t always see everything going on, but from where I sit the interest in social media has been nothing short of staggering.

    I think you might need to broaden your definition of social media a bit because in many companies the global market insights or customer service group, for example, are driving adoption far away from the marketing and communcations areas. Social media doesn’t always start in marketing.

    However, what I find interesting is that somewhere along the line it moves to a point where the entire enterprise is involved. The next big thing in social media is full integration in every corporate function.

    Mike Spataro
    SVP, Client Strategy
    Visible Technologies

  • jim peterson says:

    Thank you for this post.

    How about a dose of patience in this “social media” discussion. If the benefits for companies (being part of the conversation) will be so great, those benefits will shine even from within a silo, or as part of marketing, or as part of customer service. At that point, companies will rush to move social media into the mainstream of their operations.

    If you don’t see the rush yet- it’s because the companies don’t see the benefits versus other activities.

  • I’ve been heartened in the last day or so to see more “Hang in there” posts like this one emerging. Thanks for jumping in there, Todd.

    It seems we have this conversation every few months. Chalk it up to battle weariness or economic fatigue or summer boredom — the natives are restless again.

    I’m with you in the “Have faith, keep up the good fight, a little give and take is okay” camp. We begged and pleaded for the rest of the world to see the transformative potential of social media. Now they’re here, but they’re not quite playing by the rules we wanted them to play by. That’s okay! Even the evil, ne’er-do-well, nefarious forces of corporate America are allowed to play with our shiny toy.

    Who knows, maybe all this fumbling and abuse we’re so afraid of will yield a few nuggest of creativity, innovation and success. What’s that bit about a blind squirrel finding a nut?

  • Evangelism is like planting, growing and eventually serving food to your family.

    Campaigns are like eating at Taco Bell.

  • Kneale Mann says:

    @TDefren says evangelism is a slog. Amen, brother! Social media is not marketing and it’s not a campaign. Read on. http://tinyurl.com/mqh8r2

    The Gladwell model of early adopters leaving the idea before the laggards catch on needs to change in the world of social media. At least that is my hope.

    Social media is not one thing, campaign, site, widget, gadget or tool. It is about humans, patience and ideas.

    Keep the faith, brother!


  • Hi Todd,
    I haven’t been in your conversations, but in the “social media in corporations” conversations I have been in, I see an inherant problem with marketers. Ironically, we aren’t listening.
    When I ask my corporate friends, they clam up and get defensive. They worry about security and client confidentiality. They worry about blogging something about teh company and getting fired. They still have older clients that click the mouse at the computer screen and wonder why nothing happens. They would like to be cool and groovy…but can’t.
    Marketers are so excited about their new toy, they are almost too entrenched to help. What do you think about this?

  • Andrew Davis says:

    Nice post. Thanks so much for writing this. I actually believe we’re seeing the wrong kinds of connotations associated with the term ‘social media.’ Corporate environment or not, people I talk to want nothing to do with the connotations the term conj ours up.

    It’s time we realigned what social media actually is: (according to wikipedia) Social media is online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content.

    That sounds like last years buzz word that became bad word – ‘user generated content’ to me.

    We have to elevate the conversation – start talking real concrete strategies, talk about revenue and real business if Social Media is to be seen as a credible term or endeavor.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thanks again.

    - Andrew

  • For social media to truly take hold within the corporation a cultural change is needed. It is a mindset shift from one of controlled dissemination of information to that of open transparent communications across the corporation.

    You are correct it is not likely that this can happen all at once, but I am not sure, that for most corporations, it can bleed over from marketing… I think it needs to come from the top down.

    It is too easy for the corporation to compartmentalize and control social media as a function between marketing and customer. The effort and effects would largely be shielded from other areas of the corporation and the corporation would still not see how internalizing social media could lead to higher moral, greater efficiency, increased innovation, and higher net revenues.

    The corporations with C level executives that see the value of social media and embrace it internally as well as externally will reap great benefits.

  • I love what you do, Todd. You are such a good friend, and I think we’ve had this conversation privately when I killed off the Now Is Gone blog, too. I think you get me.

    Each of has different personalities, so we have different roles. My role is the agitator, the pioneer (not like you and Brian, but I got here early enough), the fellow who breaks the land in. I do feel disenchanted when I start seeing mobile home parks set up in my land. LOL. I also see things accelerating in other areas, and that excites me.

    There will be people like you who can see this through. There will be people like me who may not, who will move to other interests. And there will be new, and perhaps, even more powerful voices, voices e do not know yet who will rise. And that is the beauty of the social web. It evolves.

    For me, I plan on trying to point to the future and educate for a little while longer, but by 2010, I don’t anticipate talking social media in its current form much longer. Stated migration and attempt to build up other, more suitable voices for the now seems like the prudent and responsible thing to do for my readers, my company and people who actually trust me to be of service with my social web efforts.

    Wherever things land, I will always read you, your voice is a great one, and I am privileged to call you friend.

  • Keith Trivitt says:

    I think you are starting to see a little of both in terms of companies viewing social media as “that marketing thing” as a form of customer service. You’re seeing a tremendous marketing effort from Dell that recently pulled in $3M in sales for the company via social media (mainly Twitter), along with a more customer-service-oriented effort on Twitter and Facebook from companies like Zappos and JetBlue.

    From my own experiences, I’m seeing more clients start to realize that using social media only for marketing efforts is not exactly the best way to engage with consumers or built any type of loyalty – quite the opposite actually. That’s why I think the customer service idea is beginning to gain momentum because companies are realizing that after a while of constantly throwing out marketing ideas via social media, consumers get just as annoyed with them as they do when they see a traditional print or TV ad or promotion.

    • Todd Defren says:

      I hear a lot from evangelists about companies that use Social Media for Customer Service as “the easy win.” You need at least one win to lead to a culture that expects more wins, eh?

      • Keith Trivitt says:

        Exactly, Todd. But the thing is, using social media for “the easy win” isn’t really that at all. It still takes sincere engagement and a real, honest desire to help customers and potential customers with their problems or help them find answers to what is on their mind. That all takes hard effort and work, the same kind we have been putting into traditional PR and marketing efforts for years.

        Really, in my opinion, it’s all about finding a happy balance between traditional outreach and engagement and social media engagement. Now, getting CEOs and C-level execs to see that is a whole different ballgame …

  • From the corporate perspective, social media is starting to make its ways within organizations. As much as it is frustrating that internal evangelism is a slow and repetitive process, it’s encouraging to finally see MSM putting some WIIFM into the whole mix for us.

    It’s a trickier dance to do the: ‘Hey, here’s this cool shiny thing we should start doing, what can we use it for?’ I call this going from solution to problem, which isn’t ideal, but often that’s the option when senior executives start asking and talking about Twitter, for example, in board meetings.

    But lucky for my team, we’re ahead of the curve with both knowledge and implementation, so that when those questions start to come, we can build beyond the current basics we have going on (external, marketing/pr, etc.) and look at how social media can be integrated as a new paradigm for thinking and doing across the organization.

  • KatFrench says:

    An interesting take on the recent sea change among the mavens, Todd. My last post on Jason’s blog covered much the same ground, albeit a little less optimistically than you have.

    I tend to be doubtful that the silos will ever break down and result in social media’s ethos penetrating and influencing the overall corporate culture for the better.

    But as you’ve pointed out, at least we have a foothold, and the right people might just be capable of sticking with it long enough to see real change.

  • Shari Weiss says:

    As a marketing lecturer at SFSU, I hate to admit that I’ve only been a social marketing evangelist for the past six months . . . and most of my department is pretty much in the dark — let alone corporate execs in big businesses out here.

    So, YES, we have a huge task ahead of us, but it truly is the most exciting challenge I’ve had in decades. I’m game. As a PR person, I love sharing Good Stories and Good News that leads to Progress, Joy, and Success

  • abbycarr says:

    What cheers me about your post is that your have created the circle of friends to help you stay optimistic. If all you face are rooms of suits — aka hidebound hierarchical thinking — then of course you could just be selling soap. But if you can get reenergized via the salon of innovative thinkers and doers, and see the end goal, then the slog has meaning. Cuz of course changing business behavior takes much much longer than anyone can ever imagine?

    • Todd Defren says:

      Y’know, I hadn’t thought of that but you are spot-on, Abby. Chats with these folks does have a way of re-energizing things. Not everyone has that going for them, and it gets frustrating running into walls all the time…

  • Daniel says:

    You’re right — it does take a while. I think the most successful companies will find a way to incorporate social media principles into every part of the organizational structure.

    I’d much rather companies see social media as “that customer service thing” than “that marketing thing,” to be honest. Marketing departments, even Web 2.0-savvy ones, run campaigns. Customer service departments do not. To call social media a campaign is to marginalize it.

    • Todd Defren says:

      “Marketing departments, even Web 2.0-savvy ones, run campaigns. Customer service departments do not. To call social media a campaign is to marginalize it.”

      - Great point. And the source of the frustration felt by the True Believers.

      • Dee Rambeau says:

        “Slog” is a perfect adjective. When I built my first online newsroom for Hotwire in 2000, it cost way too many hours and wayyyyy too many dollars. Nearly 10 years later, I do a lot less “preaching and teaching” and a lot more selling to the bottom line.

        It does take time but there is a revenue stream at the end of the rainbow if the idea makes sense.

    • Jim Katz says:

      I agree with Daniel. Companies – particularly consumer products companies – would do well to recognize social media as a tool to provide better customer service. They’d also do well to recognize social media as a great tool to truly understand how people really perceive their brands (as opposed to using it to shape or shift perceptions).

      And I also disagree with Daniel. Social media is a fine venue for campaigns (we’re talking promotional activities here, right?), just so long as it is done with some restraint. And while opinions are flying fast and loose as to the right mix of promotional to non-promotional content, the truth is that determination needs to be done on a case-by-case basis.

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