One of the recurring themes from this week’s EMC World conference was the extent to which corporations (including EMC) are incorporating elements of social media. I heard similar points from all sides: Independents were concerned that big companies are hiring all the good bloggers. Corporations were trumpeting the success of their social media efforts. Through it all, everyone noted the impact of social media on the modern corporate world. But this begs a question: Are corporations co-opting social media and ruining the authenticity of it?
Case Study: Social Media at EMC World
Watch live video from The Cube LIVE from EMC World 2010 on Justin.tv
Watch this social media panel from the show, for example. John Troyer and Len Devanna, two of the more genuinely interesting and socially-credible people I know, spend much of the discussion talking about the benefits of social media to their companies (VMware and EMC, respectively). It’s a bit disturbing, really, to hear just how successful these companies are at influencing opinion, fostering loyalty, and driving sales by leveraging social media. These guys are not “salesy”, yet their companies are benefiting in dozens of ways from their efforts.
Social media was everywhere at EMC World. Product announcements and keynotes were covered and discussed live on Twitter, including by yours truly. The event also generated dozens of blog posts, hours of video, and even a tie-in promotion leveraging Foursquare! Again, I was involved in this frenzy, posting a video interview and blog entries on Iomega, STEC, EMC, and the VPLEX. None of this would have happened if EMC hadn’t consciously reached out and included social media in their event planning.
Considering all this, it is surprising that social media was probably not a major element of the overall EMC World budget. I am certain that the blogger lounge (complete with a barista) cost tens of thousands of dollars, yet this is insignificant compared to the show’s other costs – hiring Counting Crows, renting the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (the largest and most expensive space in New England), and setting up a huge show floor, complete with a dozen motor coaches. Indeed, most of the attendees (including the bloggers) even paid an entry fee and travel costs to attend the show. As I point out in the video, EMC’s budget for this one event could pay for all social media efforts the company will make for the next hundred years!
The Next Wave
Although social media is making a huge impact on companies like EMC (and they are investing huge amounts of time and money to make this happen), it may be surprising to learn that I’m not worried about their impact. Social media can’t be taken over by corporations any more than the Internet itself can. Although they will certainly try to bend public opinion to their way of seeing things, the Internet (thankfully) remains too fluid to contain.
Let’s say (and this isn’t far from the truth, to hear some tell it) EMC, VMware, and Cisco hired every independent enterprise storage, virtualization, and network blogger, pundit, and gadfly, using social media as the ultimate recruiting pool. Each of these folks would now have to spend some or all of their time focusing on the technologies and experiences that relate to their day jobs. This opens opportunities for others to step up and fill the niches they once claimed – nature abhors a vacuum, after all.
We are already seeing this happen. Although four Tech Field Day and Gestalt IT community members have now joined related companies (Scott, Ed, Simon, and Rich), they remain credible contributors to the enterprise IT community. We still have plenty of unaffiliated folks as well, with new ones added all the time. Take a look at the contributions of people like Ilja Coolen, Craig Stewart, Matt Davis, Edward Aractingi, Dan Hughes, and so many others. Each gets far less readership and attention than he deserves, and each will undoubtedly step up and claim a spot in the IT community. Social media is designed to allow people to say what they have and democratic enough to bring them attention.
“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again*.”