By Manie Bosman
Much had been written about the way “social media” has and is changing the way humans communicate, socialize and interact in general. Critics warn that technology-based virtual interaction is de-humanizing us as we’re losing our social skills and in some cases even our fragile grip on reality. Proponents point out that it’s a transitional process which has not been fully explored or developed for a long shot and that the best is still to come – that the global human society is becoming progressively more “communal” as we blog, tweet, text and post our holiday photo’s on Facebook for the world to see.
If by now you’re suspecting this is a discussion on the pros and cons of social media – it’s not – I’m only setting the stage for my real story: the emerging phenomena of larger-than-life internet gurus and their grateful cyber groupies.
When I first discovered the virtual wonder of being able to connect with people all over the globe through social media, I was an immediate convert. Even more so when my circle of connections (“friends”, “followers”, “tweeps” and others) included renowned experts and respected colleagues from the various fields and professions in which I have an interest. How great is it for someone sitting here on the southern tip of Africa to be able to have direct contact with leadership professionals, authors, scientists and even “normal people” on just about every corner of the earth? We read each other’s blogs, share ideas in LinkedIn group discussions, tweet links to interesting research results, recommend helpful websites, and sometimes even conduct formal interviews or social chats via Skype video calls. Or do we?
While most of us could probably answer “I do” with some degree of honesty, there’s an emerging population of internet gurus who definitely doesn’t. Clearly in an elevated virtual dimension of their own, these esteemed and revered larger-than-life experts use social media simply to bless their devoted networks of friends, followers and tweeps (collectively “cyber groupies”) with a continuous stream of wisdom, insights and quick-fix formulas all directly extracted from or linked to their next best seller or upcoming television interview. Two things these eminent sages have in common is the high volume of content they churn out and the fact that they never allow the interaction to become real by responding to a direct enquiry or participating in an actual discussion. Some use applications such as Socialoomph.com for around-the-clock automatic tweeting to make sure their unsuspecting groupies in other time zones remain enthralled. Others hire social media ‘marketers’ to post their ever-so-impersonal-personal content onto LinkedIn groups, Facebook fan pages, blogs and other platforms.
Now don’t get me wrong – some of this content really is good – even brilliant, and I really love living in a time when resources such as these are so readily available. Also, I realize that some individuals really are the product they’re promoting and that people connect with them without expecting a weekly “kumbaya” around the campfire. However the point I’m pushing is that perhaps we need to make a distinction between marketing or content creation and real interaction. It is my opinion (as an unintended but not ungrateful cyber groupie to some of the planet’s greatest gurus) that blatantly (ab)using social media to drown people with your unilateral stream of self-promoting, revenue-generating content is just not on. While social media is an exciting new marketing medium we could help protect its bona fides by at least being clear and honest about whether we are marketing or truly interacting when we engage with one another on these platforms. Personally, I hope to continue using social media to promote what I have to offer on a professional level, but to keep it real enough so that authentic interaction will always be possible…. Okay, if at some point in future I fail to do so, please send a direct mail to my agent or social media consultant.