Social Media, Marketing, and the Vitality of the Network. (Part 1/2)

This is adapted from an edited discussion opened my Mark Pesce; Futurist, media networker, and commentator after I (amongst others) objected to the Social media strategy employed by Australian telecommunications company, Telstra, in the promotion of their service offering the HTC Desire mobile phone.

In short the strategy involved a ‘competition’ to take part in a social review process – the entrants/applicants were then screened for both the quantity and quality of their ‘social graph’ with the 25 deemed most suitable by Telstra given a HTC Desire and thus employed to ‘review’ (comment on in Blogs and on twitter/facebook) the product over a period of two weeks. All reviewers were asked to disclose their interest and to be honest in their appraisals. I’ve extended this engagement substantially to take in some more of my thought on the subject of professionalism, marketing, and public relations in the social media space. I’ve also edited what was originally a comment to remove some of the now out of context interpersonal banter.

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When I ventured to rather vehemently object to Telstra’s #telstradesire social review strategy I was accused of being a Troll and motivated by Jealousy. I am definitely not a ‘troll’ – and I don’t normally buy into these online debates for the reason that they often get ‘trolly’- that said I am probably a little jealous. Buying a new handset is for me a rare and considered event and no-one is likely to throw me a phone. There is no-way I have the kind of social ‘capital’ that the social reviewers in the program have cultivated. This ‘lack’ is more complex than it might first seem – I haven’t decided to develop that capital, I haven’t ‘worked’ for it, but neither do I have the tenacity and personality that such a social graph/value indicates.

All power is however negotiated – and my problem is that the ‘social reviewer’ effectively trades some of that capital away by having his twitter feed ‘sponsored’ by Telstra. If reviewers had appeared in a Telstra commercial – I wouldn’t have had a problem – they didn’t. They turned up in ‘my’ social space. True, I invited them as ‘followees’, but I didn’t invite Telstra. Yes, I could ‘unfollow’ any of the reviewers – but I don’t want to do that and I assume that in Mark Pesce’s case he values the social capital that I (in very small part) represent,

My ‘problem’ is, rather, that I don’t subscribe/follow spammers. I tend not to follow product or corporate accounts. I tend to follow people whose opinions I respect and whose voice I ascribe a degree of ‘integrity’ for want of a less morally laden term (value perhaps?). When I ‘follow’ someone I do so because I want to include you in ‘my’ social space. The great thing about twitter is that I can do this without imposing myself on you at all. Just because I include you in my social space doesn’t mean you are compelled to include me in your’s (thankfully).

That said – its still my social space – its like my front lawn or local park,- It’s like I’ve seen Mark strolling off for his Daily at Potts Point gave him a wave and he has whipped out his ‘Telstra’ Desire – not to sell it to me – not to discuss it with me (really)- but because Telstra have paid him to. I know that many of the people employed by Telstra in this program would never give me a phoney sell (cell?) but I’d rather they decide which device they were excited about – not a third party with a vested interest. Telstra is a corporate citizen, they could have their own account, if I saw Telstra strolling through my local I’d be unlikely to shout them a beer – they know this and so they have traded some of Marks social capital as a backdoor to my social space.

Of course much of this is about perception. I know Mark is not my best buddy simply because I follow him. I am aware (of course) that his feed is simply another stream of authored media – But my argument is that social media displays quite a different, more intimate, mode of social engagement and authorial value that ‘trades’ or is ‘valued’ in part because it feels ‘neighbourly’. My argument is that Telstra’s approach undermines this ‘neigbourly’ social capital and for that reason the approach also undermines Mark’s neighbourly status and makes it feel like Telstra has found another way to insert themselves into my social space – a little like they do when they cold call at dinner time.

This undermines the whole idea of a sponsored social review…as someone commented in the #telstradesire twitter stream (which I rudely interrupted – and was, with more than a little irony, asked not to use), they had purchased the phone and were participating freely via the twiiter hashtag. Great – that happens all the time; People gather around a shiny new toy/device, motivated and excited by the potential it represents. However the fact that Telstra has seeded the cloud/crowd meant that some of the people weren’t motivated to speak and interact because they were excited about the new device but because they had been ‘sponsored’ to do so (not mutually exclusive -I realise – but once again perception is everything). In my opinion the sponsored use of the hashtag thus becomes counterproductive. It taints the cloud/crowd.

There are plenty of other issues including the matter of disclosure (how it might work –whether a hashtag constitutes disclosure) in social networks which I think is really interesting. I also think the decision to put it to a vote is interesting too – although it looks like it will be a considered opinion based on discussion -rather than a mob rules vote (thankfully).

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