Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Are Two Social Media Cultures Evolving?

By Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.

Jeremiah Owyang’s recent blog post Looking Behind the Curtains on the Social Media Stage: Humans Don’t Scale got me wondering whether there are really two different social media cultures evolving.

Jeremiah comments about some of the pressure he’s experiencing as he balances his work, his personal life, and a desire to use social media in a personal and authentic way. Unlike other social media experts, for example, he doesn’t use personal assistants or staff to write for him. When you communicate with Jeremiah you communicate with Jeremiah.

Consider this “Two Culture” idea. The First Culture believes in authenticity, person-to-person engagement, and “real” relationships. The Second Culture uses the same tools as the First but also believes in automated messaging, using technology to manage networks, hiring personal assistants to manage incoming and outgoing messages, and using the “built network” to broadcast advertising. (I wrote about these distinctions in Are You Building Professional Relationships or a Publishing Platform? and Why I Don’t Use a Ghost Writer.)

While it’s tempting to beat up on  Second Culture folks — after all, who likes to be spammmed by auto-generated Twitter messages selling the latest and greatest Elixir of Youth — I’m not really convinced that there are two separate cultures. The reason is quite simple and I’m sure expresses an idea that goes back to the days of Gutenberg. I’m sure that there were folks back then who, upon learning how the printing press worked, damned it because it did away with the one-on-one nature of written communication and allowed a single writer to “communicate” with hundreds, if not thousands of individuals whom he or she could not possibly ever get to know on a one-on-one basis.

Plus, as printed advertising and newspapers evolved, I’m sure there were voices raised castigating the producers of vulgar and venal printed ads for stretching the truth and promoting questionable (to some) products and services. (I think about that whenever I get a spam email or Facebook or Linkedin Group invite to another self-promotional group that will be promoted for a while then dropped when the owner finds out how much work is involved being authentic and “always on.”)

So I’m not sure if the two cultures are really that distinct. We all use technology in one way or another to expand our reach. The important issue is whether someone is using the tools deceptively by, for example, hiring someone else to write blog posts or Twitter messages without revealing that fact.

I have to admit that, when I do hear of such things happening, I get the feeling that we’re regressing back to the days of mailed newsletters and paper magazines when the idea was not to establish a relationship but to Convince As Many People To Buy Something by Throwing Out As Many Messages As Possible.

I think Jeremiah is just finding out that there are only 25 hours in a day and that he might need to back off on some of the “relationship communication” he’s been engaging in recently. There’s nothing wrong with that; he gives a lot to the community already.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis D. McDonald. Contact Dennis via email at

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