Social Media, Thin Skins and Minions

Try saying the title of the post three times fast and you’ll see just part of the problem.

Social media used to be about the word “social,” as in interactions between human beings that, for the most part are civil – and made us all better for having been a part of them.  At some point, I think this has changed in many ways.  With the relative anonymity of email, a blog post, Twitter or Facebook, it’s now a whole lot easier to criticize someone.  I often wonder if my own idea of the offline equivalent of social media, a circle of people at a party, would dissolve into name calling over a topic or a person who is not present.  I doubt it because the face-to-face component of “social” means that a certain level of decorum is established and maintained.  But what is increasingly being blurred is genuine criticism based upon solid opinions and some pretty thin skin that misinterprets it as an attack.  And the odd involvement of third parties.

For some reason, perhaps due to the relative anonymity of the interwebs, people have begun not only to take personally what they perceive to be comments about themselves too seriously, but more bizarre, implied or overt criticism of other people. This is where it gets a little weird.

This week, there was a very public disagreement between Gini Dietrich of SpinSucks (among many other pursuits) and Rick Calvert of BlogWorld.  The dispute did not even involve each other, but Chris Brogan of social media fame.  If you are in social media, you know who Chris Brogan is.  ‘Nuff said.

The past week, Chris Brogan was selling a Webinar for $47 about the inner workings of Google+.   We still have some vestiges of capitalism in this country and Chris has every right to make an offering and see if people bite and fork over $47.  But  Gini offered a point of view that Google+ is in its infancy, still not even released to the public yet, so no one could possibly claim to be an expert, including Chris Brogan.  She wrote in her post, Beware the Google Experts:

…But there are still people out there claiming to have all the secrets because they claim to have introduced Twitter to the business world so surely they understand how Google+ is going to affect your daily life. Add to that, they’ve spent 250 hours inside the tool, learning and using.

If that’s the case, I want their jobs because that means they’ve spent 11 hours, every day, for the past three weeks using Google+.

Sure, it’s my job to stay ahead of the trends and to understand them so that you can short cut your education. But it’s been 24 days.

Not everyone agreed.  In fact, Rick Calvert of BlogWorld (respectfully) disagreed with Gini’s point and asked her to publicly apologize to Chris.  Gini refused to and a debate ensued. His comments in the BlogWorld post (ironically, written by a third party) included the following:

Trust me Chris knows more about Google + and how it works today than just about anyone in the world. And yes I would bet other than taking care of his family it is all he has been doing since the day he got in beta.

“What she should not have done was use a good mans [sic] name to drive traffic to her post and associate his name with said snake oil salesmen. I’m sorry Delores but I don’t see how impugning Chris’ integrity is defensible…Gini consistently has, intentionally or not, besmirched Chris’ reputation and ethics. I still fail to see how that is defensible.

“I don’t see anyone who agrees with your opinion saying you did otherwise. You should apologize publicly. That’s my opinion.

So Gini said (and I am paraphrasing) that it was way too early to declare one’s self as a Google+ expert, and to do so was questionable.  Rick countered with the fact that he thought that Gini was singling out Chris as a charlatan or snake oil salesman – and had in the past as well.

The BWE post does not number comments, but there are lot and you should read them.  I did, and I even commented, to which Rick replied.

My point about all of this is that the “kerfuffle” (borrowing a word from Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson) a debate over a third person. So we are criticizing the criticizers and then an “amen chorus” follows in a stream comments?  It’s like a wave of third party regurgitation washing up on the shores of social media island.

Bob LeDrew also weighed in in his own blog post this week:

What concerns me is that there seems to be a feeling that there are people whose actions are beyond criticism in the social media sphere. Criticism not as in someone is gauche, has bad breath, or is stupid. Criticism as in “this is an inappropriate venture”; “you’re wrong”; “The facts don’t bear out your argument”; or “you’re contradicting what you said last week. Which is it?”

I agree with Bob.  There is snarkiness hidden behind a blog post and there is legitimate questioning – and then there is “slander” – a word that Rick used.  They are all different. It’s a fine line that is increasingly being interpreted as open warfare I think that Gini made some legitimate points and that Rick is friends with Chris and felt the need to defend him.  Again, the discourse was, for the most part, civil but I can’t help but wonder what started such a debate about a third party.  I mean, Chris is a big boy and take quite ably take care of himself.

I have felt the wrath of others myself. Oh, boy, have I:

Yeah, I got snarky in March 2009 (post is entitled “Shut Up, Mr. Scoble” when the Scobelizer made comments about the public relations industry – that in which I have worked for more than 15 years, that include the following:

  • “PR is dead.  The way that PR is practiced is just..lame.”
  • “Most of PR has ’sucked.’  If you think it’s not, just be a blogger for a little while. And watched the thousands of stupid-ass pitches flow through your screen.”
  • “Anybody who pitches you on email is stupid.  The chance that I am going to listen to anyone who pitches me email on frikkin’ email is one percent.”
  • [Someone] showed me a block of wood…that was better than the stupid-ass pitches I get in email.”
  • People who stand up for the PR industry, they just don’t get it.”

I took offense to this – big time – and my major point was the following:

If you become an A-Lister and make a good living (while many of very good public relations people in this country are being laid off, by the way) it is beyond self-absorption to complain about “stupid-ass pitches” that you receive because of the very notoriety that you sought, built and benefit from.  You even mentioned that you get pitches from people who are panicked that their companies are going to go out of business – and call them “lame.”

I’m not enough of a A-Lister (hell, I am probably not a C-Lister) so Mr. Scoble never responded.  But again, like the situation that I described above, a third person took up the cause for Scoble, John Aravosis in his own post, “Robert Scoble is Right“.  Without naming me – I am the “one public relations ‘expert'” (but linking to my blog post – thanks for all of the click-throughs, John):

It was suggested by one public relations ‘”expert,” the one who posted the shirtless picture of Scoble, that Scoble deserved the spam he got because he’s a successful blogger [editors note: I was not the one who took off my shirt and had pictures taken.  He did].

Regardless of whether Scoble, I, or anyone else wanted “the notoriety,” I’m not sure how that excuses a PR expert, who is presumably paid a good deal of money to promote their boss or client, from sending a bad pitch to the wrong guy.

PR Expert: I emailed Scoble and Aravosis the latest pitch about the new floor wax our client is selling.

Client: You asked a tech blogger and a political blogger to write about our floor wax? How does it help us get the message out there about our new product by sending it to people who we know, in advance, don’t even write about products like ours?

PR Expert: They’re A-listers and they wanted the notoriety – they deserve whatever they get!

That’ll be $50,000 up front, and $20,000 a month in retainer.

I am not going to revisit Aravosis’ comments – that I still disagree with – but again, this debate took place over a third person. Has social media devolved into a spitball match with a degree of anonymity in which we are not allowed to lodge what we believe to be honest and insightful criticisms of others without third parties taking us to task, defending their buddies?

I sure hope not, because then through legitimate discourse and criticism, the criticism becomes slander, the defensible becomes the indefensible and the “social” goes out of “social media.”

I sure as hell hope not.




  1. How DARE you steal the word “kerfuffle.” Some guy I know somewhere said if you use the word kerfuffle you’re doing it wrong. You are a humongous snot stain on the shirtsleeve of humanity.

  2. Mark,

    I agree with what you’re saying here. I still think that Gini’s larger point got lost storm… Her clients, my clients and most businesses don’t need to rush into Google+. That is good advice. It is not ready for them. Even Google doesn’t seem to be sure what the brand platform is going to be.

    As we’ve seen this week, businesses are being booted until the brand platform is ready. We need to help our clients move into rationally and not waste time and effort – or money – just because it is bright and shiny.

  3. Mark Story Says: July 22, 2011 at 6:44 am

    And you are a (blank) whipped poor excuse for a human being. You may as well come out of the closet as a Yankee fan.

    And for those of you who don’t know this, WE ARE FREAKING KIDDING AROUND.

  4. Amen, Mark.

    I think you’ll find this useful:

  5. Devin Mathias Says: July 22, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Rick – I can’t believe you said nice things about Mark. Wanna fight?

    Nice job Mark…

  6. well.. I guess I’m kinda thinking this is all really just a kind of systemic effect of the collision of culture, technology, and where the humans are at these days.

  7. mel webster Says: July 22, 2011 at 10:16 am

    You nailed it. So tired of all of the thin skinned, social “gurus” selling common sense. Grow a thicker skin, everyone. This is business, not a high school popularity contest.

  8. I appreciate the summary as I’ve been reticent to even explore this further.

    All I can manage for a response is this: GOOD HEAVENS!!! Can’t we all just focus on doing good work? On building something? Maybe creating jobs in this crap economy? I mean, the sheer amount of emotional and physical energy the social grid spends debating this crap is just ridiculous. You could light a city with it. I seriously wonder how some of the pundits are paying their mortgages at times.

    Gini has a right to her opinion and made some salient points. Others have a right to weigh in and comment. What’s the big deal? I wouldn’t think of demanding an apology on behalf of another person – if that is indeed what transpired. Gini and Rick – Gini and Chris are adults who can debate / discuss things respectfully to each other without the help of a peanut gallery.

    I personally see no need to pile on further, so I’m going back to the clients who pay for my time… focused on doing good work that creates success for them, income and happiness for me. And when my day is done, I will take care of the things and people that matter most in my life and avoid vacuous drama. Good grief.

  9. This has certainly been a long week, but my mom said something to me a couple of days ago. She said, “In the big scheme of things, does it really matter what people are saying about you? Does it matter that they’re putting words in your mouth? Sure, it might hurt your feelings, but are you going to lose your family or any business because of it?”

    Then she reminded me that if I survived high school, with the girls who pushed me, from behind, when I walked in front of them, or tripped me when I walked past, I can get through anything. This is a bit like high school.

    Like Leigh, I prefer to just do good work, warn my clients when appropriate, and go home to my family and a good glass of wine at the end of the day.

  10. Mark, I was traveling this week so completely missed out on the entire kerfuffle. It was only a short while ago, after catching up on work and then going through my Reader (shock and awe, I actually catch up on work BEFORE blogging/commenting), that I saw your post, which led me to Gini’s (who’s also in my Reader and a good friend, but you come up in my Reader before her, whatever)… and then saw all this.

    All I can say is… well, never mind what I can/can’t say. But your point about the third person really struck home, since that’s something I’ve been noticing as well, but haven’t been able to articulate as well as you did.

    And to respond to Mel: I’ve heard that SM isn’t supposed to be a popularity contest. But it SO is. Is business a popularity contest? Perhaps not, but that’s a whole other post, or maybe series of it. But SM… rejoice all ye who miss high school, because here it is again!

  11. Mark Story Says: July 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Hey Gini,

    I bet it’s been an interesting and tiresome week. Nothing like being at the center of the storm.

    Now go have that class of wine.


  12. Mark Story Says: July 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm


    Thanks so much for reading and posting. As usual, we have the mind meld going on.

    Miss talking with you.


  13. Mark Story Says: July 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm


    I am with you 100%. I got mad when John A called me out, but then got over it pretty quickly when I realized all the traffic that he had driven to my site?


    Thanks for reading and commenting.


  14. Mark Story Says: July 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    And Devin,

    Rick did says nice things about me, but he has been talking trash about you all week.

    Gee, I sure hope I don’t hit the submit

  15. Great post, Mark. I agree with you but I also believe, sadly, that what you describe is simply part of the online landscape now, something to deal with.

    Lovely use of ‘kerfuffle’ btw 🙂

  16. […] Social media, thin skins and minions, by Mark […]

  17. Mr. Locker Says: August 12, 2011 at 6:53 am


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