Social Media is like Dough

January 31, 2010 / Opinion, Social Media / 12 Comments

Last night, I attended an interesting session at Hackerspace Singapore with other PR people and bloggers to better understand each other and the social media landscape in Singapore.

Although no world-changing ideas came out of it, I think everyone learned something. For me, it’s that social media is like dough. It is what you make of it. You have the choice to mold it into anything you want with any ingredients you like. How successful you are depends on how much your audience appreciates the outcome – just like your reputation amongst your friends. In a way, social media is a virtual extension of your social network.

Social Media and Corporate Culture

As a PR person, I had a different takeaway. The PR people disagreed with each other on certain points, and I think that’s a good thing. It means there’s diversity in the field, but more importantly it supported one of my suspicions.

Now I’m no social media veteran or expert since I’ve only be actively doing into this stuff for a year. As a newbie, I did notice from various social media blogs, books and events that some social media practitioners have a tendency to share a set of guidelines on social media best practices like being more engaging, being more transparent or being more authentic, for example.

This past year, I’ve learned that social media for companies isn’t just about best practices and emulating what the successful early adopters are doing. It’s about tailoring social media to corporate culture and the brand’s personality. Generating buzz for a health campaign is very different from generating buzz for a service provider. And while some brands could use all the buzz they can find, others are naturally buzz-generating. It’s not possible to expect all brands to be more transparent or more open because these traits may not be part of the corporate personality. Or worse, it may be in direct conflict to the corporate personality. And just because a brand’s not open doesn’t mean their doing bad job in the social media space. Think Apple, for example.

Social media is simply another social sphere for companies and individuals to establish their reputation in – so complementing a company’s social media actions with its personality is probably more effective than blindly following a set of best practices.

The Rise and Fall of the Bloggers’ Voice

As a blogger, this growing trend of blog monetization concerns me. I’m not talking about the bloggers who balance their original content with paid content – especially when they are endorsing brands they care about. Getting paid for one’s passion should be celebrated.

I’m talking about bloggers who make it their sole goal to be paid for blogging, and pander to every brand willing to pay them out there. At that point, they are compromising their credibility and integrity for money. Let me put this in another way:

Is your credibility only worth $200?

Okay, granted $200 is a lot of money for certain people. Or perhaps money is more important to them than airy virtues like honesty, credibility and integrity. But for me, these abstract virtues are far more important.

Here’s why: I started out blogging before the word “blogging” was invented. I kept a journal on a Geocities site back in 1996, where every entry had to be painstakingly coded in HTML. Prior to the Internet, only large organizations, newspapers and authors good enough to be published had voices. The fact that the ordinary man could have a voice was revolutionary.

And now, to be paid by these same organizations to compromise our voice seems like we’re going one step backwards.

So this is how I shaped my dough. I started out blogging because I can – and I don’t think I’ve strayed far.

How have you molded your dough?

  • I’m with you. I started blogging because I wanted to blog (and I’d been keeping a pen/paper diary for five years) and because it was actually the “in thing” back then. However, eventually, I discovered I enjoyed blogging because it was a great way to meet people and a way to express myself and practice writing. It was easier for me to write on a computer than in the paper diary, so blogging just became my way to express creativity — and frustration if I was ever angry.

    While I would not mind being paid to blog, I don’t particularly want to make it a “job” to blog on my personal blog. Maybe for like a site, I would do it, but I’d rather blog on my own time and reason with my domain than being paid to do it.

  • Awesome summary of last night. I completely agree with the dough analogy! Thanks for coming and making the discussion so lively!

  • Well written. Well put. Well done. I’m very happy that you’ve gotten something out of this. And definitely many more. Opening up conversations between both sides of the coin is very important, even on the same sides views are very different. That’s the dynamism of Social Media. It’s huge. It’s dynamic. It’s vibrantly different in every aspect. Imaging looking at a multiple facet diamond, and watch the different colors shine with every different view you look at. That is Social Media.

    The Weekend will hopefully be successful with many more to come. I’ll make sure of it as long as you find value in it. The balance of the force will be restored. πŸ˜›

  • This great post makes me really, really pissed at myself for not being able to make it to for what sounds like a wonderful discussion on social media.

    I share your concerns over the increasing monetization of blogs and as a practitioner from the corporate side, I believe it is high time for some rationalization this year for the blogosphere.

  • True, its almost like Social Media creates an extended persona for companies. Nowadays the competitive bar is being raised by companies embracing web 2.0, so everyone jumps into the social media space with varying degrees of success.

    I’m very new to Social Media so this has been a great read for me.

  • Yea, totally agree with you. Just as Justin said, great way to summarise the event.

  • Ivy

    @Tara: I think most of us who started blogging in that same era have similar feelings towards blog monetization. It’s just something we can’t see ourselves doing – at least not now.

    @Supriya: Thank you for coming and sharing your thoughts too. It was a great opportunity to learn how other tech companies engage influencers.

    @Justin Lee: Thanks for coming up with the great idea of The Weekend.And of course, thanks for being an awesome moderator. You did a great job managing so many people. Here’s to many more sessions!

    @Daniel: I was wondering where you were! The PR side was severely underrepresented this time so the pressure was on Gina, Supriya, Sumin, Vic and me. Please do join us for the next round. Would like to hear what you think since you’ve been doing this for a much longer time.

    @Steve Law: Glad you got something out of this! I try very hard to write entries of value for my readers. Honestly speaking, I’m quite new to social media myself (which is why I rarely write or speak about it). If you do stop by Singapore sometime, do join us. It’s interesting to hear what everyone thinks about it. πŸ™‚

    @Daniel T: Thanks for coming out last night! It was inspiring to hear about the passion and effort you guys put into Tech65. By the way, I just had a very random idea on monetizing it. Will tell you next time I meet you. Remind me! πŸ˜›

  • Fantastic summary of the event. I fully agree with what Justin wrote, ‘Opening up conversations between both sides of the coin is very important, even on the same sides views are very different’.

    Well, thank you for sharing. I learnt alot from a PR’s point of view.

    You can read my post on this meeting at

  • Hackerspace certainly sound like a great place to be if you want to know more about social media. Well, for me, social media is just another channel where you can express your ideas, opinions and gather feedback.

    For businesses who have little budget to throw away into campaigns, social media is a good platform for them to reach out and build trust with their target audience. if there is one thing businesses need to do well, it is to identify the content their audience want and make it easy for them to access it and share those information. Anything beyond that are just bells and whistles…..

  • I used to type up my blog in html too. Also on geocities. Gone now though. Darn you yahoo. I’ve never used my blog to make money. People have asked me to advertise on my blog, obviously they haven’t seen the kind of traffic my blog gets (none), but I blog for me and my friends. I get annoyed by advertising on blogs, so I try to keep that stuff away from my visitors. I wouldn’t make much anyways.

    My company really needs to get into the social networking thing. They’re on facebook, but they really seem very disconnected. They really need to boost their image because all I ever hear is how much they suck. They’ve told us to go forth and share how wonderful our network is and they’ve certainly done enough advertising lately, but it hasn’t really helped them any. Now they’re just that crappy company that advertises a lot :-/

  • Ivy

    @Roderick: I don’t practice social media for startups but I would think they have a much easier time with social media because of their size. They’re more malleable since they’re smaller and do not have long histories and red tape. I would think social media for SMEs would not be too different from establishing a personal brand in the social arena. Of course, I would think they have some challenges too – like how to emerge from the noise and how to translate engagement into sales.

    I do social media for enterprise. Okay, to be precise just one. And the challenges are far more daunting because it requires a tremendous amount of change management. It’s not a simple matter of persuading the CEO to start tweeting or blogging. It’s about developing a sound social media strategy to cater for different departments with different interests to enhance the company’s image and engage the customers with meaningful dialogue in a space where companies no longer have full control. It’s not just about creating buzz and sales anymore. It’s about changing perceptions. It’s balancing what customers want and what the company can do. Come to think of it, it’s about a whole lot more.

    So this is why I find things like “build trust” or “be more transparent” a little shallow. These are things all of us should be aware of because social media is just a virtual extension of our social world. We all want to be trusted and want to be liked – no matter which space we’re on. And companies should not be different from individuals in that sense because we tend to buy things from people we like. So the struggle was never in seeking the best practices for social media; it’s in doing it.

  • That’s a really interesting thought! I’d never thought of social media like that before! Kind of true, though!