Social media use is skyrocketing. Between nearly 75% of the U.S. population uses social media web sites. But even with all those hundreds of millions of people, social media can still fail to meet expectations. What you can’t do, though, is ignore all those people who are actively influencing others.
The First Challenge: The Name
The term “social media” does not differentiate between a local band and its fans on MySpace, school classes interviewing authors on Skype, people watching TV shows on Hulu.com or learning the latest trends in marketing from people you “follow” on Twitter. Is social media, communications, social networking or video sites with comments? The answer is “yes.”
My definition: Social media is the use media, including and not limited to text, video, audio and documents within communities where users can opt to consume or generate content.
As we can send and interact with larger data formats, social media options will increase. That means social media will become pertinent to more people. A few examples are cooperative spreadsheets on Google Docs or ZOHO, video on Seesmic or photos on Flickr or Twitpic.
This may not be pertinent to YOU until social media affects the way you learn, work or play, no matter how many millions love it.
Security and Personal Information
This has yet to really be resolved. Using social media applications within a company, where the data is leaving the protection of your firewall may break your company’s security policy. Of course, if you use it as an aggregator of other news sources, it may not.
Can these applications be setup to work within the infrastructure of a company? Some can, and the number is growing. Lotus Notes, now part of IBM, was among the first to offer community functionality way before it was cool.
Another issue becomes personal branding: How much and what types of information do you want to share with the immediate world? Perhaps you would benefit with a smaller, higher quality network of people?
If people opt for the smaller, trusted network, then social media will fail. If you share too much, it could fail for different reasons. When people share honest opinions and attitudes, even without sharing personal information, there is a lot to be gained.
Social Media “by Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet”
Composer Leonard Bernstein said, “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” This could be why there is so much music in social media circles. It does, however, create a problem when you are trying to “sell” the benefits of social media to your company.
Most people don’t have the storytelling skills to make this New World pertinent to the decision makers. Or worse, they don’t have access to the decision makers and have to present it through myriads of gatekeepers with high comfort/low innovation attitudes. That alone can doom the project.
People who do not use social media sites as a productivity tool have many preconceived notions – and very few of these line up with productivity and cost reduction. Try explaining social media as a place where great ideas are exchanged to grow business when your audience is barely using Facebook or LinkedIn. They just see a place to put ads.
Your ideas would likely not be accepted, or as is said in some SM circles, “FAIL.”
Smaller companies could gain the edge in over their larger counterparts by moving into social media. The slow and cautious adoption by larger companies is why SM could fail. The smaller companies are why it will succeed.
Conversations Monetize the New World
This is a fundamental shift in business, but not in consumerism.
The shift is “don’t try and sell your product at every turn.” That is one of the reasons that more than half of all social media campaigns fail.
“[Businesses] will rush to the community and try to connect, but essentially they won’t have a mutual purpose, and they’ll fail,” Adam Sarner with market research company Gartner told CNET recently.
“Old school” sales people know that relationship selling works, and they may benefit most from social media. Others are likely to fail.
People go to company web sites to learn more about your product and to buy there. They go to social media sites to network with others about your product, and with growing frequency, with company representatives themselves. Dell has been an early adopter, using multiple social media tools, including communities and Twitter to reach out to customers.
Bob Pearson, Dell Vice President, Communities & Conversations was interviewed by Forrester Senior Analyst Jeremiah Owyang and says “Social media is becoming part of who we are… in terms of the company and how we work overall … it’s a way to communicate with our customers more effectively, and that lasts forever … that’s only going to increase the value [of social media to Dell].”
Pearson explained how Dell has sold over $1 million of refurbished equipment to their followers on Twitter who were looking for specific deals. “Twitter is kind of like a science project. What we’re really realizing is that we should be building a social media alert system, so anyone who wants to know about a certain type of deal we can hit across any social media site…and that’s why you’ll see in the future from us.”
As long as companies look to facilitate conversations and allow customers to make their own decisions, social media will be remembered as a force to help counter the current economic downturn.
Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny
toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge
management and web analytics practices for startups and larger
companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international
level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that
fosters teamwork, innovation and creative problem solving skills in
students from kindergarten through college.