Selling out Social Media. The corporate invasion of social spaces and why the people fight back.

The term ‘Social Media’ is becoming pervasive in many conversations about learning and development, but it’s not entirely clear that there is agreement about what it is, or whether it’s available to be sold.

In tune with the theme, today’s article is inspired by a couple of recent Twitter posts. Exasperated marketer @mariethetwit posted ‘S.O.C.I.A.L.I.S.H.A.R.D.g.e.t.u.s.e.d.t.o.i.t’, doubtless in response to client belief that ‘Social’ is something you ‘buy’, not something you ‘do’ (

Understandably, people and organisations see that everything is ‘social’, and they want part of the action. The types of synergy and energy that are evident in well run networks are things that make their mouths water. The potential for collaborative discussion and magnetic interaction is vast, but it’s not fully understood or recognised why these interactions are so dynamic. The notion of ‘Formal’ and ‘Informal’ spaces is something we’ve looked at before, in particular, the questions of who ‘owns’ them and how people behave within them ( In reality, people don’t want to buy ‘social media’, they want to buy the engagement that it generates or supports, and this is a hard thing to build and not necessarily something that you can sell.

Almost inevitably, the early days of collaborative network building and social euphoria were followed by the phase we are in now, with the increasingly cynical and commercial exploitation beginning. I now routinely get offers of ‘buying’ followers, or access to follower lists. On Facebook and LinkedIn, i get more requests that are driven by business development rather than friendship or collaboration. At first, this is just a nuisance, but in time it’s likely to stifle the very thing that it seeks to promote.

Social media is just that, it’s social. Corporate media would be different. It’s about the difference between Formal and Informal spaces, and how we choose to behave in each of them. Understanding what the expectations are are key. It’s like going to a dinner party at a friends house and having them try to sell you tupperware. If you knew it was a tupperware party, you’d have gone prepared, but if not, you’d feel a bit put out. Hijacking social spaces for commercial gain is not something that people tolerate lightly.

It might be that there needs to be further differentiation and understanding within the marketplace of what is meant by terms such as Social Media, and Communities of Practice. Whilst discussion and understanding is starting to be built within the academic and networked communities, it’s not something that is widely shared at the moment. (see Social Learning vs Communities of Practice [] [via

In the meantime, @mariethetwit had it right. Social Media is hard, at every level. It’s hard to build communities, it’s hard to keep them happy, it’s hard to drive up engagement and it’s certainly hard to see how it works in either a commercial or learning context. Funnily enough, i’m sure it does, but the details are far from clear.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Commercialisation, Engagement, Formal Spaces, Informal Spaces, Social Media, Social Networking, Twitter and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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