Social Media Self-Serving? Say It Ain’t So.

“If you have haters, you’re doing something right” – Peter Shankman, Social Fresh Charlotte, September 7, 2011

This morning, around 5:45 a.m. I was doing my usual routine. Had my coffee in hand, two hoodies on (um, who invited fall?) and was sitting on my front porch in the wonderfully tranquil predawn darkness checking my emails and Twitter stream. I opened a DM from a friend of mine – someone I consider a mentor in this space as well – and found the snarkiest, most sarcastic and superbly dark humoured note I have ever read, in reference to yesterday’s post about depression.

Spit Take

Well, I lost my coffee. Total spit take. And then I laughed so loudly that I’m surprised I didn’t wake the neighbours. This friend/mentor knows my sense of humour, which also skews dark – I’m giggling as I write in fact – but the joke provoked a serious comment: that there has been social media backchannel chat about the recent Trey Pennington blog posts and tributes, the issue being that they somehow seem self-serving.

No Right Or Wrong

We back’ed and forth’ed a bit about it, and eventually agreed that there really is no right or wrong way when it comes to social media and sharing your thoughts online. You’re either going to make someone’s day or make someone’s eyes roll. In fact, when I said this felt like fodder for another post, I joked “..unless that would be seen as double-plus self-serving!” Eeep!

Seen And Heard

Seriously though, isn’t social media by it’s very nature self-serving? It’s about shares and follows, popularity and presence, influencers and ‘thought leaders’, SEO and ROI. It’s marketing and branding (personal and otherwise) and sales leads. You don’t become a social media rockstar without having worked your butt off to make yourself seen and heard. And you don’t become Mashable without ruffling a few feathers every now and again in your quest for eyeballs.

Tragedy Trumps

Eyeballs drive your brand and the more clickthroughs and page views you get, the better your sale’ability, whether you’re Facebook or Joe Blogger. And tragedy grabs people’s attention in ways that most other news could only dream of. It’s been two plus weeks already of 9/11 reporting and magazine covers, and we’re only September 7th. Arguments around commemoration -vs- exploitation are usually extremely subjective, and definitely personal.

Big News

The raw and honest posts and stories that were published in the wake of last week’s tragedy were moving and provoked conversation about the serious stigma around mental illness. And that can only be a good thing. If they were shared, or linked to, or commented on more than your run of the mill posts, well, that’s simply the way social works. The story was, with no disrespect to anyone, big news. And big news has been passed around and shared since humankind gained the capacity for conversation.

Note: Peter Shankman quote thanks to Justin Levy, Head of Social Communications at Citrix Online, via Twitter. 

What do you think? Are people too quick to jump on the tragedy bandwagon? Did you feel that the chatter around the loss of Trey Pennington has been self serving? Disrespectful? Please leave your comments below. 

7 thoughts on “Social Media Self-Serving? Say It Ain’t So.

  1. Do I think the posts I’ve personally read are self-serving? No. I think they were all very tastefully done, in fact. Can I say that about all of the “reactions” I read? Absolutely not.

    I honestly believe humans are self-serving; at least on some level. We might not always do it knowingly, but it’s there. Situations rarely impact us unless they “touch” us in some way, so it’s very easy to make the leap from “interested in” to “affected in some way, regardless of how small”.

    I believe Social Media is self-serving in many ways – when you’re talking about it from a business perspective. I was involved in the first “wave” of Social Media, online communities/forums, long before businesses started riding the wave. Back then, we simply referred to it as “Community”, not “Social Media”, so I suppose the outlook was a little different on a base level. We focused on the whole instead of the parts, if that makes sense. My point here is this…for businesses and organizations who are aiming for a balance between sales and customer service, it doesn’t *have* to be self-serving. Maybe I’m idealistic, but I believe there are still companies who take their Customer Service seriously enough that it’s not *just* self-serving – they also truly believe in providing their customers with service that they themselves would like to see.

    I really enjoyed this. Thank you. :)

  2. Hey Tab,
    As usual your comments are well thought out and beautifully argued! I agree with you that there are many businesses out there who truly do embrace SM from the perspective of the client/customer, and take great satisfaction in delivering superb customer service. That said, not to sound cynical (who, me?) the bottom line is always in the picture – it just has to be. No one gets involved in SM selflessly. Whether it’s eventual sales or just a share or two (i.e. personal blogs) – you get a reward. I think humans by their very nature are self-serving, even the most altruistic among us get a warm and happy feeling from doing good work. But I loved your comment about the old days, before big biz stepped in, when it was ‘community’ versus social media. Great point and a lot of truth in that statement. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Cheers, Lindsay

  3. Well said.

    I remember seeing the Mashable article and thinking it was odd, but I did not see anything wrong with it. They are the broad media outlet where almost anything online can be relevant. I think it is odd because the situation is odd. When someone so connected and public and social online takes their life, it is not an easy thing to digest. And when individuals decide to blog about this topic, who am I (who are any of us?) to tell them how they should deal with such a serious issue/experience?

    • Hi Jason, thanks for this. Completely agree with your thoughts re: Mashable. Coming from a traditional media background (CBC television) my instincts are always about ‘the story’. This was a big story, in so many ways. Big stories/tragedies are often hard to report on, and the great thing about blogging is that you can shed the “stay unbiased” mantra of trad media. People write to share their thoughts and feelings – whether about business, social media, or more personal things. Unless it’s a blatantly spammy link baited piece, who are we (the ‘royal we’) to judge? Really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Cheers, Lindsay

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