Social Media, True Believers, and the Breaking Point

by Allen Voivod

No Exit, With Chris Brogan (photo by Chip Griffin, CC BY 2.0)

Chris Brogan says, “No exit for you!” (pic by Chip Griffin on Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

So, the estimable Chris Brogan recently wrote a post about the state of social media these days (spoiler: not good). And it has nothing and everything to do with this post.

We’ve consulted for, and sometimes posted on behalf of, clients of all stripes for their social media channels over the years. That list currently includes, among others:

Two state government agencies

A national animal welfare non-profit organization

A university recently ranked as the most innovative education institution in the world

Multiple brands within the portfolio of a Fortune 500 entertainment company

I’d like to think we’re doing better with what we manage, and what we teach, than what Chris is seeing out in the wild with other agencies. In fact, his post was a good gut check, to make sure we haven’t lapsed into any bad habits. There’s always room for improvement, right?

And yet…and yet…

Sharing Your Doubts

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my own social media channels these days, because I’m not satisfied with it. And the source of it seems to be the conundrum between “belief” and “proof.”

So much of what we’re seeing in the social media realm is all about metrics, metrics, metrics. What can you measure? What can you see, taste, touch? What can you PROVE? What numbers can you show me to make me BELIEVE in this whole social media scene? Because if you can’t demonstrate the ROI, you may as well go back to your cat pictures and leave me out of it. So say the non-believers, the people to whom you have to justify your time and investment in social media. Most often heard behind the Corporate Curtain.

Which Comes First, Belief or Proof?

When we left corporate America, left Los Angeles, and settled ourselves two hours north of Boston, almost every one we knew thought we were crazy. How could we make a living in the middle of rural New Hampshire? (It’s not that rural, really. Though we occasionally get mail addressed to “Rural Route 12″ instead of our actual home address.)

We believed in what we were doing, and thus brought the proof into reality. All the naysayers had flipped that equation. They needed proof before they could believe. And we gave them the proof, with a business now in its 10th year, having its best year yet, so now they believe it.

You could say it’s like a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. For some people, belief comes first, and for some, proof does.

Except that it’s a lie. Receiving proof before you have belief doesn’t create belief, it creates acceptance. Belief is active, working, reinforcing. Acceptance is passive, surrendering, and limiting. Belief stirs up passion! Acceptance? Not so much.

And this is one reason why “social media” is at the breaking point for many adult business types.

Stan Lee, the man who forged a generation of true believers

Stan Lee, the man who forged a generation of true believers (pic by patrick409 on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

We Need More Believers

Believing doesn’t erase the possibility of failure. It doesn’t erase the trial and error, the learning from mistakes, the iterative improvement. What it does is get you through the barriers that stop the other 99% of people who accept what “is,” or rather, what appears to be “proof” of their worldview. The businesses and agencies failing on social are failing because they don’t believe. In the product, in the channel, in the consumer, in the message, in the vision. I think this is at the root of what Chris is seeing in the social media space, and what he finds depressing.

The good news is, he, and we, and all of us, can tell ourselves a different story. We can believe that there are still people doing remarkable things with their lives and businesses, and doing the best they can to help more and more people belong in the space of their beliefs. And by believing, bring the proof into reality.

“Face front, true believer!” as Stan Lee used to say. Let the change begin. Let it begin with us.

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