Saturday, June 06, 2009

Who Killed Social Media?

Who Killed Social Media? Panel
[picture from the Who Killed Social Media - 6/4/2009 collection by ahockley]

I was fortunate enough to be on a panel titled "Who Killed Social Media?" which took place in Portland on Thursday, June 4th. Portland is one of my favorite cities (Hotel Lucia FTW!) and I'm always looking for an excuse to visit. The panel was put together by Nemo Design and Group Y. I'd especially like to thank Dave Allen (@pampelmoose) for inviting me and getting me involved.

The event was sold out, and the crowd was a good mix of marketing, action sports, and social media folks. The atmosphere was energetic and there were good vibes - I'm sure the free beer and wine played a small part.

The panel was composed of:

and myself. The panel was moderated by Marshall Kirkpatrick (@marshallk), who is Vice President of Content Development and Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb. Marshall did a fabulous job of moderating. He researched our backgrounds, and from there generated one easy question and one hard question to get the conversation going. Asking questions that were relevant to me made me feel comfortable and relaxed, and also started the thoughts firing rapidly in my brain.

So, there was one statement I made (at the 48:33 mark in Ustream.TV feed) that has generated some interest and the genesis for this blog post:

"SEO or SEM, in my opinion, will be dead as you know it within 6 months"

I'm disappointed that this one comment dominated the online discussion, because in my opinion the points made by my fellow panel members were far more brilliant and insightful.

I didn't make this statement for a wow or shock factor, but because it's something I believe. Also I don't believe its a new revelation. If you keep up with Steve Rubel (@steverubel : Micro Persuasion), Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang : Web Strategy) and others, you can see where the social web is heading, and what impact it is going to have. Especially on search. And if you're not following them, you really should. They get paid to talk to all the folks who are creating the future, and you get to benefit from their knowledge and insights for free.

The key part of that comment is "as you know it" which was left off the majority of tweets and quotes. I'm glad to see that Kim Toomey (@KimToomey) from Social Search Marketer highlighted that part. I recommend you read her article "Social Media Kills SEO." I don't totally agree with all her points but she understands the gist of what I was saying. Google may have short term memory (for now) - but people don't. Ask Advil, Domino's, and now eMusic. Also my point about the students achieving the #1 rank for the term "social media" in 48 hours proves that the algorithms have changed, and foreshadow what is to come. SEO makes sense and is a basic step everyone should take, but Reputation Management is now critical and necessary. As is your brand's "Experiential Awareness" (quoted from Dave Allen.) Sure your company's website might continue to secure the #1 spot - but what happens when the #2 result is a negative video on YouTube that has 500,000 page views? The question I have is, what do the SEO folks tell their clients when that happens? Tough luck, and don't be stupid?

You may ask yourself why Google has decided to add more weight to the social web. The answer in my opinion is that they realize that when a viral event is happening, people aren't using Google to find out about it. Instead they turn to the searches on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube. Now that Twitter has enabled real time search, it is a force to be reckoned with (please see Steve Rubel's Visits to Twitter Search Soar, Indicating Social Search Has Arrived.)

I don't have an agenda as far As far as search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) is concerned - meaning I don't have any financial interest or connection. I've been building websites for awhile now (13+ years) and SEO is a mainstay on the checklist. I make that disclosure because someone commented "I'll gladly continue to take your clients" on Twitter - which elicited a shoulder shrug from me. I can understand how my comment would upset those who are in the SEO and SEM business. But I also expect those same people to dig a little further (like Kim Toomey), examine the context of my comment and research how search is changing. I also hope that they are educating their customers.

Now I mentioned that SEO will still make sense, but I'm not so sure about SEM. In order for SEM to survive, its going to need to be more context sensitive, and its going to need to understand social relationships. Google's AdSense seems to be having issues. Also, Google and others need to institute a emergency on/off switch for SEM, because I'm sure people are not going to be happy paying money to be associated with a negative social event. For my money, I will pick SEO over SEM any day. And come to think of it, wouldn't I rather pay a bunch of students to get the #1 result in 48 hours, rather than on an ad that people most likely won't click on? Granted that is an extreme, but probably not for long. For other ideas like social ads I would read Jeremiah Owyang's Breakdown: Digg Allows Community To Choose Advertisements.

The standard corporate strategy for the web up until now has been build a slick and well designed website, and then pour money into SEO, SEM, banner and print ads, etc. to drive traffic to that website you just spent all that money building. Who cares what kind of traffic it is, as long as the traffic numbers continue to go up. I know, since I'm guilty of this. The corporate website is where you use to hold court on your brand. But the social web has come along and changed this. (Please see Ford Case Study: Control is an Illusion in the Social Media Age) Companies no longer control their brand. It doesn't matter what companies are saying about their brand. Your brand is being defined by what your customers are saying on their blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter streams, YouTube videos and Yelp reviews. You need to set some of that money aside, and take out that insurance policy in the form of a Community Manager (quoted from Dave Allen.) You need at least to start listening, and discover where the conversations are taking place. Because they are happening. Now.

Before I forget, I mentioned a tool that measured sentiment on Twitter. That tool is Twendz. Type in a search term and sit back watch it go. It takes a little while but its fun to watch. Tac Anderson turned me onto it.

At the end of the day, the web has taught us that you must adapt and evolve, or you will be obsolete and forgotten in a few months. Look at print newspapers (pretty much dead), the corporate music industry (dying) and soon TV (has a nasty cough.) Hopefully one of these days it will get around to War, Bigotry, Hunger ...

Think of a search engine that doesn't care about what your content is or what you say is on your page, but only takes into account what the consensus and sentiment of the social web is pertaining that page. And then think about a search engine that allows the community to vote down (or up) your corporate website in the results. Are you thinking?

Finally, reading through all of the #whokilledSM stream on Twitter reminded me of why I love the social web. People from all over coming together on common platform to discuss, share their passion, engage and criticize.

Thanks again to Nemo Design and Group Y, and thank all of you for your comments and feedback. You can catch me on Twitter or you can view my social web presence at

Oh and I love the ending part of Amber Case's summary:

"The panel ended on a high note, with Dave Allen saying something really awesome ..."