An Open Letter to the Social Business Industry

Dear colleagues,

This is a really pivotal time for us. If we’re ever to hope that social will find its way to the respected core of business and realize the potential that we know it has, we have to get clear on something very, very important.

We are lacking temperance. We are lacking balance. We are lacking perspective.

In the quest for laying claim to a purpose and mission in our work, we are blindly taking up arms in favor of one cause and against another. We are fighting ourselves in a desperate land grab to be seen, known, and heard as the person that “gets it”, and be sure that we can count ourselves among the legitimate practitioners, and not the clueless, the naive, the charlatans.

On one hand, we have those whose mission statements are rooted in “passion”, in “people”, in “conversations” and the intrinsic value of open communication and connection. They eschew the notion that we should attach numbers, dollars, or hard measurement to things that cannot and should not be quantified, like the value of a human relationship. And they are quick to label those that ask for justification as rigid, out of touch, or those that simply “don’t get it”.

On the other, we have those whose battle cry is for “accountability”, for “metrics”, for the elusive “Return on Investment” of social media. For them, there *is* no value in anything that cannot be captured, quantified, or reported upon. Discussions of human connections, of affinity, of intangibles are considered to be lacking substance, or naive, or of negligible value when viewing social media’s role in a business context. And they are quick to dismiss theoretical or emotional discussions as “fluff”.

Our collective credibility depends on our ability to find and value middle ground.

We can have accountability and intangible value. We can feel good about doing something and prove that it has concrete worth. We can be excited about what we do and still apply discipline to make it operational and scalable. We can value passion at the same time that we value data.

The worst damage we’re doing to ourselves is that we are dividing our own. We’re preaching collaboration and openness in business but we’re demonstrating that poorly in and among ourselves. As a result, we’re practically demanding that the businesses and people we work with choose a side rather than committing to simply exploring all possible paths and choosing the one that’s most fitting for them. When viewed from a distance, that infighting and labeling, that relentless focus on what the other guy is doing or not doing and how or why we’re better, are the obvious signs of an immature industry.

We can do better.

We can have differing ideas, differing approaches, differing understanding and knowledge, even. But we cannot keep drawing such black and white distinctions between what constitutes right and wrong when the crux of our mission lies in progressive and contextual change, not in absolutes.

There are outstanding professionals in every aspect of this emerging industry, from those that embody the passionate and emotional connectivity to those that can teach us the disciplines of accountability and business practices. The two need not be mutually exclusive.

The future acceptance and eventual adoption of social into the core of business – and the legitimate respect for the people that are leading that evolution – depend on our ability to find and exercise that balance.