River Thames

This post has been simmering for a while, but I just can’t take it anymore. I was driven over the edge by a few things:

1. Todd’s post of the state of ‘practices’ by some firms.

2. David’s follow-up to that

3. Recent conference statements/events

Rant start//

Many times recently I’ve been sitting in conferences listening to ‘experts’ talk about various subjects. I’ve always said my definition of expert, especially when it comes to social media, is loosely defined as ‘a few years ahead of you on the learning curve’. It’s funny though that these experts were asking ‘what is social media?’ just a short time ago.

I sit in these conference session and I try not to be a Dave Winer and call out all the bullshit and look like an ass, but it has to stop. Some of us have been using Twitter to make our snarky comments, but the rest of the audience just sits and soaks up this knowledge. They don’t know any better.

The other day at Executing Social Media conference in Atlanta, Paull Young reports that a speaker advocated that corporations edit their Wikipedia entries and insert links. Nice.

In the Stream

At the same conference a speaker used most of their time to pitch their product and subscriptions to their newsletter. Classy.

I’ve joked about making up simple little ‘Bullshit’ signs that we can hold up as a silent protest. Perhaps the speakers would see these and change course.

What to do? Ask your next social media ‘expert’ for some recent client projects they’ve developed. They don’t have any? They’ve just been ‘consulting’ Nice.

Yes, you can still provide clients with a baseline of education without having much of a project base to draw from, but until you’ve actually run a social media campaign/project you just don’t know it all. I’m not saying I know it all, it’s a relative scale. If I say something you think is BS in a speech, call me on it, question it. Let’s talk about it.

In the end the level of ‘expert’ and ‘conference speaker/keynote’ needs to be examined.

Rant over//

So what do we do? Start to publicly name the folks spewing BS and blatantly pitching audiences under the veil of an ‘expert speaking’?


21 Responses to Calling Out the Bullshit and Cutting Through the Noise

  1. Alex says:

    Too right, Josh. I had a similar experience yesterday at a PR event. It’s a very steep uphill battle:

  2. UGH – Sally did the same thing on the Bulldog Reporter call. I had enough, and cut her off and recommended competing FREE services.
    And, I still have my Bullshit placard from an SF conference; I should dig it up.
    It’s why I argued with Kami that no one is an expert in this field. At the Blog World Expo, one of the people that calls himself an expert at an agency came up to me to talk. I walked away.

  3. Phil Gomes says:

    Consider that what some companies *aren’t* saying in public conferences is FAR worse.
    In my social media immersion program, I’ve had a number of mid-to-senior-level folks who have been through the training programs at other firms prior to coming to mine.
    What they have to share is pretty shocking…
    At the most benign, we have moronic examples like the one company that told its employees that “tags” were “kind of like really, really tiny comments”.
    At the extreme, one company spends two days showing its employees — among other gross affronts to online community sensibilities — how to stuff message boards and wikipedia entries with positive information to drown out the bad.
    Hopefully the few bad apples won’t spoil the entire barrel.

  4. The disintermediaries have been disintermediated; the hucksters have out hawked!
    Told you so. And you know what? It’s going to get a lot worse; that is, until there’s an actual movement to correct it. And ya know what? That ain’t gonna happen.
    Pepper a voice of reason? Cut me a break. You’re on of the knuckleheads that let this dog out… and now it’s bitten you in the ass.
    Told you so.
    - Amanda

  5. Mike Manuel says:

    I still fall back on the ‘doing’ part as both the means by which you earn the experience to know what the F you’re talking about and the way in which real change happens…

  6. Amber says:

    You give good rant, Josh.
    I think the “bullshit” signs you were talking about should be a required accessory at all conferences. Also, signs which say “sales pitch alert!” – or maybe instead of a sign, audience members could start making a really annoying noise.

  7. Amen!!! You are so dead on. I have seen PR firms, consultants, IT folks and many others out there just give out bad information. If it’s not a pitch, it’s a dog and pony show and you come back with nothing.
    The “experts” I like to listen to always do the following:
    1. Everything you talk about needs to show the impact of using these web 2.0 tools on the bottom line, with either good measurement data or some damn good anecdotal evidence.
    2. Instead of talking about how cool Twitter, Facebook or podcasting is, demo some tips or tricks that the audience can apply to their own situation.
    3. Yes it’s nice to know who you are and what you did with (insert web 2.0 app/tool here), but round it out with other examples, to show different uses or applications for the same web 2.0 product.
    4. Share your failures so that the audience can learn from your mistakes.
    5. Don’t hard sell me with your services. It’s a real turn off.
    6. Finally, the “expert” speaking should be the one that did the work. I have often seen the head of an organization or someone higher up in the food chain give these “expert” presentations when they themselves had nothing to do with the hands on work to get them where they are. This is most disappointing of all, because when it comes to question and answer time, they can’t provide useful responses.
    Thanks for sharing your rant Josh.
    Chris aka csuspect on twitter

  8. Paull Young says:

    It was a good example for me about how often bad examples of PR in social media comes about from a lack of understanding/education than a desire to mislead.
    The presenter was quite sure that there was nothing wrong with adding ‘definitions’ to wikipedia and including links – but it just amazed me that he was oblivious to not only the rules, but the entire debate about organizations in wikipedia!
    I’ve said before Josh that I think you’ve got the best bullshit detector in our business. But it is really difficult to try to refute statements from the floor.
    Luckily in this case I was presenting immediately afterwards and could share the correct information with the crowd.
    I speak from now and then. I’m by no means and expert, but I can share some insight from my work. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll let the crowd now. I was really surprised to learn this is not always the case.

  9. Douglas Karr says:

    Both your examples take root in someone abusing the pulpit with the same ideology – they are talking ‘down’ to the audience. That’s tough to watch no matter who you are.
    I saw it with the recent blogging awards when I noticed a certain blogger who preaches what to do and not to do on a blog as if it were some equation. The posts are always in absolutes. They were so bad that I had to stop reading and replying because I was just looking like a jerk. The blog has a much larger following then my own and it irritates the crap out of me.
    That said, the world is full of very few leaders and many followers. It seems to me that, if you’re willing to sacrifice your own integrity and grow in your narcissism – there’s a market for you out there!

  10. Of course the podium as commercial is not new. Still offensive, but not new. How to stop it? Conference organizers have to stop asking the offenders to speak. Fill out the speaker eval, lodge the complaint.
    It’s hard to correct the error from the floor, but we can blog a review afterward. Do it. Get the right information out.
    Finally, conferences that do not offer a strong slate of case studies, versus just talking heads and “education,” just aren’t worth going to, and I advise friends, colleagues and clients to pay close attention to this when making a decision to attend.
    That’s why BlogHer and New Comm Forum are my preferred choices, and I make time to attend them.

  11. Ryan Lack says:

    “So what do we do? Start to publicly name the folks spewing BS and blatantly pitching audiences under the veil of an ‘expert speaking’?”
    YES. Why not? Embarrassment is a great motivator.
    Plus, then we get to point and laugh.

  12. Perhaps it’s time to revive Strumpette.
    - Amanda

  13. Dan Smith says:

    There is always a certain amount of “noise” mixed with the message at such conferences. What do you think were the better presentations?

  14. Kami Huyse says:

    I am going with Susan on this one. Even prior to social media, I went to conferences and heard exactly the same bozos pretend to know everything.
    As for my “argument” with Jeremy, it was actually an intellectual exercise about what to call what we do (sorry Jeremy but practitioner is lame). I actually agree with him about having a more broad-based practice, and probably my work is currently divided nearly 50/50 between social media endeavors and traditional PR.
    I just told someone yesterday that in about 2 to 3 years, 5 at most, these skills will be somewhat mainstream (obviously some will be much better at them than others). But if we are not continuously developing new skills and deepening our experience we will be irrelevant.
    Isn’t that what is happening now for those that refuse to adapt to new communication channels, or at least consider including them?
    I do feel for you Josh. You attend way more conferences than most of us do (or want to) and it must get exhausting to listen to people with much less experience act as if they know it all.
    As I often say, for the last two years I have felt as if I was in graduate school. Which means I am learning, which means I haven’t arrived.
    So no, I don’t call myself an expert and I have told my clients that often. But I am eternally grateful to the ones who have allowed me to work with them to find a solution to their problems and to engage in the social media arena.
    As for what to do about the bozos? Leave the sessions, Twittering is good, tell your friends. Maybe we should start Bad Speakers Blog. Now that might be interesting. Kevin, where are you?
    But to be fair, those that fall for the bad advice are partially to blame themselves for not being more critical.

  15. Kami,
    Some of us consider you to be a Bozo and a rather prolific one at that. What do you know? If you blog and your circle of friends is any indication, the answer is, not much.
    - Amanda

  16. Eric Marden says:

    Call them out on it during the Q&A. If its a sales pitch – leave. Blog about it. Tell others. Speaking is a reputation based game – if they’re known for being salesy and talking out of their ass they won’t be asked to host too many other sessions.
    Maybe we need an ebay like feedback loop for speakers?

  17. Kami Huyse says:

    Ah, the “you are stupid” argument?
    Have you been reading Ike Pigott lately?

  18. inkoluv says:

    You are so right about the sales pitch junk… I hate it when people pitch their product while public speaking. I really hope SXSW is not like that this year. I found that while at SXSW 06, the larger groups where average but the smaller groups where nothing but a sales pitch. Do they just lack creativity or are they just truly desperate?

  19. inkoluv says:

    Oh and I love your mathematical form of captcha. How can I use this?

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