My Ragan and Social Media Club – the real issue is control in closed communities

Mark Ragan posted a reply in My Ragan to my follow up comment on his decision to remove the Social Media Club group from My Ragan. Mark writes:

There are many questions and good ideas in your reply. Let me think about all of this.

But I do have a real hesitation to allowing the commercial logos.

I set about attempting to make this site look highly personal and noncommercial. If we changed our mind on this, the site would be littered with logos of this or that agency. And I fear that the people part of this would be diminished, replaced by shingles. Right now, when you look at the site, what do you see? You see the faces of individuals. People. Human beings wanting to interact. I am trying to preserve that.

As for the flags representing the countries, I am assuming that most people will not interpret that as a commercial for the country, don’t you? There is a huge difference between, say, a logo reading Edelman Public Relations, and Brits Group.

Now imagine for a minute if I allowed Edelman PR to do what Chris did: Put up a sign advertising seminars and services. Can you imagine what would happen next? Every agency would stampede to put up their own logos and ads for their services. In fact, this has already happened. We had to begin taking down people who simply posted their URLs on our blog site.

Then there are the people who woud interpret the presence of company ads and logos where groups go as a economic model for Ragan. They would conclude that we sold off the groups to the highest bidder. Certainly you see this, don’t you?

Now, I mentioned your good ideas above. I would not object to a former Edelman employees group because it would be clearly stated that this is not an initiative by the marketing department.

Finally, you mentioned Facebook and MySpace. I am trying to avoid looking like those sites. They are plastered with ads selling things. You can’t avoid them.

Again, I am trying to maintain a fairly pristine environment here. In fact, the irony here is that I am attempting to make this community a shining example of what you preach: namely, a place where people aren’t sold anything, pitched anything. A place where human faces stare out at the user, not logos. I would think that you would have approved.

But maybe I am proposing something else here, perhaps I am saying this will be a more controlled editorial environment where standards will enforce a clean look and relevant conversation.

Afterall, Ragan has a 40-year history of maintaining editorial integrity. And our customers have always appreciated that. Why would we stop now? AS you have pointed out, this is Ragan’s space. Shouldn’t we be allowed to set the standards based on OUR vision of editorial excellence? Maybe those standards will be different than MySpace or Facebook, but we’re not charging anything. People can leave if they disagree.

As for Chris, he is welcome to return to the group, even as moderator. Remember, everyone in this debate forgets that I wrote him a letter urging him to do so. All I ask is that he not advertise his services in a permanent logo and message on the group page.

“Let me think about all this,” says Mark. Good. Even better, he explains his own thinking and indicates that Chris would be “welcome to return to the group, even as moderator. … All I ask is that he not advertise his services in a permanent logo and message on the group page.”

Seems reasonable to me and I hope that Chris and Mark will work things out.

I also hope that Mark will think long and hard about this episode. Yes, My Ragan is MARK’s space. He can do what he wants with it. But if he wants My Ragan to be a credible social media site, he should forebear from using his control. Social media is driven by a desire to share and a spirit of generosity. If My Ragan is shown to be primarily a way for Mark Ragan to acquire more “customers”, people will realize that the bargain is unbalanced and they will flee to the first alternative that comes along.

Hmmm. Is this an opening for the IABC and PRSA to play the role that their members would probably have expected them to play in the first place? Either or both groups could do what Ragan has done, but do it for the benefit of their entire membership. Seems like a good idea to me. What do you think?

  • The trouble with IABC and other sites is that they are ‘exclusive’ sites where entry is determined by your status as a paid-up member. Not every business communicator wants or can afford to pay the fees out of their own pocket, especially SOHO operators.

    MyRagan and their ilk offer an alternative to the IABC, PRIA and other ‘membership’ sites like ‘the Hub’ wherein it is free to participate — at the expense of the freedom that one has in one’s own publishing empire (i.e. one’s own blog and/or static website, flickr account, podcast, twitter, second life space, inter alia).

    Like I said in my post about this, the rules are still being written about Web2.0 and none of us has the ‘right’ answer for every occasion. And indeed it may well be that Mark has done us a great service: he has engendered a conversation about what the rules ‘should be’ in such a situation. By such discourse do civilizations form…

  • “And indeed it may well be that Mark has done us a great service: he has engendered a conversation about what the rules ’should be’”

    Lee, you are bang on. We won’t learn without conversation. Of course, it has to be courteous and avoid personal attacks. But I think we’ll have to keep working on that one, because emotions all too often bubble over…

  • Craig Jolley

    I think what Mark’s site and other Web 2.0 social networking sites of similiar ilk will do is force associations to adapt. To really determine what they are good at delivering and making sure that they deliver it better than anyone else.

    This will probably mean that future associations will look very different than they do today and operate on a very different business model. They may be a lot smaller and more niche focused. The may offer specialized sections for different member-types (internalcoms vs. external vs. marketing vs. PR vs. corp vs. agency, etc.) and or some other model.

    One thing seems clear, associations like IABC, PRSA, CPRI, AMA, etc. are going to have to really understand the new world order and recognize the benefits and opportunities advanced technology offers instead of ignoring it in favor of the status quo. This was, perhaps, a misguided luxury in the past but the handwriting is on the wall.

    For example, in the mid-90’s I created an online accreditation study group and program for IABC members and ran it through Compuserve’s Public Relations and Marketing Forum. It was well attended and one member, who lived 300 miles from the nearest face-to-face study group, credited it as the only way she was able to get her ABC.

    Since the program/idea was a successful proof-of-concept I shared my notes, lessons learned, suggestions for organizational structure, etc., so it could be formalized as an association program. But the association was decidedly cold and uninteresteed in the idea – except to list it in the annual report to members and claim it as their own (without attribution, btw) – because, IMHO, they didn’t understand and were uncomfortable with online technology.

    To be successful in the future, however, associations are going to have to get in step with the times.