Shel Israel to Twitterville: stop following me!

Working in social media around the Valley, it’s easy to fall into the trap of turning into a geek groupie. The digital glitterati are everywhere and, yes, because we live in a world of social media, they are omnipresent (regardless of what your social network of choice might be). You can spend hours on Tweetdeck watching the lives of industry pundits unfurl. It’s the virtual equivalent of a medieval court with a number of well-placed nobles (read industry pundits) throwing out scraps to the courtesans in their wake.

If you are looking at business applications of social media, you are probably familiar with one of the number of Twitter handles around which much of the readership revolves: @jowyang, @scobleizer, @guykawasaki, @mashable and of course, Mr @shelisrael. Many of us, if we’re honest, with our retweets and attempts at drawing them into the conversation, have the not-so-hidden desire to emulate them.

To a degree rightly so. This field is largely a meritocracy and most of these folks have gotten to where they are by proving their mettle. However, last night, one of the cadre voiced dissent. Shel Israel, presenting at an SNCR event promoting the launch of his new book Twitterville, proclaimed ‘we are not the influencers’. Shel made an impassioned plea to get out there and follow anyone with passion and relevance within your sphere. If you’re a company, look first at your customer base and employees (Lionel Menchaca and the Dell story of customer engagement is one of the featured case studies in the book). The core message: don’t just go after the social media influencers, ie. don’t blindly get pulled into a herd mentality.

This, however, sparked the most lively debate of the evening. The fact that the cult of celebrity transfers so well to Twitter (check out the number of followers for @britneyspears or @stephenfry if you don’t believe me) does suggest that even as we move away from a broadcast medium like TV, at heart we still need our media royalty. The masses will follow the few.

If I understand Shel correctly, he is calling for us, as social media and communications experts, to really move away from that old broadcast model and explore the small pockets of communications these new social tools open up. Unfortunately somehow the conversation got derailed and this point was not revisited before the event closed.

Shel’s point resonated with me as I know I’m as guilty as anyone of spending time analyzing the strategies industry bigwigs and analysts put forward, mesmerized by the latest technologies and trying to figure out which social media monitoring tool will give me the biggest bang for my buck. How much am I missing? That social media monitoring tool is important, but its nothing unless there is commitment to really listen and react to the conversations it uncovers.

An immediate step I’ve taken is to set up some search channels in Tweetdeck around our core brands. For those Tweets I can’t deal with, I can parcel them off in the relevant direction within the organization (mainly product marketing). Even though I’m no subject expert in the technology I market, there’s no reason why I don’t engage with this crowd, eg:

  • Explore ways to wire them closer into the organization
  • Plough them further for information on their applications and what’s working well
  • Tie them into our partner organization that offers beta versions and exclusives to the privileged few

Just to name a few ideas. A practical way to use Twitter where it works best: to engage at the personal level.

So, if Shel doesn’t mind, I can steal his mantra and say, ‘go – stop reading this blog and find your real thought leaders out there’. The unsung heroes within the company ecosystem you discover on Twitter will prove the worth of your social media efforts.