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Archive for June 21st, 2010

Several months ago, someone whose professional opinion I care about told me that after having pointedly gone after several outstandingly poor displays of misguided ‘practices’ on my blog, some “in the industry” (meaning the Social Media world) were wondering if I might not be a bit of a loose cannon. The comment took me by surprise – I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but fitting squarely in the  cool-headed, calculated corner rather than the impulsive corner,  “loose cannon” had never been one of them.

After trying to explain for the better part of a half hour that a) I wasn’t a loose cannon and b) that the handful of skirmishes I had begun and swiftly ended were both calculated and necessary, I finally moved on to topics of greater interest. But the notion that anyone – especially people I respect professionally – would misread me this way has been on my mind ever since. Had I in the last eighteen months been giving the wrong impression? If a handful of folks who mostly know me from my blog and Twitter were wondering about my being on the wrong side of being impulsive, how many more people might have gotten the wrong idea as well?

It wasn’t until this weekend,, while reading about the doomed Roman campaign led by Crassus against Partha in 53BC, that I realized that the difference between brawling and skirmishing was lost on a good number of people… and that the distinction between the two, now less commonly understood than it might have once been, may be at the root of this unexpected loose cannon question.

First, let’s quickly differentiate a brawler from a skirmisher: A brawler is indeed a loose cannon, a guy looking for a fight, any fight, just to satisfy a personal need for action, attention or control. A skirmisher, however, is tasked with a series of very specific  tactical objectives: testing an enemy’s responses, forcing an enemy to slow his advance, tire an enemy out, demoralize him, confuse him, take the initiative away from him, expose weaknesses, and so on. In war, skirmishing helps destabilize an enemy either during its advance on a position, and stresses its outer layers (scouts, patrols, etc) while it defends a position. The skirmisher’s job is to try to lure the enemy into pointless clashes, tire him out and/or force him into a defensive posture. A far cry from the odd loose cannon brawler at the local ale house.

Though neither a brawler nor a skirmisher, I understand the value of (and need for) the occasional skirmish if and when the situation calls for it. And in the last 18 months, a handful of situations relating to the Social Media space – especially in its vulnerable early stages – called for some emergency skirmishing: Opportunistic network marketers trying to pass themselves off as experts, horrendously inaccurate R.O.I. “equations” and calculators, snake oil by the gallon, and finally $3,000 Social Media certifications offered by made-up international organizations. Something needed to be done right there and then to make sure these types of things didn’t take hold. Not everyone agrees with me on this point – some prefer a more live and let live approach – but I don’t think I’m wrong. Here’s why:

“Experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession.” – George Washington

See where I am going with this?

When a particular type of opportunist knows they won’t be called out on their BS, there’s little reason for them to hold back: If they see easy money to be made from other people’s ignorance, they set up shop. And once they’re in business, in the age of search, it is much more difficult to undo the damage they have done than stop them in their tracks before they have a chance to get any traction.  While it is easy to be of the opinion that results and ensuing reputations will soon separate the real deal from the charlatans, I am of the more pragmatic opinion that Search is currently far more important than reputation in this space: Anyone with a little SEO savvy can tip-toe their way to prime Google real-estate and fake legitimacy long enough to make a killing before anyone realizes they had no idea what they were doing, and subsequently force legitimate professionals – who may seem no more and no less qualified to a 1.0 CMO – to defend the very notion of Social Media expertise for years to come. No thanks.

Snake oil pushers, charlatans and even misguided posers aren’t merely bad neighbors with questionable methods. For those of us who work in the Social media space, and for those whose companies work with it, they are the enemy. Plain and simple. Friendly smiles and good manners aside, they are the single greatest threat to the good name of Social Media program management/integration consulting.

George Washington isn’t wrong: Don’t let the weeds take root.

Those occasional little skirmishes you see me get into on this blog aren’t what the French would call “coups de tete.” They aren’t the result of impulsive behavior or a bad temper. Far from it. Next time you notice me poking at specific people who deliberately push bad practices, snake oil or other nonsense at the expense of unsuspecting clients just because they feel that making a buck justifies it, don’t mistake either my intentions or methods for a lack of self restraint. For better or for worse, there is calculated purpose in everything I say and do, especially when it comes to this topic. Every comma, every period, every word is carefully chosen to produce a specific outcome, which ranges from setting a topic straight (like R.O.I.) to publicly testing the validity of a potentially questionable social media certification program. (Remember ISMA?)

Sometimes, keeping the Social media space clean for newcomers and business execs forces those of us who can to ruffle a few feathers. I am in a unique position to do this because I don’t work for anyone. I don’t answer to a company who might not want to take sides on an issue like measurement, best practices or Social Media certification schemes. Until I decide to leave entrepreneurship behind and take a job with someone else’s company, nothing I say can rub off on anyone but me, and I take full (and careful) advantage of that rarest of freedoms – knowing full well that I may not always be able to do so.

Have a great week, everyone.

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