We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Social Media Gurus

social-media-guru_callout.pngA couple of days ago, as I wrote in my last blog posting, I spoke at a Social Media Day gathering in an interesting, concert-like downtown Queen West Toronto venue, to an interesting and varied crowd.

After I had left the stage and assumed a position within the audience, beer in hand, a woman began talking to me in the crowd. Lets call her Jennifer. Jennifer told me that she knew nothing about social media even a few weeks ago, but that her husband had bought her an iPad for their anniversary and now she was devoting all sorts of time to learning it. She had driven up from Niagara Fallsabout a 2-hour drivein order to see the Social Media Day event.

I want to become a social media guru, she said to me, with a big, winning, business-y smile.

Gotta tell ya, Jennifer. Thats just about the last thing the world needs. That, another horndog politician, and four bucks will get you a Starbucks latte.

love-guru.jpgosho_rajneesh_photo.jpgI keep hearing this term social media guru everywhere, usually in puffed-up self-proclamations (which my mom always taught me were faint praise, anyhow) as in Hi, Im George, and Im an alcoholic–and a Social Media guru.

Now, give me a big fat molten chocolate-covered break.

Yes, I know the word guru officially and originally meant “wise teacher? in Hindi. Even so, if you say you are a social media teacher, what are your designations, where is your accreditation, who certifies you to teach about it? It is supposed to mean one with great knowledge and/or wisdom, who uses that wisdom to teach and guide others on a spiritual path. What the heck does it mean to be a self-realized and Fully Ascended Social Media Master, anyways? Is there supposed to be something Intensely Spiritual about the Like Button?

And, here’s the gist. Doesn’t anyone using that honorific realize that, since the days of Bhagwan Shree Rhagneesh, EST, and the whole weird 1970s ESALEN California spirituality vibe thing, the use of the designation guru” in the West always contains with it more than a salt shakers worth of irony, as well a distinctly greenish tinge of worldly avarice lying just underneath spiritual rhetoric, and leading, almost inexorably, to fleets of Rolls Royces?

I mean, come on. Guru? Guru? Really? In the West? In 2011? Without irony?

social_media_experts_as_real_as_unicorns_tshirt-p235421643853038531q08p_400.jpgMe, I am a Ph.D who studied social media in my dissertation and a Full Professor now, and I have had a strong social media component to my classes since 1999. That’s twelves years ago, for those who are counting. I began teaching the first social media course in Canada, and one of the first in the world, in 2007, calling it Word of Mouth Marketing. I have developed multiple courses at undergraduate, graduate, and PhD levels to teach Social Media Marketing and Management. Those course outlines are being used by dozens of other professors around the world right now.

And I am definitely no “Social Media Guru.” No thanks.

I much prefer to be known as a Still-Learning Social Media Expert-in-Progress. Or a Social Media Researcher. Social Media Pioneer? I think I have probably earned that one. I have been researching and writing in this area since 1995, with multiple publications in top peer-reviewed scientific journals. That is legitimacy. I pioneered a social media research approach and method. I have consulted to industry on these matters since before there were blogs. I was one of the first researchers to clearly specify the importance of social media to marketing. I have been in this space for 16 years. Like the few true experts in this area, I can give specific examples of what I have accomplished, rather than writing yet another book with some trendy title that is also subtitled How Your Company Can Profit From Facebook and Twitter” and calling myself by some ridiculously inapplicable Indian honorific.

social_media_guru-f918bc5.jpgSo please forgive me for being more than a little ticked off at the gathering of Social Media Guruslike ants at the proverbial picnic. While this boom is still booming, they will keep swarming. And I feel entitled to spray a little Raid.

As far as I am concerned, if someone comes up and tells you they are a social media guru, they are telling you, essentially, that they have a Facebook and Twitter account, talk about it to their friends and family, and hope to one day cash in on their spiffy mailing list of 406 friends and 217 followers. Maybe they have even written one of the 968 popular business press books about social media you can find lying around the shelves of your local bookstore like old remaindered copies of The Celestine Prophesy or The Coming Stock Market Crash of 2003.

If they come up and tell you they are a Social Media Guru, here is what I think you should say to them. Because it is probably just as true. Dont ask them for their credentials (I will write more about some interested efforts at WOMMA, at Universities, and at NetBase soon to tap in this market need soon). Dont ask them what is new or original about their approach. Certainly dont ask them if they know more about social media itself, or about its application to real marketing or business strategy needs (that might really confuse them). No, you just look them right in the eye nice and steady and say:

“Wow. Me too.

The Shocking Truth About Business Schools

Bill Clinton at NYU CommencementIn his address to NYU’s graduating class at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, former President Bill Clinton took square aim against one of the great evils of our time: business schools.  Here is a quote from his speech (the entire speech can be found on YouTube):

“I was probably the last generation of Americans until the present day who could have gotten an MBA, if I went to business school instead of law school, with the prevailing theory being that American corporations had obligations primarily to their stakeholders. Ever since then we’ve been teaching our young people that your primary obligation is only to the shareholder. The problem is that if you do that you ignore the other stakeholders.”

It sounds plausible to blame business schools. After all, we know that business and the financial industry are to blame for the major economic meltdown of the last several years. And we know that those businesses had to learn their bad economic and management theory from somewhere. When there is a lack of morality and integrity in the practitioners of management, why not blame the places that teach managers to manage. Blame the b-schools.

What I find so startling about this statement is that the 42nd President of the United States is speaking in such totalizing terms that he is actually ignoring a fundamental shift in business schools. In fact, the “stakeholder” model that he talks about as an inspired solution is a product of the very business schools that he is pointing towards as the problem. This stakeholder model has been taught as a part of understanding management issues since the mid-1980s at the Schulich School of Business where I work which, according to Dean Horvath, our long-standing Dean, was one of the first schools to implement it.

“Ever since then we’ve been teaching our young people that your primary obligation is only to the shareholder,” said Clinton. But reading his speech, I cannot help but wonder if President Clinton has heard of the “triple bottom line” approach that has become a common element of many business school’s curricula. The triple bottom line concretizes stakeholder theory by providing a system of measuring the 3 Ps of people, planet and profit, and managing by measuring how well each are being accounted for in the management of an organization. The system has not been perfected, but it is widespread and widely taught. As a marketing professor, I have always used stakeholder theory to discuss marketing ethics in my classes at Kellogg, University of Wisconsin, and of course at Schulich.

Clinton said that this profit-above-all viewpoint of MBAs and business schools “could be why wages have been virtually stagnant for the past 30 years”  because it misses the fact that “workers are stakeholders.” That bad b-school perspective could be behind communal stagnation, “because communities are stakeholders” and behind consumer apathy.

Humbug, I say.

I would like to invite Bill Clinton to learn more about (and perhaps even participate in) the work of the Aspen Institute, a foundation that is dedicated to fostering values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. Every 2 years, the institute gives out an award called “Beyond Grey Pinstripes” to business schools. It ranks the top 100 MBA programs in the world for how well they are equipping future business leaders with a comprehensive and integrated understanding of social and environmental issues impacting business – everything from increased consumer activism and climate change to corporate social responsibility. Here are the current top 10 global business schools, according to this important ranking.

  1. York University (Schulich School of Business)
  2. U. of Michigan (Ross)
  3. Yale School of Management
  4. Stanford Graduate School of Business
  5. Notre Dame (Mendoza)
  6. UC Berkeley (Haas)
  7. RSM Erasmus
  8. NYU (Stern)
  9. IE Business
  10. Columbia Business School

Seven of the top 10 business schools in this ranking are in the USA. Who is on top? It happens to be my own (shameless plug here…) Schulich School. Oh, and Mr. Former President, you were actually addressing the graduating class from the 8th ranked  business school in the world on these stakeholder matters. The MBA class, to be exact. Is it just me, or does anyone else find that fact that he overlooked that incredible fact incredibly ignorant?

Bill Clinton, in his speech, seems to be missing all the wonderful work done by business schools, business school Deans, business school leaders, devoted b-school professors, alumni, and students. Instead, painting with a broad and stereotyping brush, they are villainized as The Source and Fount of The Great Evil: the Spreaders of Bad Ideology. How absurd. How negative. Charging $100,000 per speech, Mr. President, you really need to be more careful to do your homework.

I’d give that part of your speech an F.

The astonishing and surprising truth that former President Clinton’s speech ignores is that, although some business schools may have at one time been a part of the problem, many of them today are building the solutions to social and organizational problems. They are far from perfect. But they are definitely not the unidimensional Profit-as-Monotheistic Religion institutions that Bill Clinton’s speech makes them out to be. 

And that is something not only to be surprised about, but to celebrate.

Target is Coming to Town

target2.jpgThe retail consumer in Canada is finally going to catch a break. After putting up with a dreary, outdated, ho-hum retail market for decades, in which retailing has consistently been about 20 years behind its US neighbors, there are changes afoot.

First came Costco. Great success.

Then Wal-Mart. Big success.

Then came the Apple store. Monster success.

Then Victoria’s Secret. Looking gooooood.

Now, Target. Minneapolis, MN-based Target Corp has just announced a deal to acquire the leasehold sites for up to 220 locations from Zeller’s Canada.  They plan to open 100 to 150 Target locations across Canada during 2013 and 2014, after investing about $1 billion in improvements and upgrades. And hiring a load of happy Canadians.

I have been using Target as an example of excellence in branding, target.jpgcustomer service, and retail delivery in my marketing classes for years. They have been outstanding competitors in a tough marketplace, and they have managed to maintain a lower-price higher-quality positioning that has proven nearly impossible for Wal-Mart to beat. As a consumer, I always felt that Target provided a far superior shopping experience to most other retailers, including Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart was about price, Target was about the experience.

I believe that Target has likely come to Canada for a few reasons:

  1. Slowing growth in the domestic US retail market
  2. Fierce competition in the domestic US retail market
  3. Saturation with Target stores in the US (they always stated they were going to saturate the US first before going international)
  4. Lots of cross-border shopping, which would have shown up on their radar
  5. The Canadian economy and consumer market’s resistance to recent economic dips
  6. Stronger than ever Canadian dollar (at par)
  7. Long-term prospects for strong Canadian dollar (petro bucks and the fact that all retail has an arbitrage element)
  8. Canadian dissatisfaction with retail service and choice levels
  9. Weak Canadian retail brands (Zellers? The Bay? Canadian Tire? come on….)target3.jpg
  10. Great brand recognition, awareness, and positive attitude among Canadian consumers towards Target already (who travel frequently to the US)
  11. Target’s convenient format: one-stop shopping for food, clothes (decent ones at that), sports equipment, electronics, toys, small appliances, bedding, kitchenware, linen, furniture, pharmacy and health care
  12. Target is clean. It’s customer service is outstanding.The format of the store, with wide spacious aisles and clear signage, is best in class. The experience–as I said before, and have written about already in some of my retail work–is what Target is all about.
  13. The French pronounciation may or may not have been a deciding element. Repeat after me…Tar GHAY est tres Canadian, eh?

My wife puts it this way: “I feel happy when I shop there.” We have missed the Target retail experience ever since moving to Toronto from Madison. I think that the Canadian consumer is going to richly reward Target for this decision, and the warm and wonderful feelings are going to be mutual. I know in my house we can hardly wait. The slow countdown to 2013 begins. When will they open already? And, oh…

When is The Cheesecake Factory opening in Yorkdale for goodness sake?