This has been a-mullin’ and a-musin’ around in what some laughably call my brain for a little while now.
My friend and colleague-in-arms Trevor Cook wrote an op-ed piece for the ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ site about the seeming death of social media in Australia. Robert X. Cringely argued that Social Media is just CB Radio by another name.
Trevor argues that the Australian blogosphere, or the larger ‘Social Media’ environment in Australia, is not so much dying for a lack of trying but that it is exhausted from burning too many candles at both ends and starving to death from a lack of income.
As a meme this is nothing new — we’ve been around this particular park before. But Trevor makes some compelling points in his piece:
"In those heady days, American online gurus Shel Israel and Robert Scoble rallied the believers with "Naked Conversations", a dewy-eyed book-length version of the geek vision-splendid. But last week, Israel blogged a more sobering update:
"There seems to be a growing sense that social media just ain’t what it used to be that it too, is starting to emerge as yet another wasteland for product pushers and shameless self promoters."
"As social networks get bigger they lose their cosy clubbiness and can feel more like a business networking function where ‘product pushers’ keep crashing your conversations or snubbing you in favour of more popular attendees."
Trevor goes on to quote arguably Australia’s most successful blogger, Darren Rowse:
"…when I first started blogging (it’ll be six years ago later in the year) there was a real community spirit among bloggers and the idea of bloggers helping bloggers was something most people seemed to embrace.
The blogosphere is a different place now in many ways. For starters there are a lot more blogs. There is almost a bigger focus upon blogging as a business tool and the idea of making money online in general."
But whilst I agree with Darren and Trevor that the communitarian spirit of blogging is potentially slipping away due to a lack of time available to focus on it, I think Darren is also being gently ambidextrous; after all, B5media (the blogging network he helped form) was created entirely to make money ("blogging for benjamins" as my main man Jenkins so eruditely puts it), and Darren has no shortage of adverts on his site (nor do I, either — we both need to eat).
And let us not forget that my own research is based on the premise that it is the solo entrepreneurs who define any new communication space and find ways of making money out of it.
But back to the issue of Aussie Social Media’s death…
Time was when I had plenty of time to read my feeds of a morning and keep up a daily conversation with Trevor via our blogs. These days I’m so busy I barely have time to read my favourite authors (and he is one) more than once or twice a week. I haven’t listened to a single podcast in well over three months.
Josh Hallett wrote about the lack of time almost exactly a year ago:
"I used to blog quite a bit in what could loosely be termed the ‘thought leadership’ vein….that was commentary on this evolving world of social media. It was great for business development, but then I ended up getting busy, too busy to blog "
One of his commenters agreed:
"Completely empathize with you. I had dinner tonight with an old blogging friend and we talked about how tired we are of "blogs" being this term of wonderment. We can hardly find time to read our favorite blogs, let alone update ours anymore, because we are scanning facebook, checking our Twitter and working like crazy. We reminisced about the old days of Diaryland. Those were the first blogs, where we had our first glimpse at what life was like for someone else just like us, but across the country or around the world. It was so excited to read the daily life of someone in Canada or Sweden! Now, it’s all old hat…Now, it’s our work!"
I find this dilemma in my own professional/academic life.
I am taking time out to re-skill in what I believe will be an important development or ‘next stage’ of the internet: the 3d virtual web. I am supposed to be blogging intensely about my research as part of my research (I know that’s a tautology, but I’m using a method that I have named autoethnetnography).
But to keep the biggest wolves from the door I still have to earn some money, and consulting work is the most lucrative and where I derive the most self-actualising ‘kicks’. However, to maintain a ‘profile’ within the Australian social media space I need to continue posting on this blog, otherwise my readership goes down and with it my Technorati authority.
Okay, we shall leave aside all discussions on which metric is ‘best’ for the moment. Let us assume that ‘less blogging = less exposure’ amongst conference organisers and seminar/workshop designers.
As an example of this, there will shortly be a major Marketing Conference here in Adelaide where some of the sessions are on areas that I believe I have much to contribute (perhaps more than the actual speaker). But I was not even on the radar of the organisers, despite thinking (perhaps delusionally*) that I sit in the Marcomms space.
Conversely, a roadshow conference for senior HR managers and directors approached me to talk about social media — I never would have thought I’d be on the radar of HR people! And judging by the one big burning question that delegates to my seminars and workshops always have, there’s seemingly no shortage of interest in the perennial question of how to get Social Media onto the rad
ar of CEOs and the ROI issue past the CFOs and bean counters.
Thus the paradox: to ensure that I can continue to research and study I need to earn occasional dollars, of which consulting in ‘Social Media’ is the most enjoyable, both for me and my audiences (judging by the feedback I receive).
But to earn those dollars I need to continue blogging, which takes time and effort (particularly time). If, as Trevor suggests, we are merely muttering in an echo chamber, then should I not bother anymore and instead devote my time to my studies?
Trevor, who like me is also conducting doctoral research, still finds time to think and write (but then again I still had plenty of time on my hands in my first year; it’s the second year of the program that really sucks your time up, according to colleagues further along the research track than I).
There is also the research that shows that blogging can help those afflicted with depression.
If I stopped blogging here except for the occasional post, would anyone miss me? Would I be forgotten? Allan Jenkins hasn’t posted anything in months, but does my desire to read him diminish over time? Certainly not. His is still the first of the feeds I check when I eventually *do* get to read my feeds.
I have noticed an increase in interest (albeit small) in Second Life again — I’m getting more emails from SME organisations wanting to know more about it and interesting requests to present about it.
I don’t know what the answer is; I don’t know if the answer will remain the same in twelve months’ time as it might be now. Trevor and I arguably set the agenda for PR practitioners and agencies in Australia and perhaps now is an apt time to hand the reins over to a new generation of PR-focused bloggers while we busy ourselves with pursuits of a slightly different nature. Your thoughts, Trev?
Note: this post, including the images, took over four hours to research, write and edit.
*The teenage child of a dear friend has just been diagnosed as schizophrenic, so I have been reading up on the condition. One of the effects is delusions — perhaps of grandeur, perhaps of paranoia. Maybe *I* am schizophrenic? And "No", I am most definitely NOT belittling the condition!