“It’s called integrity, personality, you know. You’ve got something to say, you just stand up for your ground and say what you think. And that’s that.”

I work a lot with PR agencies, on big, corporate accounts. Together we go through sophisticated strategies, editorial calendars, brainstorming, measurement and so on, and slowly we help these great leviathans become more agile and approachable through communications.

But sometimes I see something and it’s so different from my day-to-day work that it reminds me what great communication is about. It’s about being human.

So today, I received a circular from a local restaurant I visited a while back, called La Chouette. It’s a strange place, based in a tiny village in Bucks, run by a wildly eccentric Belgian called Frédéric. He does have some online information, not least a video that… well, just watch it below, and you’ll get a flavour of the place and, more importantly, the man. (You can skip the bit about the cooking, but make sure you watch the last part. It’s priceless.)

See what I mean? Take your Gordon Ramsays, your Jamie Olivers, your Hugh Fearnley-Zinc-Trumpet-Harrison-Baden-Baden-De-La-Plume-De-Ma-Tente-Whittingstalls, and, as Frédéric says, piss off. He’d eat them for dinner.

When we arrived we were the only people there. It was the kind of situation that could have been excruciatingly embarrassing (for an Englishman anyway, but we’re good at being embarrassed, it’s a national sp0rt). But no. Frédéric helped us choose the wine (he looked a little annoyed that we didn’t know whether to go for red or white), disappeared to rustle up the (delicious) food, then chatted to us – and not just chatted, he expounded, he fl0urished, he shouted and bellowed, laughed and cursed, and waved his arms around a lot.

We liked him, and signed up for his newsletter.

All of which brings me to the real point of this post. I’m looking at the newsletter now. Here are some choice extracts, complete with spelling and grammar hiccups. Imagine them spoken in an uncompromisingly Belgian accent with an undertow of belligerence:

  • “Do not forget Valentine day, this year it fall on Monday the 14 of February, so Gentlemen, DO NOT forget or you will end up in the dog house. It does happen to me every years, I know what I am talking about.”
  • “You should come with that special person for a Romantic Evening… candles, a little light jazz music and abuses from your host, Peeerfect indeed.”
  • “Blues evening, those are getting rarer, I think that I am just getting old.”
  • “Philippe will be back to tell us about another part of France. I have heard that a lot of woman are really found of Philippe, I don’t know why… He is French for Christ sake!”

So, as a professional communicator, spot the mistakes. Not just the spelling and grammar, but references to being abused, xenophobia, and age. Would you do this on behalf of your client?

Of course you wouldn’t. Imagine doing something like this for Cisco, or Shell, or pretty much any client you’d care to name. It’s also – get this – not even online. It’s a photocopied letter, delivered through snail mail. How quaint.

But do you want to go there? Do you think it might be fun to meet this guy? Does he come across as a bland non-entity, or as someone passionate about what he does?

In short, do you respond to him as a human being? I do. And while I don’t tend to ‘do’ valentines – by common consent with my partner – simply by sending me the newsletter he’s reminded me that I’d really like to go back there sometime, maybe on a nice spring day, jump in the Spitfire, rock around to Westlington Green, and be abused.

So look around. ‘Professional’ communications can become boring, and if you’re bored, it shows. Inspiration can be everywhere, and when you find it, it’s wonderfully refreshing.

I cannot improve on Frédéric’s final words in the video:

“It’s called integrity, personality, you know. You’ve got something to say, you just stand up for your ground and say what you think. And that’s that.”

If you don’t want gurus then don’t call them gurus!

A recent post by Mark Ragan reminded me of a post I’ve had swirling around in my brain recently. His post is pretty bang on the money – of course he’s right that, as a general principle, we shouldn’t use jargon. But who’s ‘we’? Who are ‘them’? What are I?

Well apparently I’m a guru. I never told people I was a guru. I don’t walk around wearing a loin cloth. I never held my arm in the air for 50 years until it atrophied. Nor have I sat on a windswept mountain and heard the sound of one hand clapping (actually I did once hear that, but it’s a long story).

So, when I was a web designer, pre-FrontPage and Dreamweaver or even basic HTML editing utilities, I was called an HTML guru. Then I became a designer, and was a design guru, apparently. Then I became a copywriter and I was an apostrophe guru (no, really). Then, when I got into social media, I became – you guessed it – a social media guru. I never called myself that. I was introduced as that. People would say, proudly, “And here is Brendan, our social media guru” as if touring the museum of curiosities. I would smile politely then return to picking nits out of my fur.

So Mark Ragan is right. We need fewer gurus. I agree. I’ve said so too in the past (good grief was that really so long ago?)

But I think there’s another trend I’m seeing this year, which is a bit more pernicious. There seems to be a general movement to ‘kick out the gurus’. This anti-guru movement seems to boil down to the following argument: social media was taken up by early adopters who don’t really know how to ‘do social media properly'; social media is essentially marketing; so now, it’s time to bring in the real marketeers, people who know how to ‘do social media properly’.

Again, I’m all for driving out the snakeoil salesmen – but hang about: who called us gurus in the first place? It wasn’t us!

Think about this. Who did you first employ as a social media specialist? Or who did you first ask to look into social media within your organisation? Were they fully qualified marketing types? Were they measurement addicts, or management specialists? Were they, in short, the kind of people we all seem to be asking to come in and sort out the social media house?

Or were they people who seemed to ‘fit’ naturally into this strange, new, online space, and bring a variety of skills to bear? So, some of you might have hired someone because they used to be a web designer and they’re comfortable with the web; or maybe they were copywriters who can identify stories and carry messages; or possibly they were web-savvy PR people who wanted to see how to port PR across to the web. Or some, or all, or none of the above but something much more exotic and interesting.

And then you called them gurus. And now you want to get rid of them because they’re gurus.

Social media is far from a settled issue. Networks are being born (Quora), growing (Foursquare), or even getting a bit creaky (dare I say Google?). It’s still messy out there. You still need a native curiosity about it, otherwise you’ll just get left behind. Most of the people who I know working in social media today are simply that: curious people, who try their best to make sense of online conversations to the benefit of their organisations or clients. Calling them gurus is doing them a gross disservice.

So before you demote them to the social media helpdesk, having brought in some big shiny new gun who’s going to wrestle it from the gurus and turn social media into dollars, don’t forget: they were the ones who you turned to first, and tried their best to make it work. It would make much more sense to help them succeed rather than kick them down. And to help them do this? Don’t call them gurus.

Aggregated predictions: what really will happen with social media in 2011

Around Christmas-time I was foolish enough to list my social media predictions. They were a combination of ‘more of this, less of that, same of the other’, and you can still read it if you’re foolish enough to base an entire year that hasn’t happened on the ramblings of one poor gangrel creature.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. There are plenty of other gangrel creatures out there, with their own predictions, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other people have said, aggregate them all, and see if we have any agreements. While there are plenty of one-offs (for example I think I’m the only person who predicts the rise and rise of digital agencies at the cost of PR agencies) there are, amazingly, congruencies between people.

Here’s what I’ve found below, but you can see the Google doc I used to compile this, together with the links to the bloggers I read. I got as far as halfway through page 4 of the Google results before I started to lose the will to live, and I might even pick this one up again, but for now, this is where we’re at.

Mobile

There were various takes on this, ranging from the increased importance of check-in sites such as Foursquare, through to the influence of technologies such as the iPad. I bunched them all under mobile, and this is the most important popular prediction, with 11 mentions from Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb, Fred Meek, 4TM Guide, Lockergnome, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Trevanian Legg, Ron Medlin, Social Media B2B, and Concepts Marketing.

Alignment with business goals

The gurus are being expunged, dormanted, deleted. Next most popular was the prediction that 2011 will see people really tying social media to business results, with 8 mentions from Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, OneForty, ReadWriteWeb, KnowledgeBlog, Social Media Examiner, Infusionblog, Trevanian Legg, and me. I went on to say that these would yield disappointing results, and I’m happy (or sad, or despondent, or maybe a little morose) to say that KnowledgeBlog and Social Media B2B think so too.

The rise of Facebook

I said that I don’t see Facebook declining any time soon – unlike, say, Google, and who’d have thought that eh? – and I’ve been joined by Fred Meek, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Hausman Marketing Research Letter, Ron Medlin, Likeable Media and Contently Managed – that is, 7 other thinkers who also think Facebook will continue to dominate, whether through expansion, flotation, collaboration, monetisation, or something else ending in ion.

Amusingly enough, 4 commentators think Facebook will decline in influence, mainly through the rise of niche networks. They are Forrester, ReadWriteWeb, Trevanian Legg and MSL Group. They are, of course, wrong.

More group buying, particularly Groupon

In total 5 commentators think that social or group buying, particularly that exemplified by Groupon (or, in fact, actually Groupon since its valuation last year north of one billion dollars) will be significant over the coming year. They are Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, The Next Web, Social Media B2B, and MSL Group.

More content-driven programmes

All social media should be driven by content, but Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Infusionblog, Social Media B2B and Contently Managed think this will happen more in 2011, with tools to help marketeers do this, or to enable their audiences to do it for them.

More consolidation among the large networks

This is something I didn’t mention but I do agree with. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn are irresistible and I don’t think the likes of Diaspora (the open-source so-called Facebook killer) et al are going to make a single dent. So I agree with Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, 4TM Guide, Social Media Examiner and Contently Managed on this one.

Again however, there are dissenters. Social Media B2B and GigaOm think there will be a rise of importance from niche sites at the ‘big’ systems’ expense. Silly sausages.

Anonymity and vetting

This is something I really hadn’t considered but does make sense. One of the primary concerns I noted while training at the Social Media Academy last year was that of privacy, that is, how much should I let people know, and how can I tell if people are genuine online? Four commentators mention privacy/vetting issues, and they are Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm.

Video

This one surprises me, I have to say. ReadWriteWeb, Tim Ferriss, Concepts Marketing and Contently Managed all mention the ascendancy of video to some degree. I guess this ties in with the ascendancy of mobile in that we’ll all be glued to our displays watching video while we accidentally fall into water features.

That’ll do pig

I don’t want to give the impression I’m being a bit hasty here but I really need to crack on. Take a look at the Google Docs spreadsheet for the full picture. I might add to it as I go along, but really, go and take a look to see what else people comment on. Of the remaining topics that are mentioned by at least three sources we have metrics (which I guess ties into business goals), advertising, more social search (and less social search!), more workplace acceptance, continued importance placed on social media, the culling of so-called social media gurus (using a blunt instrument I presume), the intriguing and some would say tautological concept of Social Google, more Quora (of quorse – sorry), and more Twitter - again, counterbalanced by some who say less Twitter. Nothing more thrilling than when people disagree.