Social Media – The new ‘Internet’, hello 1998

I’ve been using the internet since just after it was born. Yeah I’m that old… and my highschool was lucky enough to have a NeXT workstation in every classroom, 8 in the library, plus a mathlab, and my personal kingdom, the student government/yearbook office, which had 4, including a color station :)

Anyhoo. history aside, I was struck the other day at a MHSMC meeting that social media is the new ‘internet’. Mainly this relates to my love of all things Cluetrain Manifesto. One of the ¬†of the primary things I took away from Cluetrain in my first reading as a lowly Software developer at a mortgage company where marketing outnumbered IT (as well as my many subsequent readings), was that it’s important, and beneficial for enterprises to let their people be people. Lower the walls, don’t raise them. I thought we were making progress here.

It seems that social media is moving away from that if MHSMC is any indicator. The presentation this month was on Corporate use of Social Media.

One of the panelists, I don’t remember whom I’m afraid, made an example of what to her (and many in the audience it appeared) was a social media gaff. A call center employee somewhere in a state most of us don’t care about commented on a blog post. The post was critical of the complany and this person came to the defense saying not much more than ‘we’re working hard for you in Toledo Ohio’ (I don’t recall the city honestly).

I was in the back row cheering on Timmy from call center X in Toledo. I mean how lucky is that company that an employee at that level stood up for his employer with nothing more than “We’re working hard.” To the best of my recall the panelist didn’t say Timmy made promises or claims, or anything that could in any way be said to hurt his employer, just that he and his fellow employees were working hard. How awesome is that, every company should have passionate people speaking plainly without motive, on their behalf.

The panelists went on to relate similar stories, and reinforce that not just anyone could use twitter. That some people weren’t on the company twitter account, and wouldn’t be. That specific people followed specific guidelines in order to be the ‘voice of the company’. That without rules and regulations on what is and isn’t ok, social media was some sort of no man’s land of ROUSs.

I sat in the back row thinking, “wow, it’s like 1998 again”. Companies are back to being afraid of the internet, this time social media, and rather than embrace it, they’re locking it down, restricting who can say what, how.

it was sobering to see that as much as things change, some things stay the same. I wish I had had time to process what I was seeing then, I might have asked if anyone in that room had ever heard of or read the Cluetrain Manifesto. I wish I still had a box of them I’d bring them to the next meeting.