Mathew Lowry

If you’re like me and almost everyone else I know, you’ve got a To Do list overflowing with emails starred in various colours, Twitter favourites, starred RSS items, stuff bookmarked ‘Do’ or ‘In’ on diigo or delicious, unlistened-to-podcasts, unread books, unwatched documentaries, scribbled post-its and more.

And you certainly haven’t got enough time to read it all, absorb it all, think about it some more, let alone craft it all together into a universal theory of everything for the next blog post.

Which is why I post about twice a month, at best.

So I’m going to try something different and simply throw out some posts where I link to some stuff which I’ve found interesting and – possibly – related, along with some half-thoughts on how they might apply to the European online public space. Nothing fully formed, just food for thought, half-digested. Apologies for the disgusting metaphor.

I’ll start with The Social Media Bubble (Umair Haque, Harvard Business Review) and Who Killed Social Media Marketing? by Greg Satell.

Relationship inflation

In the first, Haque suggests that “Despite all the excitement surrounding social media, the Internet isn’t connecting us as much as we think it is. It’s largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships“.

It’s definitely worth reading the full post to understand how he finds that ‘relationship inflation’ creates:

“… beauty contest effects, where … people transmit what they think others want …[and] popularity contest effects, where people strive for immediate, visceral attention-grabs — instead of making awesome stuff.

The social isn’t about beauty contests and popularity contests. They’re a distortion, a caricature of the real thing. It’s about trust, connection, and community.”

And he concludes (my emphases):

“The promise of the Internet wasn’t merely to inflate relationships, without adding depth, resonance, and meaning. It was to fundamentally rewire people, communities, civil society, business, and the state — through thicker, stronger, more meaningful relationships.

I guess this resonates for me because it’s what I see in the Brussels bubble: lots of Place Luxembourg chatter, popularity contests and Mutual Admiration Societies, but very little substance and few improvements to the way the EU connects to Europeans.

I’m not saying nothing’s being done, but – paraphrasing Haque – it’s minimal compared to the more meaningful connections which could be achieved between ‘Brussels’ and the rest of Europe.

Behind the hype cycle

In Who Killed Social Media Marketing?, on the other hand, Greg ‘Digital Tonto’ Satell pulls together a number of recent analyses to diagnose social media as having passed the “peak of inflated expectations” in Gartner’s hype cycle, and is now sliding down into the “trough of disillusionment”:


If you haven’t got the time to check out the posts he links to – particularly Do Campaign Failures, High-Profile Firings Signal the End of Social Media? and “Pepsi BashFest 3000” – here’s the short version: Pepsi falls to third place in the Cola Wars following massive, delusional investment in social media.

As Adcontrarian points out, this massive investment had – until recently – had Pepsi “fawned over as “forward thinking” among the brand babblers and social media hustlers who have seized control of the marketing world”. Forward to failure, perhaps.

Anyway, Satell shows how these social media experts decided they were going to change the rules of marketing and communication, without first knowing what those rules are. Nor did they understand the substantive difference between social media and social networks – as he points out (my emphases):

“Unfortunately, social network theory is highly mathematical and difficult to learn. It’s much easier to tweet and make friends on Facebook … Christakis and Fowler, two renowned scientists who have studied social networks, show why excessive use of social media can blind you … if you’re getting most of your information from social media, your conversation is likely to revolve around how great social media is and overlook everything else.”

Taken together

Taken together, these two posts resonate with me because they:

  • remind me of the power of groupthink (some posts here);
  • shows just how far, over the pond in the US, the lunatics have taken over the asylum, and make me wonder how long it will be before this happens here;
  • express the gut feelings which led me to write Not losing sight of the basics, and probably many of the other posts I mentioned in my annual review under the heading “Growing Cynicism”.

After all, the following quote from Pepsi Bash could have easily been spoken recently anytime in Brussels, and probably will be, any day now:

“We took the divergent path,” explained Frank Cooper, chief consumer engagement officer for Pepsi. “We wanted to explore how a brand could be integrated into the digital space.”

As Adcontrarian points out:

“The alarming aspect of the above quote is not the vapidity of the cliches, it’s the fact that Pepsi has someone called a “chief consumer engagement officer.” You have to be seriously confused to pay someone to run around your building with a title like that.

Which leaves me to ponder the differences between a “chief consumer engagement officer” and an EU Online Community Manager. For another post.

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  1. Hi Mathew,

    Hope all is well.

    I’d like to add something to this that is both related and simultaneously unrelated…

    I was at a wedding a week ago and found myself talking to the best man. An Aussie, lives in London, late 20s. Nice guy. He works in ‘Experiential Marketing’.

    I asked him what that means. It took four attempts at an answer that a normal person would understand. It was only when I told him that I do some marketing work too that he dropped the hyperbole and explained that, “I help put on branding events for big companies”.

    In other words, he was in ‘event management’. We know what that is! But it is helpful for clients to not know for sure what they are getting and they therefore get to pay an extra 15-40% to find out.

    It seems that, as suggested in your post, changing name and rules often is useful. If online media and marketing are evolving quickly, why not offline too? Its madness out there and I’m amazed that anyone can keep up…

    I would suggest that companies need to be equally confused to pay an agency a big premium for ‘experiential marketing’ when what they are actually doing is getting several hundred people together in a marquee because they ‘like beer’ or whatever.

  2. Hi mate, thanks for dropping by and thanks for the tip – am off to rename our event logistics department the “Media & Experiential Marketing for Europe” department, or MEME for short.

    Of course nooone can keep up, which is why some consultancies can get away with billing tens of thousands of euros for setting up a facebook page, and why some people think that using social media in EU comms is about making online connections with people with whom they share the Brussels metro.

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