Yesterday I hopped over to Chris Kieff’s blog, 1 Good Reason, and came upon an excellent post that sparked a discussion both online and off. I ended up talking to Chris and five others about what likely is to be a major problem in the upcoming years regarding online marketing and PR, especially through the social media lens. The five were Jen Zingsheim, Bryan Person, Dave Evans, Jake McKee, and Mark Davidson.
I’ll start by saying that I think often that those of use who practice social media are, if not naive, very idealistic in our thinking on the principles we espouse. And I’d say that a confluence of emerging trends, mindsets, events, and business practices could come back and knock a lot of us on our asses.
What caught my attention from Chris’ blog was his interaction with a young woman who had been hired as a blogger by a clothing company:
Yesterday at Social Media Camp NYC hosted by Mashable, and Yoono, there was a very lively discussion started by a young woman who presented herself as a “Persona Blogger.” She was joined in this discussion by a company (who I have decided to not name, yet) who is employing her to blog for them.
She discussed how she assumes the persona of several people; 52 year old woman, 25 year old man, 20-ish woman, and then blogs, twitters, and creates pages on social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and others as these people. She spoke about how this is a 24/7 job that requires her to maintain this work constantly to keep up the facade.
I’ll not mince words, this is simply lying, and as I’ve stated in this blog before, lying is a terrible way to build a relationship.
The audience at SM Camp NYC seemed to divide somewhat along generational lines, with some of the younger people taking the side that it’s understood that people can’t be trusted on the internet. Their arguments followed the logic that everyone on the internet makes things up. They’ve grown up understanding there are different levels of honesty.
I chose to highlight that last sentence because it’s very problematic. It’s both true and bullshit. Honesty, by definition would seem to be an absolute. But people, out of convenience have altered it to fit their needs and circumstances. We all do it. I’ve done it. We rationalize. We justify. That’s life. We’re human. But there’s consequences.
What stuck me is Chris’ point on the outlook of the attendees regarding the concept of the “persona blogger”. It “seemed to divide somewhat along generational lines” My concern here is more through the aspect of looking through the eyes of practitioners as opposed to potential audience members.
How Did This Come About?
Consider the following:
1) We’ve had a President of the United States, someone who often sits atop the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” surveys, who by his very position is a role model for our nation’s youth, recklessly having an extramarital affair with a woman young enough to be his daughter. He then lies to cover it up and attempts to position the woman as delusional and, if not a stalker, somewhat obsessed. Oops, a blue dress appears with a certain stain on it, and, well, it turns out he did
not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. We’re then told that this really doesn’t matter, it’s only an affair, and of course he lied under oath, but so what?
Say what you want about it, but I’ll say it tarnished the Office of the Presidency and it demeaned the institution of marriage. Meaning, it lowered the standards of what we expect out of our leaders and it created different levels of honesty.
2) So let’s fast forward a couple of years. Wall Street. Greed is Good. Irrational exuberance. Brokerage houses telling their brokers to push certain stocks. Outright lies. A couple of companies went under, a couple of people went to jail, but more importantly thousands lost their life savings because a few who were already rich got even more greedy.
In a lot of cases, the amounts measured up to a couple of days profits. Those brokerage houses still exist, still treat themselves as noble entities, still are looked upon by the business media as having thought leaders.
From this, we subtly learn not to trust institutions…but often those same institutions are the only ones out there.
3) If you’re Catholic, like me, you soon found out that the very people who represent God before your very eyes are not only failing to protect the most innocent, they are covering up the grievous sins of their subordinates. On a national scale. For some (no, not me) it was as much as part of the Church as a sacrament. Nothing is sacred.
4) Speaking of presidents, we’re now at war in Iraq because
they have weapons of mass destruction they likely have ties to al Queda to spread democracy in the Middle East. We’ll be greeted as liberators and then we’ll be out of there in a few months, where we can say “Mission Accomplished”. The war will pay for itself with Iraqi oil money.
don’t need more troops. We don’t torture. We’re in the last throes of the insurgency.
What we’ve seen with all of this – and it’s coming out in memoirs of administration aides – is that there was a huge propaganda campaign coming out of said administration, pushing falsehoods on practically everything. Dissent within the administration was squelched and that attitude seemed to spread around the country. Ask the Dixie Chicks. The media often went along for reasons only they know.
In my conversation with Jake McKee, he pointed out how many of today’s young people don’t question authority. They may not follow it blindly, they may just accept that they are going to be lied to.
So it’s been reinforced that it’s OK to fudge the truth and dissent is often bad.
5) Like sports? Like steroids? This generations’ greatest hitter and greatest pitcher are heavily believed to have been juiced up. As were Olympic hopefuls, past Gold medal winners, and Tour de France winners. Toss in souped up cars in NASCAR and Formula 1 and you’ve got cheaters everywhere. Whatever it takes to win. The end justifies the means. If he’s on our team, that’s cool, as long as he produces. People may fall from grace, but that’s after winning millions of dollars.
What we learn here is that it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win
I’m not writing all this to shove down your throats moral standards or to condemn society or to shame us as role models for our nation’s youth or to point out how young people are going to be less ethical than we are.
I’m writing this instead to shove down your throats that, at the very least, we’re likely going to have to deal with some serious issues in the near future. Those same standards fo authenticity and transparency may not be worth snot. I’ll further explain in How Social Media Will Get Screwed, Part Two.