The Weird World of Social Media

Why on earth would anybody want to be friends with a brand? Nobody wants to be friends with a hospital or a pill.

How on earth is that social?

People want what they want and need – they want meaning. Brands aren’t people.

I think too many businesses and marketers are confused about today’s media.

First, many were late adopters – only a couple of years ago, I’d go to conferences and get glazed looks: “What’s a Twitter?”

Now, after reading social media blogs and attending more conferences, companies can’t get enough of this stuff and are purchasing crocks of snake oil.

But few are taking a step back and asking “What are these media? Why do people use them?” It seems like digital marketing agencies and businesses truly believe the notion that “it’s all about conversation”.

No! No! NO!!

Really: who wants to be friends with a brand? It’s an absolutely delusional proposition.

Yes, businesses need to be available to customers. Yes, theses media can be repurposed for business value.

But here’s where the confusion is: people use these media to talk with each other. They do talk about products and services. People talk about what’s meaningful to them.

Social matters between and among customers – not between brands and customers. This is the confusion.

This confusion is creating the weird world of social media, where we’re all supposed to be friends with brands and spend our time reading company tweets. Oy!

So the idea of brands being social is utterly misguided.

The Web is a great platform for people to connect with each other.

So help them make connections with each other.

That’s where companies need to invest resources.

Last century, you could spend 80% of your capital on marketing and 20% on core business. You could get away with shoddy products and services because customers didn’t have platforms to connect directly with each other.

That’s changed. The the mix has to flip: companies need to spend 20% on marketing and 80% on core business.

The purpose of marketing has always been to enhance a product’s attention and presence – not replace it.

This is why most social media efforts will fail.

Build a remarkable hospital. Hire competent nurses and doctors and encourage them to use social networks for their professional development and networking.

The way to do Social isn’t to do the weird thing and make brands social.

Nope: the way to do Social is to run a business with bright people who are committed to creating meaningful products and services, and then helping customers to talk openly and honestly about their experiences, problems, hopes and insights.

Trust me: it’s a much better world than the weird alternative universe where we wake up with yet another request to friend a brand.



In Defense of Healthcare Executives Wary of Social Media

It’s 2010. You work for a hospital, clinic, healthcare marketing agency, or an association. You know social media is now a staple of doing business (because it’s 2010).

But: you can’t do much for your organization largely because your executive leadership is wary of social media.

Executives often think differently than others in organizations. It’s what they’re paid to do (well, at least that’s what some boards of directors believe).

So what can people who want to bring their organizations into the 21st Century (because it’s 2010) do?


Business isn’t a dirty word. Dirty business – that’s what’s dirty.

Fact: Healthcare needs to be funded. That doesn’t mean that money is the only motivation for getting things done – in fact, money-as-motivator reaches diminishing marginal returns rather quickly. (Check this out to see what I mean.)

It’s unlikely that you can just tell executives things like this: Social Media is about conversation, engagement, relationships. In fact, if you say things like that, you’ve probably set your chances of persuading C-suite many steps back.

Tread carefully with social media guru talk in C-suite: very few of them have any experience with working with executives in the Enterprise.

Rather, you need to think more like an executive yourself. It’s called empathy – and empathy with senior leadership will get you farther than frustration.

So let’s get executively empathic.


Markets are conversations. But executives don’t view them that way typically.

Still: it’s markets where strategic visions must begin. Specifically, markets include not only where end-consumers are, but also where information-customers are. Identifying all of your information-customers is vital to configuring social media efforts maximally.

So here’s what champions – that’s you – need to articulate for executives and other wary levels of management:

  • Our market(s) need us to __________…__________.
  • We currently use __________…__________ to meet those needs.
  • We measure success by __________…__________.
  • We improve on our processes by __________…__________ every day/week/year (circle one!).

This is just elementary business analysis. It’s something that should be done routinely.

Now, once these questions are clearly laid out, the next step is to see what problems you have left to solve.

Executives need solutions to existing problems. No problem, no solution. Make sense?

So here’s what champions need to explore before making their case to C-suite (in fact, it’s what champions need to do so they know why social media matters):

  • We are not doing __________…__________ for or with our markets.
  • Our current strategy does not include these opportunities because __________.
  • After careful consideration, we believe __________…__________ will enable us to round out our efforts.

If you as champion aren’t able to answer these questions, how do you expect C-suite to listen to you?

Forget social media – nobody needs it.

Think like an executive, act like a strategic ally.

You can get ideas on the value propositions of 21st Century Healthcare communication by attending our upcoming Webinar Healthcare Social Media: Perspectives in Practice. Learn more and sign up here.

What Is Social Media? Not What You Think!

A few weeks ago I attended the Digital Pharma West Conference in San Francisco where I was on a panel discussing the role of emerging technologies in the life sciences. Although I’m a big believer in repurposing technologies – especially social software – for business uses, I always express caution about simply jumping into them and punting without establishing an understanding of their basic properties.

Social Media is not what most evangelists think or say it is. Technology reveals things: things about how the world works, things about how we work; things about how we provide healthcare; even things about how technologies work and inter-relate and evolve.

And from a business perspective, social media is revealing things about how enterprises work – or, more commonly, how they don’t work.

Allow me to explain.


Most definitions of so-called social media focus on the marketing, communications, public relations enframming of them.

But I would argue that there a non-social aspects and ramifications of these media which can have social value. So, here’s an attempt to place social media in a broader perspective and why it’s important to do so.

I realize what I have to say here may seem esoteric and overly philosophical. However, too often I see organizations get ahead of themselves without fully understanding how things fit together in order to be oriented. A business – whatever business – without orientation is headed to bankruptcy.


Social Media is the meeting place between people and technology. It enables new kinds of connectivity and relationships between people, from intimate to ambient. But it’s more than just social: social media connects machines, objects and data in ways we’ve never seen before.

Social Media in fact is has three essential attributes:

  1. Social
  2. Technological
  3. Ideological

Social On one hand Social Media is neither social nor media. People are social; but what is referred to as social media are in fact software. Traditional media were hardware – print, radio, TV were non-programmable, stable and predictable media. Software are pliant, unstable and unpredictable. Unlike traditional media, small tweaks in software can produce major repercussions in their function and social dynamics. And it’s this pliancy of the software which enables novel ways for people to connect and share and network. In other words: there certainly are social aspects to these technologies.

Technological Social Media – which depend on software – certainly do enable social connections. But it is also a technological connector. Underlying social media are software which offer pliant repurposing and evolving and revealing of new connections and networks – and the new worlds born out of them.

Ideological Furthermore, social media is Ideological. It’s important to understand the historical relationship between technology and ideology. New technological conditions generate shifts in power through which new ideologies emerge. The current debates about Privacy and Intellectual Property are just two examples of the kinds of new ideologies that are emerging. When Marketers ask How can we integrate social media into our strategy?, they are seeking an Ideology.


Movable type brought forth new ways of knowledge acquisition and distribution, undermining established religions, governments, laws and political structures: all of which bore the strain of challenging ideologies made possible by the technologies of reading and writing.

Even the human brain was rewired: the acoustic parts of the brain slowly gave way to the visual; the mythological way of thinking was replaced by a literal one. The linear, rigid, procedural mentality brought forth a new kind of civilization ultimately leading away from Feudalism to Capitalism and mass production, which in turn gave rise to Marxist and other ideologies.

While the ramifying consequences of moveable type transpired over centuries – half of a Millenia – the pace of today’s emerging media is creating shifts in years, months and weeks.

The technological conditions of the 20th Century limited messaging to unilateral mass communications and represented the culmination of the technological advances originating from the Literal Mind which moveable type gave rise to. The technological conditions of the 21st Century create multilateral and customizable communications at both the mass and micro level.

Therefore: Social media is social, technological and ideological. This combination forms the powder keg of early 21st Century cultural, technological, ideological, economic, commercial and political disruption.


Twitter, for instance, enables connections among two or more people for conversation, sharing and connecting. That’s the social feature of Twitter.

But Twitter as platform (and by Twitter I’m referring to the generic premise, not necessarily Twitter, Inc.‘s service) includes a broader and more fundamental utility opening a new design space in which further technological evolution can take place.

From insulin pumps following the tweets of continuous glucose readings, to weapons following the tweets of command units, Twitter will change the way we, computers and machines get things done. Furthermore it will change why we do what we do because it affords new systems to grow on top of the platform, offering new views of what’s possible with the technologies.

Twitter’s simplicity is its complexity. So in Life Sciences, not only is marketing being affected but also design and research and clinical collaboration and production of solutions to problems which can now be discovered and tracked far more powerfully than ever before.

A purpose of marketing is to connect two points: Connect a point of suffering with a point of care. Today’s technologies offer newly evolving challenges and opportunities of accomplishing that task.


And this brings us to the discussion about adoption and integration of social media. In my view, too much of the focus in current discussions is lopsided from a strategic perspective.

I believe that the Marketer’s perspective is too myopic to handle the full ramifications of these technologies – and yet, it’s the one that is the loudest (and most confused I might add). 🙂

Rather, it’s the Investor’s perspective that is critical and far more capable of successfully understanding and implementing the changes demanded of our times.

Let me explain.

Every dollar you see on the financial statements of an enterprise is ultimately the result of social transactions: revenues are the result of social transactions with customers; expenses are the result of social transactions with vendors; capitalization is the result of social relations with investors.

Revenues are only part of an entire enterprise’s well-being. Expenses are part of the investing and operating necessities of any going-concern. Labor, for instance, represents the potential of employees to produce, create and operate.

Internal uses of the right kinds of social media, therefore, can be just a financially valuable as externally-facing uses. And therein lies the importance of bringing social media deep into an organization.

In fact, I would argue that those businesses which adopt social media internally first may be in a better position as they build their online presences and voice. Actually – it’s those businesses which question their assumptions, re-examine how they get things done and re-design processes which will extract the most value from emerging media.

All too often, the Marketer’s perspective is the largest focus when it comes to social media integration. But it’s the Investor’s perspective that provides the largest view of what’s possible.


Social Media is simple from the outside but complex on the inside. In a word, Social Media is a mess.

…Unless, of course, you understand that before Strategy comes Vision. Some people see that and some don’t.

The right question isn’t How do we integrate these technologies into our strategy?

A smarter question is: Do these technologies call into question our strategy?

Ah – now there’s a question.

Ask and you shall receive.



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